It Runs in the Family: Six Great Directors whose Parents Were Great Directors


Brandon Cronenberg, son of Canadian body-horror master David Cronenberg, is hardly the first child of a famed filmmaker to follow in his father’s footsteps, with everyone from Rob Reiner to Nora Ephron making a name for themselves with a little help from parents in the business. But with the release this week of his debut directorial outing, the celebrity culture satire “Antiviral”, he’s proving himself much more indebted than most to the style and character of the family legacy. Where most kids struggle to step out from under the shadow of their parents, Brandon Cronenberg seems to enjoy staying well within the shade, working in such a similar register to the films of his father that it’s impossible to avoid the comparison.

That said, the younger Cronenberg remains in good company: some of the cinema’s most well-regarded filmmakers had to contend with parental legends of their own, emerging on the other side of acclaim with their own unique artistic voices in tact. And so to celebrate Brandon Cronenberg’s coming out party—and to wish him the best in more singular endeavors—we’ve come up with a list of 6 notable directors whose parents, directly or by example, taught them the rules of the game.


Parent: Francis Ford Coppola

Best Film: “Somewhere”

Though her father is responsible for some of the most well-regarded films of the 1970s, Sofia Coppola has proven herself over the course of just four films—with a fifth, “The Bling Ring”, due out in June—to be as important a cinematic voice to her generation as Francis Ford was to his. She made her name with the Oscar-winning tourist picture “Lost In Translation”, but it’s her last film, the masterful “Somewhere”, that confirmed her talent beyond reasonable objection. And where many the elder Coppola’s films, particularly “The Godfather” and “Apocalypse Now”, were steeped in a kind of exaggerated hyper-masculinity, Sofia is a veritable icon of modern feminist filmmaking.


Parent: Jacques Remy

Best Film: “Irma Vep”

Spoiler Warning? This is the last scene of "Irma Vep," though it hardly *spoils* anything)

Perhaps the major figure of the contemporary French cinema, Olivier Assayas is, rather appropriately, the son of one of the classic French cinema’s most important screenwriters. Jacques Remy wrote for everyone from Rene Clement to Roger Vadim; and while his predates the nouvelle vague, his popularity in the mainstream during the 40s and 50s no doubt helped compel a young Olivier to seek out most radical alternatives. In his wonderful new film “Something in the Air”, Assayas dramatizes himself as an impressionable teenage falling into a crowd of rebels and experimental cinema enthusiasts, and it’s not hard to imagine the spectre of his father’s success looming in the background.


Parent: Roberto Roberti

Best Film: “A Fistful Of Dollars”

Roberto Roberti isn’t exactly a household name anymore, but the father of spaghetti western auteur Sergio Leone was a central presence in Italy’s burgeoning silent cinema, producing more than fifty films between 1912 and 1926. It wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that the silent film grammar in which his father was fluent had an indelible impression on Leone’s sensibility, whose defining western style—he favored long takes and faces held in wordless close-up—strongly recalls an earlier era.


Parent: Maurice Tourneur

Best Film: “I Walked With A Zombie”

It’s heartening that Jacques Tourneur, a long-standing purveyor of low-budget RKO horror films, is finally beginning to receive a degree of retroactive (and well-deserved) critical due, because films like “Cat People”, “The Leopard Man” and, of course, “I Walked With A Zombie” are as important to the b-movie canon as any picture you’d care to name. Jacques was also the son of Maurice Tourneur, whose oeuvre has always been regarded as more plainly respectable; after immigrating to America in 1914, he became a prolific director of silent films, and is now remembered as one of the most cherished (if minor) filmmakers of the period.


Parent: Peter Hyams

Best Film: “Universal Soldier: Regeneration”

Peter Hyams made a career out of ludicrous action, bestowing the cinema which such vaunted modern classics as the Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicles “Timecop” and “Sudden Death”, but it’s his son, rising star John Hyams, whose transformed the raw materials of that legacy into something like pop art. Like his father, John works with low-budget action heavyweights like JCVD and Dolph Lundgren, and, like his father’s films, John’s are often excessively violent and jubilantly vulgar.

The difference is one of approach: where Peter was a reliable but unexceptional craftsman, John fancies himself more the self-styled artiste, taking as many cues from Gaspar Noe and David Lynch as he does the old-school action canon. His recent “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning” was well-received by critics for pandering quite conspicuously to the arthouse crowd, making a show of its “Lost Highway” references and relying on strobe lights and atmosphere as much as guns and fists.


Parent: Ken Jacobs

Best Film: “Terri”

Azazel Jacobs has taken more or less the opposite strategy to careerism as Brandon Cronenberg. His father, Ken Jacobs, is a widely respected experimental filmmaker of the purest variety, the kind of avant-gardist whose opus is a seven-hour found footage installation. Azazel, on the other hand, has found considerable excess making mostly accessible independent dramedies. His most recent film, the critically acclaimed Sundance hit “Terri”, seems a kind of directorial calling card for a filmmaker clearly on the rise, and it suggests that Azazel’s ambitions are considerably more commercially oriented than his father’s ever were.