On the heels of crowning the class of 2023, Variety is marking 25 years of keeping a keen eye on the next generation of filmmakers with our annual 10 Directors to Watch franchise.
Over the past quarter-century, the editorial initiative has cast an important career spotlight on such future boldface-name directors as Alfonso Cuaron, Christopher Nolan, Ava DuVernay, Wes Anderson, Chloé Zhao, Barry Jenkins, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Steve McQueen, Taika Waititi, Cary Fukunaga, Kasi Lemmons, Michael Winterbottom, Sarah Polley, Catherine Hardwicke, Lulu Wang, Jay Chandrasekhar, David Gordon Green and Fernando Meirelles.
The scouting for 10 Directors to Watch goes on all year among Variety‘s editorial staff. The series was birthed in January 1997 by veteran Variety editor Steven Gaydos, executive VP of global content and leader of the Focus features department. The goal is to identify hot helmers before they pick up any significant hardware — aka major award wins, Gaydos said.
“We look for a distinctive voice, an original viewpoint. We hope that is clear within the first one or two films of a director’s career,” Gaydos said. “We thought ‘Rushmore’ proved the promise of ‘Bottle Rocket’ and was still very early in the films of Wes Anderson. ” ‘Amores Perros’ told us that Alejandro Iñárritu was a major new voice. ‘Great Expectations’ was Alfonso Cuaron’s third feature and his second studio film that didn’t click at the box office, but we were admirers of his work and wanted to help support an important new international artist attempting to make special films in Hollywood. Barry Jenkins’ ‘Moonlight’ came eight years after his first film, but the stunning virtuosity was unmistakable.
“With only her second film Chloé Zhao had us convinced that she was a major new voice. Her Academy Award for ‘Nomadland’ confirmed our hunch,” Gaydos added.
Selecting the honorees for 10 Directors to Watch is a year-round process for members of Variety‘s editorial staff. Over years submission strategies and lobbying efforts have become intense among the town’s talent representatives. With an archive now in its 26th year and growing, the franchise also serves as a mile-marker and yearly time capsule for the film business.
The inaugural class, revealed in at the Sundance Film Festival in January 1997, got Directors to Watch off to an auspicious start. Future Oscar winner Cuaron was joined by such notables as Neil Abramson, Brad Anderson, Wes Anderson, Shirley Barrett, Leon Gast, Mary Harron, Hal Salwen, Jan Sverak and Michael Winterbottom.
“Over the past quarter of a century, Variety‘s annual 10 Directors to Watch list and event has become the gold standard for new filmmaker spotting,” Gaydos said. “If anyone wonders whether specialty cinema from the U.S. and abroad continually replenishes itself, just scroll through the names of these once- unknown artists past and present for stunning and stimulating proof.”
(Pictured top: Variety‘s 2006 Directors to Watch honorees Neil Burger, Hilary Brougher, Josef Fares, Marc Rothemund, Ryan Fleck, Neil Marshall and Patrick Stettner)