Lately, there is a movement toward highly constructed, pristinely executed “nonfiction” films. These films capture real people, real places, and real stories with a heavy imposition of cinematic techniques. If you talk to these directors, they freely admit to directing events, doing multiple takes of supposedly spontaneous moments, and generally making up stuff. But then there are directors like Elizabeth Lo, an NYU grad who’s pushing her work in the opposite direction: messier, less narrative-driven, raw. Her films have been featured in Sundance Film Festival, Short of the Week and she’s been named as one of the ’25 New Faces of Independent Film’ by Filmmaker Magazine.
Wendy Cohen has dedicated her life to promoting films that make a difference. You might call them advocacy films or socially conscious films. Or it might just be easier to call them by their names: Food, Inc.; The Cove; Inequality for All; Rich Hill; Waiting for “Superman” — just to name a few.
It’s easy to feel helpless when it comes to the lack of diversity and inclusion in filmmaking. How do you even begin to approach that conversation, much less start thinking about how to solve it? According to a 2018 report from the Directors Guild of America, only 9.7 percent of films were directed by minorities in 2018 and only 12.2 percent of films were directed by women.
It’s that time of year again. From Sundance to the Oscars, the Globes to SXSW and Tribeca, nominees and winners are everywhere in the trades right now. But if you’re sitting at home stockpiling a slew of rejection notices from festivals, labs, or contests and still grinding away at your work, seeing others bask in their achievements can become disheartening.
Creativity and loneliness seem to go hand in hand. Some even believe loneliness is essential to creativity — not only as a by-product, but also a catalyst. A study from Johns Hopkins University found that people who were socially rejected early in their life tend to be the most creative. Rejection becomes their “fuel.” This explains why creative people are usually pretty weird. They are literally “out there.” On the fringe. Refusing to conform. Which can (a) make their work meaningful, and (b) make their work impossible.
In Jim Cummings’ breakout one-take short film, Thunder Road, a heroically unselfconscious police officer (played by Cummings) takes the stage at his mother’s funeral to sing a cringeworthy, albeit gut-punchingly heartfelt, rendition of Springsteen’s classic tune. The film — which would go on to win the Sundance Short Film Grand Jury Prize — not only paved the way for Jim’s career, but it’s something of a metaphor for what Jim’s career is all about: sincerity, vulnerability, and a whole lot of putting yourself out there. “Everybody’s so terrified to do anything,” Jim told us. “So was I. But it takes doing something to do something. Being persistent is what makes you a director.”
There’s maybe no one more qualified to be leading the charge for independent filmmakers these days than Jim Cummings. Since we talked to him a year ago, he’s gone on to make his first feature, Thunder Road, and win the Grand Jury Prize at South By Southwest. The film is currently sitting at 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s already generated $500,000 in ticket sales in France alone. Maybe most notably, though, he and his crew made it on their own — no major studio, no executives, no distributors. It’s an independent film in the truest sense of the word. Let’s just say, he’s fired up about that: