30-38. Because the Best Young Filmmakers Wouldn’t Shoot Anywhere Else

Illustration by GluekitPhoto: J. Piexoto (Lipes); Angela Weiss/Getty Images (Josh and Benny Safdie); Denis Guignebourg/Abacapress.com/Newscom (Campos); Patrick McMullan (Russo-Young, Dunham, Wein); Gregory Pace/BeImages (Joost, Schulman)

These nine directors made some of the most memorable independent movies of the past two years—all of which were set on the streets of New York. And they did it before their 30th birthdays. Below, they explain why they could only do it here.

NY Export: Opus Jazz; Brock Enright: Good Times Will Never Be the Same
Neighborhood: Upper West Side

Best thing about working here: “The locations. I love places that are in transition, that used to be something else, that had been destroyed, or that represent an old New York: McCarren pool, the High Line, a warehouse in Red Hook.”
Favorite New York moment on film: “In Manhattan, when Woody Allen is playing racquetball with Michael Murphy— you don’t see the city at all, but it has this great feel. Two quintessential New York guys awkwardly trying to play sports in this totally different world.”

2. RY RUSSO-YOUNGYou Won’t Miss Me
Neighborhood: “Far West Side, downtown, not quite the West Village”

Best thing about working here: “The psychological temperature of this city—an energy, a hunger, an unrest—makes you want to work harder and harder. It’s part of what makes you feel like a crazy person here, but it’s also why you can’t imagine being anywhere else.”
Favorite New York moment on film: “In Alan J. Pakula’s Klute, which is set in seedy seventies New York, there’s this scene where someone’s being followed, and in the foreground, you can see a funeral procession going by. The funeral represents this whole other world of people who are mourning this death, but that’s just one narrative in a great city of 8 million narratives.”

Catfish;NY Export: Opus Jazz
Neighborhood: Boerum Hill

Best thing about working here: “People are exposed to so many things. In some ways, it would be easier to be a filmmaker in L.A., but that’s a filmmaker whose life is only about filmmaking. That’s not the kind of filmmaker I’d want to be.”
Favorite New York moment on film: “The opening scene of Marathon Man, where the two guys are driving and they get into, like, a car argument, and one ends up being a Nazi war criminal in hiding, and the other is a concentration-camp survivor. It shows how you can run into anyone in New York. You never know who you’re standing next to in the street.”

Neighborhood: “Deep, deep Chinatown”

Best thing about working here: “Nobody waits for green lights: You don’t need money, you don’t need a studio, you don’t need any approval. You need, like, a camera. And reckless ambition.”
Favorite New York moment on film: “In Bennett Miller’s documentary The Cruise, when tour guide Speed Levitch is walking over the Brooklyn Bridge and releasing all his inner demons. He’s on this epic structure, it’s totally scenic, and he’s just ripping on everyone who’s ruined his life.”


Best thing about working here: “I tend to work really late and not go to sleep, and this city is alive and functioning when I am. You can get a hamburger at three in the morning on a Tuesday, and if there’s a technical emergency on-set, there’s always something you can do to figure it out any time of the day. ”
Favorite New York moment on film: “In The King of Comedy, when Jerry Lewis walks by that old lady and she tries to get him to talk to her son on the phone and, when he says no, she goes, ‘You should get cancer.’ People can love you or hate you in a minute, and they’ll tell you.”

Breaking Upwards
Neighborhood: West Village but “possibly moving to Fort Greene”

Best thing about working here: “The neurotic way that people relate to each other here. There’s a self-awareness, a verbosity that really influences my films. People don’t have walls around them when they talk; they just speak their minds. Like, I’ll be in Russ & Daughters buying babka, and the person next to me will be telling me how that fatty, chocolatey babka would be the end of them if they kept eating it so much.”
Favorite New York moment on film:The Taking of Pelham One Two Three really captures the turbulent nature of living here—as well the camaraderie that develops when people are trapped in the subway. I was on the subway once when there was a track fire, and everyone was freaking out, but we were all helping each other. In New York, you can feel really close to strangers just because you’re sitting next to them.”

7. LENA DUNHAMTiny Furniture
Neighborhood: Tribeca

Best thing about working here: “The architecture is incredibly cinematic. I spend a lot of time—especially at night—walking down the street looking up into apartment-building windows and trying to imagine who lives there and what they’re doing. I’ve been doing it since I was a kid.”
Favorite New York moment on film: “This is a trite one, but I really love the Annie Hall scene at the New Yorker Theater with Marshall McLuhan when he says, ‘You know nothing of my work!’ Just that New York talk-to-each-other-in-the-line culture. The scene in Tiny Furniture in front of Film Forum is totally a reference to that.”

Daddy Longlegs
Neighborhood: JOSH: Lower East Side
BENNY: Chinatown

Best thing about working here: JOSH: “Being inspired by all the demented, twisted people that choose to live on top of each other in tiny little spaces.”
BENNY: “Whoever walks by your frame when you’re shooting, you could follow them and make an entire movie about that person.”
Favorite New York moment on film: JOSH: “In Broadway Danny Rose, there’s one scene where they’re in Times Square, and it’s 1984—at the tail end of what Times Square used to be—and they’re walking through sleaze. They just look like two people getting somewhere.”
BENNY: “A misconception is that something is always happening in New York, but really, everyone is just in their own world, trying to get from one place to another at the same time.”

30-38. Because the Best Young Filmmakers Wouldn’t […]