60 Avant-Garde/Experimental Directors

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1.
Alain Robbe-Grillet
Born in Brest, France, in 1922, Alain Robbe-Grillet initially studied mathematics and biology. He graduated from the Paris-based Institut National Agronomique (National Institute of Agronomy) in 1945 and embarked on a career of scientific research in the tropics and in France. Then at age 30 he decided to change the direction of his career and concentrate on the thorny problem of literature...
 
2.
Alejandro Jodorowsky
Alejandro Jodorowsky was born in Iquique, Chile on February 7, 1929. In 1942 he moved to Santiago where he attended university, was a circus clown and a puppeteer. In 1955 he went to Paris and studied mime with Marcel Marceau. He worked with Maurice Chevalier there and made a short film, La cravate...
 
3.
Aleksandr Sokurov
Director, Russkiy kovcheg
Alexandr Sokurov is a Russian director of avant-garde and independent films that have won him international acclaim. A son of an army officer, Sokurov was born in 1951, and spent his childhood traveling with his family around Russia as his father was transferred from one location to another. This fast change of places and schools kept him lonely...
 
4.
Andy Warhol
Director, Chelsea Girls
The son of Ruthenian immigrants, Andy Warhol studied art at the Carnegie Institute of Technology. He worked as an advertising designer before becoming, in effect, the Father of Pop Art with his silk-screened pictures of Campbell's Soup cans and distorted images of Marilyn Monroe. He started directing films in 1963...
 
5.
Artavazd Peleshian
Director, Mer dare
Creator of the "distange montage," Artavazd Peleshian, one of the key Soviet documentarians, removed the boundaries of feature and documentary films, editing both sequences as a real poetical unity. His "distange montage" was a new step in the development of film editing. Even his student works (The Earth of the People 1966 and the Beginning 1967) shot at VGIK...
 
6.
Bruce Conner
Director, A Movie
Bruce Conner was born in McPherson, Kansas, in 1933 and studied art at Wichita University, the University of Nebraska, the Brooklyn Art School, and the University of Colorado. Moving to San Francisco in 1957, Conner became involved with the Beatniks. He continued to live and work in San Francisco, until his death in 2008...
 
8.
Dziga Vertov
Born in Bialystok, Poland, studied music and enrolled in St. Petersburg Neurological Institute in 1916. Worked on first Soviet newsreel, Kinonedelia (1918-1919), then on subsequent newsreel series (inc. Kinopravda, 1922-1925).
 
9.
Ed Emshwiller
Cinematographer, Dont Look Back
After majoring in painting and illustration at the University of Michigan, Ed Emshwiller studied in Paris at the École des Beaux Arts and NYC's Art Students League. An abstract expressionist, he was also a major science fiction illustrator during the 1950s and 1960s, winning Hugo Awards for his imaginative paperback and magazine covers...
 
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11.
Germaine Dulac
The daughter of a cavalry captain, she was raised by a grandmother in Paris, where she studied various forms of art with an emphasis on music and the opera. In 1905 she married engineer-novelist Marie-Louis Albert-Dulac and under his influence veered toward journalism. As one of the leading radical feminists of her day...
 
12.
Godfrey Reggio
Director, Koyaanisqatsi
Godfrey Reggio is a pioneer of a film style that creates poetic images of extraordinary emotional impact for audiences worldwide. Reggio is prominent in the film world for his QATSI trilogy, essays of visual images and sound that chronicle the destructive impact of the modern world on the environment...
 
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James Whitney
Director, Lapis
 
20.
Jan Svankmajer
Director, Otesánek
After studying at the Institute of Industrial Arts and the Marionette Faculty of the Prague Academy of Fine Arts in the 1950s, Jan Svankmajer started working as a theatre director, chiefly in association with the Theatre of Masks and the Black Theatre. He first experimented with film-making after becoming involved with the mixed-media productions of Prague's Lanterna Magika Theatre...
 
21.
Jean Cocteau
Jean Cocteau was one of the most multi-talented artists of the 20th century. In addition to being a director, he was a poet, novelist, painter, playwright, set designer, and actor. He began writing at 10 and was a published poet by age 16. He collaborated with the "Russian Ballet" company of Sergei Diaghilev...
 
22.
Jean-Luc Godard
Director, My Life to Live
Jean-Luc Godard was born in Paris on December 3, 1930, the second of four children in a bourgeois Franco-Swiss family. His father was a doctor who owned a private clinic, and his mother came from a preeminent family of Swiss bankers. During World War II Godard became a naturalized citizen of Switzerland and attended school in Nyons (Switzerland)...
 
25.
John Waters
Actor, Hairspray
Growing up in Baltimore in the 1950s, John Waters was not like other children; he was obsessed by violence and gore, both real and on the screen. With his weird counter-culture friends as his cast, he began making silent 8mm and 16mm films in the mid-'60s; he screened these in rented Baltimore church halls to underground audiences drawn by word of mouth and street leafleting campaigns...
 
26.
Joris Ivens
Director, Regen
 
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29.
Kenneth Anger
Director, Eaux d'artifice
Kenneth Anger grew up in Hollywood and started out as a child actor, but his interest in filmmaking was evident at an early age: he made his first film, "Who's Been Rocking My Dreamboat?", at age 9. Anger developed into one of the pioneers of the American underground film movement. His gritty, violent...
 
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Luis Buñuel
The father of cinematic Surrealism and one of the most original directors in the history of the film medium, Luis Buñuel was given a strict Jesuit education (which sowed the seeds of his obsession with both religion and subversive behavior), and subsequently moved to Madrid to study at the university there, where his close friends included Salvador Dalí and Federico García Lorca...
 
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36.
Martin Arnold
Born 1959 in Vienna. Studied Psychology and History of Art at Vienna University. Free-lance film maker since 1987. Founding member of Sixpack Film. Organisor of several avant-garde film festivals in Vienna. Presentation of a selection of Austrian avant-garde films at American cinematheques in 1990. Since 1993 teaching at various American Universities (Milwaukee, San Francisco, ...)
 
37.
Maya Deren
Maya Deren came to the USA in 1922 as Eleanora Derenkowsky. Together with her father, a psychiatrist, and her mother, an artist, she fled the pogroms against Russian Jews. She studied journalism and political science in at Syracuse University in New York, finishing her BA at NYU in June 1936 and then received her MA in English literature from Smith in 1939...
 
38.
Michael Snow
Director, Wavelength
Central figure of the American avant-garde. An artist who made an isolated animated short, A to Z, Snow concentrated on his painting career until moving to New York in 1963. After attending avant-garde film screenings organized by critic-filmmaker Jonas Mekas and turning out a second film...
 
39.
Norman McLaren
Producer, Neighbours
Norman McClaren is one of the most awarded filmmakers in the history of Canadian cinema, and a pioneer in both animation and filmmaking. Born in Scotland, he entered the Glasgow School of Fine Arts in 1932 to study set design. His early experiments in animation included actually scratching and painting the film stock itself...
 
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42.
Paul Morrissey
Director, Trash
Born in New York City in 1938, Paul Morrissey studied literature at Fordham University. In the early 1960s, following a stint in the Army and jobs in insurance and as a social worker, he began directing short independent films. In 1965, he was introduced to Andy Warhol, who asked him to contribute ideas and bring new direction to the film experiments he had been recently begun presenting...
 
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Peter Greenaway
Peter Greenaway trained as a painter and began working as a film editor for the Central Office of Information in 1965. Shortly afterwards he started to make his own films. He has produced a wealth of short and feature-length films, but also paintings, novels and other books. He has held several one-man shows and curated exhibitions at museums world-wide.
 
46.
Ralph Steiner
Cinematographer, H2O
 
47.
Robert Breer
Director, Fuji
 
50.
Sergei M. Eisenstein
The son of an affluent architect, Eisenstein attended the Institute of Civil Engineering in Petrograd as a young man. With the fall of the tsar in 1917, he worked as an engineer for the Red Army. In the following years, Eisenstein joined up with the Moscow Proletkult Theater as a set designer and then director...
 
51.
Sergei Parajanov
One of the 20th century's greatest masters of cinema Sergei Parajanov was born in Georgia to Armenian parents and it was always unlikely that his work would conform to the strict socialist realism that Soviet authorities preferred. After studying film and music, Parajanov became an assistant director at the Dovzhenko studios in Kiev...
 
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56.
Su Friedrich
Director, Sink or Swim
Su Friedrich is a New York-based filmmaker who writes, directs, photographs and edits. She currently teaches film and video production at Princeton University.
 
58.
Vera Chytilová
Director, Daisies
Vera Chytilová was born on February 2, 1929, in Ostrava, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic). She studied philosophy and architecture in Brno for two years, then worked as a technical draftsman, a designer, a fashion model, a photo re-toucher, then worked as a clapper girl for Barrandov Film Studios in Prague. There she continued as a writer, actress, and assistant director...
 
59.
Walerian Borowczyk
Director, Emmanuelle 5
Born in Kwilcz, Poland, Walerian Borowczyk trained as a painter and lithographer, winning Poland's National Prize in 1953. He began his film career as a film poster designer, then started making short animated films in the late 1950s. Moving to France in the early 1960s, he gained a reputation as a leading animator before switching to live-action features...
 
60.
Wladyslaw Starewicz
Wladyslaw Starewicz, a grand master of animation, was one of the directors of Lovno Museum of Natural History and graduate of the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts. He began making puppet films about 1911 (see 'Mest finematograficheskogo operatou'), emigrated to France in 1920 and continued to develop there his technique for plastic animation with the help of his two daughters...