Taking place at the start of the blockbuster-driven summer season, the Cannes Film Festival always holds a special place in the film calendar. While the next few months will see most of the media attention focused on Hollywood fare, this prestigious festival shines a spotlight on the best of world cinema. Indeed, at the recently concluded 2018 edition, only 2 American directors competed for the coveted Palme d’Or this year, while filmmakers from Egypt to Kazakhstan were feted.
In the spirit of Cannes, AwardsCircuit also sees this as an ideal time to celebrate some of the exciting directors on the verge of breakthroughs this year. Some of these names were introduced to the world at Cannes and other recent festivals, while others will be unveiling their English-language crossover projects in the coming months. Here are those 10 Foreign Directors to Watch in 2018:
When Eva Husson unveiled her latest film “Girls of the Sun” at Cannes, the reactions ran the gamut from “surefire Palme d’Or contender” to “worst film in competition.” But one thing that everyone could agree on is that it’s a film of the moment. Indeed, it was no accident that this premiere set the stage for a historic protest for gender equality. Husson’s feminist war movie tells a true story of an all-women Kurdish battalion whose uprising certainly resonates with the #TimesUp movement. And with the film’s intensity drawing comparisons to Kathryn Bigelow’s work, Husson could have a foreign language box office hit on her hands when it inevitably makes its way to US theaters.
Making an independent film is tough, especially when you’re not even sure an audience will get to see it. Such was the daunting challenge facing Kenya’s Wanuri Kahiu when she began production on the controversial “Rafiki”. Centered around a burgeoning lesbian relationship between two young women, the taboo themes of the film were unsurprisingly shunned by Kenya’s notoriously conservative censors. But although her film was banned at home, Kahiu found an even bigger avenue to unveil her daring vision, as “Rakifi” was selected as the first Kenyan film to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. No stranger to major plaudits – her debut feature “From a Whisper” dominated the 2009 African Movie Academy Awards – Kahiu subsequently received glowing praise following this high profile screening. And we’re hoping this exposure will open up even greater opportunities for this important voice in world cinema.
While Hollywood struggles to achieve gender parity behind the camera, female filmmakers are making promising inroads in the Arab cinema. One such pioneer is Lebanese actress-director Nadine Labaki, one of the most successful filmmakers from the region. Indeed, we previously profiled Labaki as one of 10 Foreign Language Directors You Should Know in 2015, on the basis of her stellar debut feature “Caramel” and surprise TIFF People’s Choice winner “Where Do We Go Now?”. Admittedly, this pair went on to be non-starters in the foreign Oscar race in their respective years. But Labaki’s fortunes seem destined to change this time around with her latest effort “Capernaum”. Indeed, the early buzz surrounding this drama secured a coveted distribution deal with Sony Classics ahead of its world premiere.
After a banner year that saw 3 of its prizewinners make the Oscar shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film (including eventual winner “A Fantastic Woman”), 2018 was a relatively quiet year for the Berlin Film Festival. Still, there were a few standouts among the competition lineup, most notably Marcelo Martinessi’s “The Heiresses”. Though it didn’t win the marquee Golden Bear, Martinessi’s impressive debut feature emerged as a favorite among the jury and critics alike, walking away with the Alfred Bauer Prize, Best Actress Prize (for lead actress Ana Brun) and the FIPRESCI Critics award. This LGBT-themed drama centered a middle-aged lesbian couple is slated for a US release by Distrib Films and will likely be Paraguay’s submission for the next year’s Oscars.
With an unusual shortage of obvious Oscar contenders coming out of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, it seems inevitable that the world cinema and documentary premieres will have to pick up the slack. Among these offerings, one of the directors to watch is Gustav Möller, who launched his debut film “The Guilty” to rave reviews. Sparking comparisons to the inventive Tom Hardy-starrer “Locke”, this veritable crowdpleaser claimed a pair of audience award prizes at Sundance and 2 weeks later at e Rotterdam Film Festival. Starring Jakob Cedergen as a police officer in a race against clock when he answers a desperate emergency call, “The Guilty” will be released by Magnolia Pictures in the US. And if this savvy distributor can work their magic yet again, this Danish could potentially join the ranks of their previous Scandinavian entries (“The Square”, “A War”, “The Hunt”) as an Oscar nominee.
Italian cinema has long been associated with male auteurs ever since its earliest days, but Tuscan filmmaker Alice Rohrwacher is blazing her own trail as one of her country’s shining new voices. Her career has been steadily on the rise since her well-received debut feature “”Corpo Celeste in 2011, which she followed up with the Cannes Grand Prix-winning “The Wonders”. In 2018, she added another Cannes prize to her trophy cabinet, as she took home Best Screenplay for “Lazzaro Felice”. And after receiving ecstatic reviews from critics, the film was acquired by Netflix, ensuring even greater visibility for her latest work.
British actors often credit their big screen success to years of rigorous training on the London stage. But the theatre world has also produced successful cinematic artists behind the camera as well. One such director hoping to attempt that crossover in 2018 is Josie Rourke. After honing her craft as a theatre director, Rourke will helm the hotly anticipated historical drama “Mary, Queen of Scots”. Depicting a rivalry between Queen Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie) and Mary Stuart, the film promises lavish visuals and a star-studded ensemble which will surely put Rourke in the awards season limelight.
Anyone who has seen “Gueros” will know that Mexico’s Alonso Ruizpalacios is one of the most talented newcomers to Latin American cinema. Demonstrating a virtuosic skill for visual storytelling in that audacious debut film, he left us eagerly anticipating his next project. That sophomore effort has now been revealed as “Museo”, which follows the museum-raiding exploits of a group of criminals in 1985 Mexico City. The film premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, where it won Best Screenplay and was soon acquired by Netflix. And with the familiar face of Gael García Bernal headlining the cast, we could be talking about this film as an Oscar contender later this year.
Going from film school graduate to premiering his debut at the world’s most prestigious film festival within a short few years, Abu Bakr Shawky’s directing career so far has been nothing short of a Cinderella story. Competing with the likes of established names such as Spike Lee and Asghar Farhadi, Shawky’s kickstarter-funded “Yomeddine” was the first ever Egyptian film selected for the elitist Palme d’Or slate. But this road movie about a leper and a young orphan didn’t only making headlines for these milestones alone. The film proved to be worthy of its place in the lineup, with a positive reception that is already stirring up awards buzz as Egypt’s likely Oscar submission.
Belgian filmmaker Felix Van Groeningen is hardly a newbie to the film industry, but his career has truly gone into overdrive in the past 6 years. In 2012, he directed “The Broken Circle Breakdown” to an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and followed that with Sundance prizewinner in the form of 2016’s “Belgica”, distributed by Netflix. And now, Van Groeningen targets even more fame with his English-language debut “Beautiful Boy”, which pairs Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet as a father and son dealing with the latter’s meth addiction. Having excelled with the similarly heartrending material in “The Broken Circle Breakdown”, there’s no denying that Van Groeningen is a perfect fit for this true story. And with a prime release date of October 12, Amazon Studios is certainly planning an awards campaign already.