Ana Lily Amirpour (USA)
All you really need to know about A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night helmer Ana Lily Amirpour is the simple fact that her movie exists at all. I mean, there are a lot of reasons not to make a black and white, Farsi language vampire film with the US doubling for Iran and yet there it is, purely because Amirpour had the force of personality and vision to make it happen. That it exists and it's absolutely gorgeous to look at? Well, that tells you a little something extra, doesn't it?
Jason Banker (USA)
Cinematographer turned director Jason Banker had already attracted some notice with his debut feature Toad Road and he more than cemented the early chatter with his sophomore feature Felt. It's hard to sum up exactly what it is that Banker does but by wedding true life elements with fictional narrative, all of it built collaboratively with actors essentially playing versions of themselves, he ends up in places of remarkable fragility and truth. Banker's greatest asset is his obvious ability to gain the complete trust of his performers who lay themselves absolutely bare, but his gift for wedding those stark emotional moments to striking visuals is not far behind. There's nobody else quite like him.
Jenna Bass (South Africa)
Jenna Bass' story is one of perseverance through adversity. the South African writer-director had been part of the Focus Features Africa First program, that program backing a short film project and the development of what was meant to be the first feature to come out of Africa First before Focus was shut down and reorganized, thus ending the program and her long planned debut feature. So, instead, she scraped together a few bucks and some friends and instead shot the entirely improvised romance-thriller Love The One You Love and won herself the Best South African Feature award at the Durban International Film Festival. And that award was very well deserved, with Bass proving herself a strong voice with visual chops and obvious skill working with actors. I'm in somewhat of a privileged position here in having met her and knowing what she's cooking up next so you're going to have to take my word here: Remember the name. You will hear it again.
Dodo Dayao (Philippines)
Critic turned director Dodo Dayao made his feature debut this year with Violator, a film he somewhat jokingly refers to as mumblecore horror though that doesn't even begin to do justice to Dayao's style. There are traces of Kurosawa Kiyoshi in there along with a formal structure and attention to composition that puts the lie to the whole mumblecore thing. Most importantly, though, is Dayao's ability to build and sustain tension which he does masterfully - and repeatedly - throughout. This is a bold start for a fiercely talented young director with a unique voice and I can't wait to see where he goes next.
Leigh Janiak (USA)
2014 is going to go down as the year a bunch of new female talent emerged on the genre scene and while Honeymoon writer-director Leigh Janiak may not have grabbed quite as much ink as a certain Australian (also present on this list, so spoiler there) her debut is every bit as impressive and promising in its own way. Janiak's strength in her debut is the ability to create an utterly recognizable world with believable, empathetic characters and then not pull the rug out so much as make the audience realize how wrong they were about what they thought they recognized in the first place, with the entire process just dripping in tension. Janiak's been keeping mum on what's next for her thus far but she'll have no shortage of options.
Gerard Johnstone (New Zealand)
Have we got a new Peter Jackson on our hands? That's the general conversation around New Zealand's Gerard Johnstone, who delivered a genre mashing treat with SXSW favorite Housebound. Neatly balancing comedy with scares and smart character work - to say nothing of his obvious visual skills - Johnstone is one of those directors who seems to be capable of just about anything. Comedy, thrillers, quirky drama, straight ahead horror ... I could see him doing any or all of the above with equal skill and where he goes next really just comes down to Johnstone himself deciding what he wants to be.
Jennifer Kent (Australia)
So, how's this for an endorsement? William Friedkin - who you may know as the director of a little film called The Exorcist - says Jennifer Kent's The Babadook is the most frightening film he has ever seen. That's quite a capper to a year that has seen the picture rake in a host of awards for the very simple reason that Kent quite simply directs the shit out of every single scene. Kent's being quite smart about where to go from here, resisting the first offers and consistently saying that whatever she does next will likely be genre but not horror - no reason at all to lock herself in any particular boxes - but she has quickly become one of the absolute hottest commodities out there right now.
Cary Murnion and Jonathon Milott (USA)
I have been deeply in love with the work of Cary Murnion and Jonathon Milott since I first came across their Sundance selected short film Boob (directed under their professional nom de plume of Honest) what seems like an eternity ago. That short was deeply silly, super stylish and just a big bag of fun - all of which are elements fully present in their feature debut, Cooties, in which a primary school's worth of children become ravenous monsters, forcing the staff to fight for survival. Yup, it's that sort of film and was one of the big successes of Sundance this year, with Lionsgate picking up distribution rights, though I don't believe a release date has been set yet.
In the interests of full disclosure I should say that Murnion and Milott are the one entry on this list that XYZ already have a project in active development with. Would've happened already, actually, except I foolishly recommended them for the Cooties job and pushed our own project back a couple years in the process. Whoops. Do with that what you will.
Zee Ntuli (South Africa)
Helmer of action-romance Hard To Get, South Africa's Zee Ntuli is one of those guys people would just love to hate. Ridiculously young to have accomplished as much as he has and with the talent to explain why he's been able to accomplish what he has, he's the sort that rivals almost hope would prove to be an asshole just so they could hate him. But he's not. What Ntuli is is a slick and polished director with a populist streak, an obvious desire to send audiences home happy, and the chops to pull it off. If there were the production equivalent of a Luc Besson trolling Africa for talent, Ntuli would be the first guy recruited.
Kiah Roache-Turner (Australia)
Most likely to make the step up into badass - but still distinctive - studio pictures? My vote for that goes to Wyrmwood helmer Kiah Roache-Turner, whose debut is absolutely balls-out gonzo crazy and was pulled off on an utter shoestring. There are more visual ideas per minute of Wyrmwood - and all of them executed very well, indeed - than you'd get out of a handful of Hollywood pictures combined and whoever gives Roache-Turner the resources to scale up his imagination along with the freedom to indulge that same imagination ... well, the results could be spectacular. And, for the record, Roache-Turner's version of a studio picture will look a lot more like Crank or the more gonzo bits of the more recent Fast And Furious films than anything Michael Bay has ever had his fingers on.