Travel

Portraits of Young Filmmakers Changing the Game

Photographers Nathanael Turner and Nathan Bajar photographed talented young directors on both coasts.

by Nathanael Turner and Nathan Bajar
Mar 7 2017, 5:00am

With growing paths for distribution and technology making way for more ways to realize one's creative vision than ever, independent film has never been more exciting or diverse. A new generation of filmmakers are bringing stories and visions that, to this point, have been rarely seen on film, instilling hope for the future of the medium. We spoke with and photographed several rising talents about how they're upending the system and what they believe the future of independent film looks like.

Nathanael Turner

Andrew Ahn, Director of Spa Night

VICE: What do you see in the future of independent filmmaking?
Andrew Ahn: I see innovation on the horizon. There's an attitude in the air, a refusal to settle. Filmmakers are taking on more challenging subject matter, experimenting with techniques and form, and finding new ways to connect with audiences.

What types of stories would you like to see coming more from young filmmakers?
I've met a lot of young filmmakers who are trying to make something flashy in an attempt to stand out. Unfortunately, these films often end up gimmicky or derivative. I am more interested in personal stories—stories that can be told with insight, nuance, and passion. It allows filmmakers to focus on their personal artistic voice, instead of being distracted by budgets or special effects.

What responsibilities does independent filmmaking have in America right now?
Now more than ever, the independent film community has the responsibility to make films that promote progress and equality. We need more films about and made by women, people of color, and queer and trans folks.


Watch our interview with director Anna Rose Holmer below.

Nathanael Turner

Elizabeth Wood, Director of White Girl

VICE: What do you see in the future of independent filmmaking?
Elizabeth Wood: In theory, anyone can make a movie now. We all have video cameras on our cellphones and a way to share our stories with the world at our fingertips. I always swore I was going to make White Girl on my cellphone if no one would help me; luckily it didn't come to that. But, hey, look at Tangerine, it worked out great for them.

Anyone anywhere can watch virtually any film ever made. Independent cinema is primarily experienced the same way studio films are: not in theaters, but at home—by people in their underwear on their couch while they stare at Instagram, on cellphones and iPads in cars and on buses, trains, and planes. It's gross and exciting.

However, because of all this noise, because of all of our voices echoing into the digital infinite, it is more important than ever to tell a good fucking story. To have a viewpoint. To make something that matters. Because otherwise you are gonna get lost at sea.

What types of stories would you like to see coming more from young filmmakers?
Despite the wealth of storytelling tools at our disposal, films still are incredibly hard to make, and many complicated stories still require a lot of financial and logistical support.

So when someone does get the amazing opportunity to make a film, I urge them to be as honest as possible—so honest that it hurts, that it's embarrassing, that it feels wrong. I believe it is in that painful arena where you start to resonate with other people.

What responsibilities does independent filmmaking have in America right now?
I would not limit responsibility to independent film. A film is powerful tool. If it does not have a purpose, then it is merely another piece of plastic gathering in the center of the Pacific Ocean, yet another dollar in the insipid entertainment stock market. I'm not saying this means you have to make important boring movies. I hate boring movies. Movies can be full of drugs and sex and violence and be entertaining as hell, but they have to have some greater purpose. They have to be about something.

Nathanael Turner

Sophia Takal, Director of Always Shine

VICE: What responsibilities does independent filmmaking have in America right now?
Sophia Takal: I think the responsibility of filmmakers is different than the responsibility of independent-film distributors and curators. For filmmakers, I think making films that expand an audience's sphere of empathy is important—making films that are personal is important, and thinking about how to use film to challenge dehumanizing rhetoric and actions is important. For curators, I think now more than ever it is essential to seek out and support work by and about people of color, women, and other minority voices and to expose audiences to work that challenges the imperialist white supremacist patriarchal values that our society is built on.

Anna Rose Holmer, Director of The Fits

VICE: What do you see in the future of independent film-making? 
Anna Rose Holmer: 
New voices. New rules. Endless possibilities. 

What types of stories would you like to see coming more from young filmmakers? 
We are already seeing young filmmakers who fall outside of the very narrow, industry-supported gaze find new paths to their audiences. We need greater access to opportunities for these under-represented perspectives. As a film-goer, I want to see characters I've never seen on the screen before, as told by varied voices, in forms I never imagined. I want to be challenged and surprised. 

What responsibilities does independent filmmaking have in America right now? 
I think independent filmmaking has the same responsibilities it has always had—to provoke, to inspire, to question, to illuminate, to instigate, to validate, to examine, to empathize, to document, to champion, to empower. However, crafting cultural narratives is a political tool we cannot underestimate. As the world around us closes its doors, we must make sure we are opening ours. We must invite more voices to the table, more perspectives to the screen, and make sure we engage as human beings, not just as filmmakers

All photographs by Nathanael Turner and Nathan Bajar