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Ten Filmmakers You May Never Have Heard Of (… but really should)

Paul Elliott and Mikel Koven from the Film Studies degree course at the University of Worcester take a look at 10 filmmakers who are often cruelly overlooked:

1. David Cronenberg

Canada’s own 'Baron of Blood' began his career, in the 1970s, making thinking-persons’ horror films which redefined body horror. But by the late 1980s, Cronenberg was emerging as one of North America’s greatest auteurs with films like Dead Ringers (1988), Naked Lunch (1991), Crash (1996), and continuing on with Eastern Promises (2007), A Dangerous Method (2011), and the utterly remarkable Maps of the Stars (2014). Across a wide body of films, across 40 years of moviemaking, and with international casts of A-list actors, Cronenberg remains an often controversial but always outstanding filmmaker.

2. Lloyd Kaufman

While Kaufman’s name may not ring any bells, some of his better known titles include the Toxic Avenger series (1984, 1989, 2000), Tromeo & Juliet (1996), Terror Firmer (1999), and his masterpiece Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead (2006). As co-founder of Troma, the independent American film production company, Kaufman is an independent film guru, an advocate of what he calls the “Make Your Own Damn Movie” approach to cinema. Kaufman, and Troma, has been an inspiration to many young filmmakers setting out to establish their own independent cinematic voice.

3. Ron Peck

Peck was the director of Nighthawks (1978) the first gay British feature film. Funded independently and telling the story of a gay schoolteacher played by Ken Robertson, Nighthawks was a brave statement at a time when sympathetic media representations of homosexuality were few and far between. Nighthawks was ground-breaking in its honest portrayal of the lives of those who inhabited the London gay club scene and who struggled everyday with guilt and homophobia. Peck was to go to direct a number of other features and documentaries including Empire State (1987) and Real Money (1996) both of which explored the underworlds of boxing and crime.

4. Sergio Leone

From A Fistful of Dollars (1964), and the birth of the Spaghetti Western, through to his elegiac gangster film, Once Upon a Time in America (1984), Leone made only a handful of films, but each one is a masterpiece. Fistful of Dollars was the first film in a trilogy of Italian-made westerns which not only introduced Clint Eastwood to the cinema public, but also re-wrote the conventions of that most-American genre, the Western. In The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) and Duck, You Sucker! (1971; also known as Fistful of Dynamite), Leone’s cinema brought a new level of violence to the screen, as well as beauty.

5. Rakesh Rohan

Take Batman, add Slumdog Millionaire (2008), then add a pinch of E.T (1982) and you have something close to Rakesh Rohan’s trilogy of Krrish films. Beginning in 2003 with Koi…Mil Gia and then following up with Krrish (2006) and Krrish 3 (2013), Rohan’s series of Bollywood superhero movies not only boasted the considerable acting talents of Hrithik Rohan, Rakesh’ son, but also had the highest special FX budget ever for a Bollywood film. In the UK alone Krrish opened on 46 screens and it made over 400 million rupees in 2006.

6. Deepa Mehta

Toronto-based filmmaker Deepa Mehta’s films celebrate not only her own Indian heritage, but also the multi-ethnic and diverse cultural make-up of her adopted city in films like Sam & Me (1991) and Hollywood/Bollywood (2002). She is most acclaimed for her continuing “Elements” series, Fire(1996) – about women’s sexual independence, Earth (1998) – a devastating film about the birth of India and Pakistan after Partition, and Water (2005) – a film which explores identity issues as they affect women when their husbands’ die. Most recently, she directed a big-budget adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s controversial novel, Midnight’s Children (2012).

7. Ousmane Sembene

Sembene was Africa’s greatest and most celebrated filmmaker. Born in Senegal in 1923 and trained in Soviet Russia in the early 1960s, his work was rooted in African culture but always had an eye to the rest of the world. Films such as Xala (1975), Ceddo (1977), and Moolaadé (2004) have been hailed as cinematic masterpieces and show influences of Italian Neo-Realism as well as Latin American cinema novo. His film Black Girl (1966) is often considered to be the first true Sub-Saharan feature film.  Sembene has also been a huge influence on British filmmakers like John Akomfrah, Reece Auguiste, and Isaac Julien.

8. Park Chan-wook

While many people are familiar with Park’s Oldboy (2003), his full so-called “Vengeance” trilogy – including Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), Lady Vengeance (2005) as well as Oldboy – is certainly worth watching. Park cinema goes beyond these three films;  his back catalogue is also worth exploring, including his savage critique of Christian hypocrisy in Thirst (2009), the bizarre romantic comedy I’m a Cyborg (2006) or even his much (wrongly) maligned English-language debut, Stoker (2013).

9. Peter Watkins

Watkins is perhaps best known for his 1965 TV film The War Game, a drama-doc that depicted a nuclear bomb being dropped on the UK. However in 1987 Watkins produced The Journey a non-fiction film that has the honour of being the longest feature film ever produced. At 14.5 hours long, The Journey (or Resan) details the effects of nuclear armaments on a series of communities around the world. We see those affected by the Atomic attack on Nagasaki and Hiroshima as well as images of idyllic paradises in the Pacific being threatened by nuclear testing. Not content with this mammoth film, Watkins also produced La Commune in 2000 which lasted almost 6 hours.

10. Lina Wertmüller

Think of famous Oscar nominees and you might come up with Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, perhaps even Katheryn Bigelow. However you might not have heard of Lina Wertmüller who was the first women to be nominated for the Best Director Academy Award in 1977 for her film Seven Beauties. Wertmüller was born in Rome in 1928 and carved out a career for herself making beautifully crafted and witty films featuring smouldering leading women. Her best known film is the wonderfully titled Swept Away By an Unusual Destiny by the Blue Sea of August (1974) a psychological and political thriller starring Mariangela Melato.  This film was re-made in 2002 by Guy Ritchie starring his then wife Madonna to much less critical acclaim.