#TBT: 8 Groundbreaking Sundance Directors Lab Alumni

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Quentin Tarantino and Steve Buscemi. © Sundance Institute | Sandria Miller

Most lists require a caveat, and this one is no different: it is non-exhaustive, and for good reason. Over the course of Sundance Institute’s Directors Lab’s history, the Feature Film Program has supported a relative who’s who list of independent filmmakers making strides in cinema. And while some of these names have quite adeptly ventured into the world of studio films, their bloodlines invariably trace back to the indie world.

At Sundance Institute, each May heralds a new class of filmmaking talent. Just last week, we announced the eight projects selected for the 2015 Directors Lab where first-time feature filmmakers will be cutting their teeth while rehearsing, shooting, and editing their screenplays. So while these fresh faces may be unfamiliar now, there’s a good chance we’ll be hearing from them in the coming years. For the skeptics out there, we reflect back on eight filmmakers who emerged from the Directors Lab to become undeniable talents.

Here’s to a promising new class of Directors Lab alumni filmmakers!

Paul Thomas Anderson (Sydney, aka Hard Eight)

© Sundance Institute | Photo by Sandria Miller

Paul Thomas Anderson—the auteur behind modern classics like Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood, and The Phantom Thread—was in his early 20s when brought his debut feature, Sydney, through the 1993 Directors Lab. (That same year, he also screened his first short, Cigarettes & Coffee, at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City.) Sydney premiered at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival was eventually released under the name Hard Eight in 1997.

Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nombre)

© Sundance Institute | Photo by Fred Hayes

Cary Fukunaga's first brush with the Institute came in 2004 when he premiered his short Victoria para Chino at the Sundance Film Festival. Twelve years later, he was selected to bring his harrowing drama about Central American migrants, Sin Nombre, to the Sundance Mountain Resort for the 2006 Directors Lab. The finished film made its debut in Park City at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

Miranda July (Me and You and Everyone We Know)

Miguel Arteta (middle) and Miranda July (right). © Sundance Institute | Photo by Clayton Chase

Writer/director Miranda July brought her first feature, Me and You and Everyone We Know, to Sundance Institute’s 2003 Directors Lab. The film would go on to win major accolades from audiences and critics alike at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. (The late great Roger Ebert called it his favorite of that year’s Festival and ranked it one of the 10 best films of the 2000s.)

Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry)

Actress Summer Phoenix and Kimberly Peirce. © Sundance Institute | Fred Hayes

Kimberly Pierce brought her much-heralded debut feature, Boys Don’t Cry, through Sundance Institute’s 1997 Directors Lab. After the project’s release, the film went on to win an Oscar for Hillary Swank’s performance at the 1999 Academy Awards.

Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love and Basketball)

© Sundance Institute

Gina Prince-Bythewood’s beloved romantic drama Love & Basketball is another project that went through the Institute’s Directors Lab.

Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs)

Quentin Tarantino and Steve Buscemi. © Sundance Institute | Sandria Miller

Did you know that the Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood director’s first feature, Reservoir Dogs, started taking shape in the Sundance Institute Directors Lab?


© Hart Sharp Video

First-time writer/director Debra Granik’s drama Down to the Bone went through the Institute’s Directors Lab before debuting in Park City at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.



Yep, that’s right: Festival veteran Rodrigo Garcia’s Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her is another project that was workshopped in the Sundance labs.

Ed. note: This post was originally published in 2015; it has since been updated.


Lead photo:

Quentin Tarantino and Steve Buscemi. © Sundance Institute | Sandria Miller