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Saatchis' New Directors' Showcase 2009

Saatchis has cast its net even further this year in its search for fresh directing talent. Here are some who will be showing their wares at Cannes.

Could YouTube, now such an important breeding ground for young filmic talent, be about to bring a new lease of life to the Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors' Showcase?

It certainly holds out some exciting prospects for the showcase, always a hot ticket at Cannes but eager to progress further from being an enormously popular one-off event into an all-year-round phenomenon that acts as a perpetual magnet for directing stars of the future.

For the first time, the showcase is to have its own YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/nds). Within minutes of the 3,000-strong Cannes audience seeing the pick of the showcase crop, the films will start being streamed on to YouTube.

Over the coming months, its 19-year archive will be uploaded. And while the showcase does not award prizes, audience interest will be sustained with an offer to vote online for the "people's choice".

"Until now, the showcase has been a one-day wonder," Richard Myers, the Saatchi & Saatchi worldwide creative director, ideas company culture, explains. "If you weren't in Cannes, the chances are you didn't know about it. Now we can keep it alive for the whole year as well as catch films all the year round instead of in the space of a few weeks."

The new alliance between the showcase and YouTube reflects the growing impact the online heavyweight is having on pinpointing emerging talent. It is also symbolic of how online has become the most significant vehicle by which promising directors can become exposed to a global audience. "Pretty much every new director is savvy enough to know they have to get in front of a YouTube audience if they're to get noticed by a production company," Myers points out.

As recently as four years ago, the Saatchis worldwide creative board relied on network offices around the globe to be its eyes and ears when it came to identifying showcase possibles. The result was a long list of names that went up for showcase contention.

Today, the showcase is just as likely to draw from any number of websites, including YouTube. Ironically, this has made the identification more difficult now that anybody, anywhere can make a film and post it. "It's increasingly difficult to find somebody nobody has seen before," Myers says.

How then to separate the wheat from the chaff? One way is to be alert to the social networking chatter that a remarkable new piece of film will provoke. "You can tell when something is good when so many people are talking about it," Tom Eslinger, the Saatchi & Saatchi worldwide creative director interactive, says.

The showcase identifies other emerging work by developing a loose relationship with organisations such as Bug. Now in its third year, Bug has a mission to find the most inventive and inspiring music promos from around the world, be they mainstream videos or the work of "bedroom" directors using off-the-shelf technology.

Another source is Aniboom, which cultivates animated content by providing online opportunities. It has some 5,000 animators at its disposal. Not so surprising, perhaps, because animation is a good way for new talent to make itself known as it can be relatively cheap to do.

The result is lots of material needing to be sifted, although the job is made easier because, as Myers points out, the cream quickly rises. "It's a bit like sitting in a jury room in Cannes," he says. "The great work just leaps out at you. Also, if you're watching a promo or a short film, you don't need very long to reach a conclusion."

And what conclusions are to be drawn from the 20 films that will be screened in Cannes this year? According to Myers, the overwhelming one is the absence of great commercials. This may be partly explained, he says, by the amount of crossover between commercials and virals. But it is also a commentary on the state of the market when fewer agencies and clients are willing to take a chance on an unknown director. And why should they when so many famous names have become affordable because they need the work?

"The thrill of using somebody for the first time is being tempered by risk aversion and the availability of big names," Myers points out. "Where you might once have gone for an up-and-coming talent, you may now be more likely to opt for Frank Budgen. It doesn't mean there aren't any good new directors, they just aren't getting the opportunities."

Myers hopes that by stepping into the future with YouTube, the showcase can do better what it has always done in the past to ensure those opportunities not only remain but are extended.

DANAKIL

Danakil has already courted controversy for the pro-abortion view expressed in his short film Antibodies for Poni Hoax, an electronic music outfit from Paris. At a recent screening, a woman audience member stormed out after ranting about its content.

"He describes himself as a director/photographer and it's easy to see the photographic skill in his filming," Myers says. "This is a violent and very edgy story in which an abortion takes place on the screen, but it's told in a gentle way. What's more, shooting late at night in an airport gives the whole thing a spooky and deserted feel."

Danakil has been directing promos for The Micronauts, The Penelopes and YAS/Mirwais among others for the past two years. Since 2005, his video installations and photographs have been shown at major galleries and in key exhibitions around the world.

The images he creates have been described as "subtly unsettling and exuding an eerie sense of stillness. Though immediately arresting, the real meaning of his pictures unfolds over time."

CHRISTOPHER HUTSUL

Hutsul's animated spot, Rodney And Geoffrey Visit Air Force One, was made for the Nike-sponsored Resfest, a festival of original shorts and music video programmes.

Myers' verdict: "It's odd, basic and wonderfully naive. I love the language. It's a very original way to tell the story of a brand."

Eslinger says: "It looks like it's been made on a Mac using Flash rather than a film. It's representative of one of the trends that we're seeing."

Hutsul, who studied at Ontario College of Art & Design, currently works from a studio in Toronto's Kensington Market where he creates woodblock prints.

His eclectic range of interests encompass cycling and gardening. And he's a highly ranked table-hockey player.

KEITH LOUTIT

The Sydney-based Loutit likes shooting the ordinary in extraordinary ways. Signed by Partizan in May, he says his aim is to make people take a fresh look at places that are familiar to them.

Loutit's technique is to create the illusion of miniaturisation by combining the techniques of tilt-shift and time-lapse photography. Each of his short films is composed of thousands of digital still images.

Myers says: "I've never seen live-action miniaturisation done in this way before. The tilt-shift photography makes it look like Thomas The Tank Engine, but we're all suckers for miniaturisation. And, on a large screen, it looks fantastic."

BEN STEIGER LEVINE

Steiger Levine says films have always been an escape for him and wants others to see the medium in the same way. His disturbing Beast promo called Mr Hurricane certainly does transport viewers into a weird world in which a swarm of bees transforms itself into a human image.

"This film is truly creepy," Eslinger comments. "I was holding on to my chair."

Myers found it mesmerising. "You just can't take your eyes off it," he says. "The film is unselfconscious as well as being such an elegant and seamless creation of strangeness."

Born in Montreal, Steiger Levine directed several short films before turning his attention to promos. Since then, his work has been acclaimed in a number of magazines, on blogs and in festivals around the world, where he is noted for creating visual anecdotes that are unique and magical.

ZHU JI JING

A kung fu master involved in a table tennis match in which he defies every attempt to snatch a point off him is the star of Ping Pang, a spot for Nokia by a Chinese director "who has what I can only describe as a Bruce Lee fascination", Myers says. "But this film is totally engaging."

Zhu Ji Jing started out as a painter but graduated in 2003 from Beijing Film Academy having majored in cinematography. For the next five years, he worked as a director of photography and began directing in 2008.

This year has seen him establish himself as a commercials director, winning gold awards at Adfest and the One Show.

CORIN HARDY

As a collection of discarded cigarette packets transform themselves into an army of cardboard warriors, Hardy's creation looks like it's going to turn into an offbeat anti-smoking film.

Of course, it's nothing of the kind. The film is actually a promo for The Prodigy, of Firestarter fame. No surprise, then, that Warrior's Dance quickly descends into pyromania. "This is a very dark and witty film," Myers observes.

No surprise, either, to learn that Hardy began as a special-effects monster maker aged 12 working in his bike shed or that he's much influenced by 70s storybook illustration and 80s horror movies.

A degree in special effects from Wimbledon School of Art led to his first stop-motion short film, Butterfly, which won at the 2003 Brussels Short Animated Film Festival.

This success pointed him towards promos, starting with Keane's Somewhere Only We Know and Bedshaped.

Hardy's also worked for The Rumblestrips, Jon Spencer and on last year's MVA award-winning Horrors promo She Is The New Thing.

AARON DUFFY

The Brooklyn-based Duffy's unusual job description of himself is "director and crochet artist". These diverse skills coalesce in the endearing animated story of a man produced entirely from needlework.

"The film, Special Guest, tells a charming story but on a very unusual plane," Myers says. "It's full of questions, has a real minimalist feel to it and is so inventive."

Duffy graduated from Washington University in St Louis in 2006 and, since then, he has created a number of promos, short films and commercials. He also co-founded SpecialGuest, a sister studio to the New York production company 1stAveMachine.

OREN LAVIE, YUVAL AND MERAV NATHAN

"A labour of love" is how Myers describes Her Morning Elegance, the story of a woman getting through a hectic day without seeming to leave her bed. It's an apt comment on a film that isn't really a film at all but a series of 3,225 still shots.

The work is the creation of three people with diverse talents. One is the Tel Aviv-born Lavie, the writer, director and author of several stage plays who also describes himself as a "writer of funny books for sad children". As a songwriter, he produced his debut album, The Opposite Side Of The Sea, on his own label.

Her Morning Elegance marks his first venture into film-making, which he undertook with the husband-and-wife director/animator team Yuval and Merav Nathan. The couple, who have created promos, short films and commercials, have a unique style that combines photography, design, 3D animation, stop-motion and 2D compositing.

Myers believes the highly unusual style of Her Morning Elegance could work in a commercial. But he warns: "The trouble is that when techniques like this get picked up, the results aren't always flattering."

KOSAI SEKINE

Sekine already has an impressive reel of commercials for clients including Honda, Fuji Xerox and NEC. And it's easy to see why after his Adidas spot called Breakup Service.

The film recounts the ups and downs of a young boy in Tokyo who makes a living out of delivering and reading messages to people telling them they've been dumped by their partners. It ends when he has to perform the service on his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend.

Myers says: "This is classic film-making and so seriously economical that there's not a wasted frame. That's a very good attribute to have if you're making commercials."

After working as a production manager, Sekine moved to the production company HAT. This led to him writing and directing his first short film, the multi-award-winning Right Place. He has directed promos for W&K Tokyo Lab and is represented by Blink in London.

JAMES FROST

Radiohead has an impressive record when it comes to promotion and its Grammy-nominated video for House Of Cards, directed by Frost, maintains the standard. It's claimed to be the first video to be created without cameras and lights, using only laser scanners to capture the imagery.

"You never see Radiohead do a conventional promo," Myers comments. "They encourage new techniques and this film is such an extraordinary visual. No wonder it's had 1.5 million hits online."

Frost has found fame on the back of promos for a galaxy of artists including Stereophonics and Kylie Minogue. In 2001, his promo for Coldplay's Yellow won him Best Director of a New Artist at the MVPA Awards and the film picked up nominations for MTV and the Brit Awards. Three years later, his Sunrise promo for Norah Jones won wide acclaim.

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