If you’re a film student or budding filmmaker, watching films comes with the territory. It’s a great way to appreciate the art form, learning how cinema can help bring social issues to the fore or simply enthral and entertain us.
While streaming giants such as Netflix, Amazon and Disney Plus are helping to bring all manner of movies, documentaries and TV series to the mass market, the selection on offer at your local independent cinema or available through lesser-known distribution platforms may reveal a broader diversity of genre and directorial style.
According to Dr Alex Nevill, Course Leader on our MA Film Practice degree, there are many alternative streaming platforms which distribute independent and artistic films. Mubi, for example, produces and streams films by both emerging and established filmmakers, choosing one new film to highlight every day. Here, you can find “the most exciting and original new films” from a string of international directors. Tënk, DA Films and True Story are also all great platforms for discovering new non-fiction films that may not have had a wide cinema release.
Below are 10 contemporary directors from across the world who are generally working outside mainstream cinema and who Alex recommends watching to broaden your film viewing.
Wang Bing (1967- )
Wang is a Chinese director and artist, whose work has shaped the fields of documentary film and video installation. Tie Xi Qu (West of the Tracks) (2002), a nine-hour, three-part documentary about the decline of Chinese state-run heavy industry, which took two years to film, won the Grand Prix at the Marseille Festival of Documentary Film. According to the Tate Modern, his “boundary-pushing films witness the accelerated transformation of China’s landscape with a deep sense of intimacy and sincerity…with a bold, uncompromising approach to cinematic form”. Other notable films include Wu Ming Zhe (Man with No Name) (2010), Jiabiangou (The Ditch) (2010) and San Zimei (Three Sisters) (2012).
Leos Carax (1960- )
A French film director, critic and writer, Leos is noted for his poetic, musical style and tortured ‘amour fou’ love stories, which have previously featured songs by David Bowie and Iggy Pop. They include Boy Meets Girl (1984), Mauvais Sang (The Night Is Young) (1986) and Les Amants du Pont-Neuf (The Lovers on the Bridge) (1991). More recently, Annette (2021) won him the award Best Director at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. Starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, it is a ‘musical fantasy’ rock opera in collaboration with American rock and pop duo Sparks. Leos has said of his work: “I try to compose emotional scores, like movements that flow into minor and major keys.I feel like an impostor when I have to speak. That’s what the camera is for. Without it, I feel foolish.”
Lav Diaz (1958- )
An independent filmmaker and former film critic, Lav has been described as “the Filipino master of slow cinema”. His films, which tackle issues regarding the current social and political state of the Philippines, are often filmed in black and white. He has also made several of the longest narrative films on record. Lav is best known for The Woman Who Left (2016), Season of the Devil (2018) and From What Is Before (2014). In 2014, the Prince Claus Award“honoured [him] for his uniquely moving portrayals of the complexities of Filipino reality; for expanding and intensifying cinematic experience through his innovative approach to the art of filmmaking; for expressing truth and building a powerful cultural legacy for national healing and international understanding of the Philippines; for challenging the dominant commercially and politically driven uses of cinema; and for remaining true to his art and his intentions, providing inspiration for others working outside the mainstream.”
Joanna Hogg (1960- )
The British film director and screenwriter made her directorial and screenwriting feature film debut in 2007 with Unrelated, for which she won the FIPRESCI Prize at the 2007 London Film Festival and the 2009 Evening Standard British Film Award for Most Promising Newcomer. Known for her keen observations about human behaviour, Joanna’s autobiographical film The Souvenir (2019) won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and its sequel, The Souvenir Part II (2021), won Junior Jury at the Montclair Film Festival. Having started out producing music videos and writing/directing for TV series including the Eastenders: Dot’s Story (2003) special, she is quoted as saying: “I wanted to make a film doing everything I was told not to do in television”.
Naomi Kawase (1969- )
One of the most important voices of contemporary East-Asian cinema, in four decades of film and documentary making, Japanese director and writer Naomi Kawase has achieved significant critical acclaim. Mogari no mori (The Mourning Forest, 2007) won Best Film at the Faro Island Film Festival and Grand Prize of the Jury at Cannes. Sweet Bean (2015) won eight awards, among them Best Foreign Feature Film at the São Paulo International Film Festival and Best Feature Film at the Valletta Film Festival. Many of her first short films focus on her turbulent family history, including her debut Ni tsutsumarete (Embracing, 1992), which won Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival Special Mention. She has said that “creating a film is akin to living another life. The camera’s eye allows you to tell your own story, which is like opening a new door in your life, which reveals your existence in this world. I see this as a way to enrich your real life.”
Viktor Kossakovsky (1961- )
A renowned Russian director, Viktor has been making documentaries since 1989, winning over 100 awards in national and international festivals. He started his own production company, Kossakovsky Film Production, based in San Petersburg, to create a cinema with a strong focus in poetics and reality. His work often highlights controversial issues. Aquarela (2018) demonstrates the transformative beauty and raw power of water amid the climate change crisis, while Gunda (2020) follows the charming daily life of a pig, her offspring and farm animal companions in a different take on animal rights. Of it, he said: “Films that show animal slaughter and explain all its gory detail also don’t work. It is propaganda, and people block it out. So, I thought, let’s see what the camera can do on its own.”
Lucretia Martel (1966- )
An Argentinian film director, Lucrecia is one of the best-known contemporary Latin American filmmakers. Associated with the ‘New Argentine Cinema’ of the late 1990s and early 2000s, she has gained worldwide recognition for her strange, atmospheric, award-winning feature films. La Ciénaga (The Swamp) (2001), La Niña Santa (The Holy Girl) (2004), La Mujer Sin Cabeza (The Headless Woman) (2008) and Zama (2017) all involve critical observations of family, religion, class, Argentina’s extremely conservative bourgeoisie and Spanish colonial history. The international film festival Visions du Réel, giving her an Honorary Award in 2023, describes her films as using “a highly sensual cinematographical grammar to examine the existential crisis of the Argentinian middle classes, the inner workings of society and the country’s suffocating social mechanism, as well as post-colonial issues”.
Steve McQueen (1969- )
A British film director, Steve is best known for the award-winning film 12 Years a Slave (2013), an adaptation of Solomon Northup’s 1853 slave narrative memoir. When the film won Best Picture in the 2018 Academy Awards, he was the first Black British producer to ever receive the award. Themes of violence, suffering and sexuality can be found throughout his portfolio, which includes Hunger (2008), a historical drama about the 1981 Irish hunger strike, Shame (2011), a drama about an executive struggling with sex addiction, and Widows (2018), a neo-noir heist thriller. In 1999, Steve won the Turner Prize for his film and video works. Judges “admired the poetry and clarity of his vision, the range of his work, its emotional intensity and economy of means”.
Tsai Ming-liang (1957- )
Born in Malaysia of Chinese descent, Tsai is one of the leading ‘Second New Wave’ film directors of Taiwanese cinema. His second feature film Vive L'Amour (1994) won the Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival, while Stray Dogs (2013) won the Grand Jury Prize almost two decades later. In one of his most recent films, The Deserted (2017), he tackles virtual reality film for the first time.
Kelly Reichardt (1964- )
A leading American indie filmmaker, Kelly’s films are typically minimalist and realist with an emphasis on mood and atmosphere, focused on characters on the margins of society. Her debut film, River of Grass (1984), documents a couple’s attempts to flee South Florida thinking they have committed a murder. Old Joy (2016), an American road movie which follows two friends who reunite for a camping trip in Oregon's Cascade Mountains, won a string of awards: Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards 2006, Paris Cinema 2006, Rotterdam International Film Festival 2006 and Sarasota Film Festival 2006.
Are you ready to follow your passion for filmmaking? Discover more about the Arts University Bournemouth Online MA Film Practice: