Hollywood's new foreign film-makers

NEW YORK • From Fritz Lang to Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Hollywood has a long tradition of nabbing talent from abroad.

This summer, the custom has found new life in a crop of genre pictures by foreign-born film- makers directing in English.

There is a home-invasion thriller by a Uruguayan, a boxing picture by a Venezuelan and a thriller from a Frenchman. That international assortment follows the Blake Lively shark film, The Shallows, released in June and directed by Jaume Collet- Serra, a Spaniard who has made a career as a kind of Liam Neeson whisperer (Non-Stop, 2014; Unknown, 2011).

The phenomenon is nothing new, but the current batch of foreign film-makers making genre movies is regarded as distinctive from, for example, the wave of European emigrees in the 1930s and 1940s that included Billy Wilder.

"Then they were fleeing war and oppression," Ms Kristin Thompson, a film historian who has written about globalisation. "Now film- makers move about the world freely for financial or artistic motives."

There is not one reason for the new cohort of foreign-born auteurs. They can provide a stylistic shot in the arm for Hollywood, which, in turn, can offer advancement and bigger markets.

The film-makers' infusion of creative energy often comes with a budget-consciousness born of necessity and ambition. And they make international co-productions a possibility, which can mean lower costs and fewer risks through state financing from back home.

Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez came to Hollywood's attention through a 2009 short film that went viral, Panic Attack, a resourceful imagining of an alien invasion of Montevideo. Hollywood agencies, studios and managers started calling the day after it was posted and he was soon on a plane to Los Angeles.

He went on to direct the 2013 remake of Sam Raimi's scrappy 1981 classic, The Evil Dead. "I always joke about the fact that when I go in and pitch something with some accent," Alvarez said, "it just makes the whole thing sound more interesting."

His new film, Don't Breathe, which opened last month, follows three teenage burglars in Detroit who meet their match in a blind veteran. He is next set to direct Monsterpocalypse, an adaptation of a board game.

But Alvarez, 38, attributes his success to developing his skills far from Hollywood. He started shooting shorts at seven, studied screenwriting in Amsterdam and established a post-production house in Uruguay before making the leap. "I was working so long in such an isolated place," he said. "That way, by the time Hollywood finds you, you're so prepared."

Venezuelan Jonathan Jakubowicz had not made an English-language feature before directing his countryman Edgar Ramirez and Robert De Niro in the Roberto Duran biopic, Hands Of Stone, which opened on Aug 26. His debut feature, Secuestro Express (2005), was a thriller that caught on internationally.

Jean-Francois Richet, the French director of Blood Father (2016), said Don Siegel, David Fincher and Michael Mann were among his favourite auteurs. Foreign film-makers like him cited the value of being able to draw on the pool of Hollywood acting talent. For Blood Father, which was released last month and stars Mel Gibson as a biker who must save his daughter from a gang, Richet had a star with experience in action films as well as a fierce devotion to character.

He made his first foray into American film with a genre remake in 2005, Assault On Precinct 13.

The importing of international directorial talent looks as if it will continue.

As Peter Craig, who worked as screenwriter-producer on Blood Father, put it: "When people make great movies overseas, everybody's curious what they'll do here. Talent just travels."


• Don’t Breathe and Hands Of Stone are showing in cinemas.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2016, with the headline 'Hollywood's new foreign film-makers'. Subscribe