One of the most interesting groups of filmmakers to come out of America in the last decade seems to have gone unnamed as of yet. I first discovered these filmmakers one summer, years ago. At the time, I did not know they had any connection. That summer, I watched David Gordon Green’s George Washington and Jeff Nichols’ Shotgun Stories. Something about their styles hooked me and spoke to me in a way that so few films had before. I began to root through Green’s filmography, finding out that not only had he produced Shotgun Stories but was part of a emerging group of young filmmakers who all spoke the same language.
Besides Green and Nichols, Jody Hill and Craig Zobel are two I would later find to be part of the same group of like-minded filmmakers. Sharing actors, screenwriters, musicians and cinematographers, each director is unique in their own way but similar in ways beyond just collaboration.
While they are all from different southern US states, they came to know each other at the University of North Carolina. Green’s career may have launched first, with the beautiful, quiet George Washington, however, each one of them has found their footing as accomplished filmmakers.
From afar, these filmmakers could seem less than similar, however, up-close they share similarities that can only be explained through their Southern upbringings. Green, Hill, Zobel and Hill share an interest in portraying characters that usually do not get screen-time in cinema. They are fascinated by the poor, the ignorant and the depressed. They are interested by how people speak, the mistakes they make and the realism of flawed characters. They shoot in decrepit locales, and towns that are as lazy as those who live in them.
While Green has shifted towards comedy as of late, his early films were dramas similar to Nichols’ films – dramas that are not afraid to find subtle comedy in the least pleasant of situations. Zobel and Hill took that idea even further with their films, finding humour in places that other filmmakers would never attempt. Beyond just their comedic choices, all four of these filmmakers have a realism in their films that is rare in cinema these days.
It would be unfair to focus just on the directors in this cinematic movement, as the behind-the-scenes talent they share is just as important as the directors. Danny McBride, an assistant director on George Washington, has gone on to become a break-out comedic actor. He has written and starred in films for Hill and Green. Adam Stone and Tim Orr, cinematographers who have worked with all four of the directors, are as important to the look and feel of their films as the directors themselves. And while there are several other talents that have contributed to this film movement, one that cannot be ignored is David Wingo. His film scores have defined the tone and feeling of Zobel’s, Nichols’, and Green’s films.
These filmmakers, while still emerging, have established a style that is unique to themselves. They are not interested in regurgitating what has already been said in cinema, but instead do things their own way. Their comedy is dark, their drama uniquely Southern and almost everyday. Cinematic movements are often labelled, and while this group may not be fully developed yet, this North Carolina new wave of filmmakers has a voice as unique as just about anyone in American cinema today.