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The 15 Most Interesting New Filmmakers We Met in 2021

In a mystifying year, we found hope in these fifteen filmmakers. Their art has our backs.
New Filmmakers
By  · Published on January 7th, 2022

This article is part of our 2021 Rewind. Follow along as we explore the best and most interesting movies, shows, performances, and more from this very strange year. This entry celebrates the most interesting new filmmakers we met in 2021.

This year continued to be a year of uncertainty. A movie would hit theaters one weekend and score an optimistic boodle. Another movie would open the next weekend and find itself six feet under by Sunday morning. The future of the theatrical experience is murky, mystifying. Storytelling’s future, on the other hand, has never felt more vibrant or obvious.

Considering the filmmakers we met in 2021, we’ll be fine. These beautiful caretakers have our back. They see the stagnant waters that surround us. They’re not blind. They contain the same fears we contain, but they have the ability to cut a swath through the darkness. Through their perspective, we may gain some confidence to trudge ahead. We cautiously dip our toes behind them as they wade into the deep end.

Many of the creators listed below are not new to the industry. They’ve worked in other realms, excelled in other realms. The folks found here take their talents, sharpened under different departments, and apply them to their newfound creative leadership. The results are out-of-the-box perfection or damn near close to it. Their first films are rad, but it’s their second films we really crave.

15. Lee Haven Jones (The Feast)

Most Interesting New Filmmakers We Met In The Feast

Lee Haven Jones has knocked out an array of excellent television work, including some exceptional Doctor Who episodes from the recent era. Having accomplished such a mighty small-screen gauntlet, he hit the feature world with a savagely nasty horror flick called The Feast. Jones sets the film on simmer for most of its runtime so that you don’t even notice it’s boiling until it’s too late. When The Feast gets there, the burn is catastrophic in the most exhilarating way. Eco-horror should rage with karmic justice, and Jones provides such delight in stupendous fashion.

14. PJ McCabe (The Beta Test)

Most Interesting New Filmmakers We Met In The Beta Test

Jim Cummings has made a few memorable movies by this point. Thunder Road and The Wolf of Snow Hollow are sharp instruments, cutting into their respective genres with gleeful, knowing humor. It’s easy to add The Beta Test into the previous sentence as well, but it just punches slightly differently, and that swing seems steered by his new collaborator, PJ McCabe.

Together, the two filmmakers meticulously realize their script into a brutal Hollywood takedown. The agencies are in their sights, and their trigger fingers are less itchy and more spastic. The Beta Test rolls through as many tones as it does influences. These two are feverishly celebrating cinema as they’re raging against the weasels who’ve slithered their way into its production houses. Knowing that McCabe and Cummings are already well into their next project has my antenna pricked. Whatever comes next will carry giddy-laced venom.

13. Amir “Questlove” Thompson (Summer of Love)

Summer Of Soul Documentary

It’s easy to imagine two totally separate versions of Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised). In one reality, the documentary was presented as a pristine restoration, rescuing the never-before-seen footage from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival and offering it as a glorious time capsule for 2021 audiences. In another reality, the documentary was a talking-heads who’s who, with numerous celebrity guest-stars attempting to recreate the experience for those that could never attend. What we got, however, was a film that smashes the two and adds an extra confrontational/celebrational layer.

AmirQuestloveThompson puts the concert on the screen for us, but also for those who were there and never got to see their performance beyond their first-person perspective. Thompson then records their reaction to the miraculous restoration, and the result is something beyond historical context. It’s an emotional context, and that emotional context underscores the tragedy of this footage initially falling into some basement oblivion. The film is a gift for all participating parties, those making it and those watching it.

12. Enrico Casarosa (Luca)

Luca Pixar

Beating behind every frame of Luca is Enrico Casarosa‘s heart. Not only can you feel it, but if you close your eyes and listen real hard, I bet you can hear it, too. The filmmaker adores his characters. He aches for them, and that passion is a blessing as much as it is a torment. There’s a melancholy swirling around Luca and Alberto’s story. It stems from the creator wanting to do more for them but unable to betray the narrative and dramatic demands. These kids have to learn their lessons and survive the bumps that come with them. In the end, it will be worth it, but those coming-of-age pangs are harrowing. The comfort comes in knowing that the filmmaker is squirming in his seat right there alongside you, his audience.

11. Lin-Manuel Miranda (Tick, Tick…Boom!)

Tick Tick Boom

The adulation for Jonathan Larson in Tick, TickBoom! is immense. No one involved in translating his musical to the screen wants to betray him or the reverence that the theater world holds for him. From one point of view, the effort seems like a no-win scenario, as the peanut gallery will arrive with prepared, violently loud volleys along with their impossible anticipation. LinManuel Miranda never shrinks from the challenge, and he succeeds by pushing Larson’s voice to the forefront, denying his own contribution a spotlight. The generous adaptation finds its creativity in the staging, pulling the numbers from their theater pulpit and splattering them upon the New York City streets, apartments, and rooftops.

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)