The Living Directors (1986–2019)

Film Through The Lens Of An American 80s Baby

Ahlswede Collection
34 min readJan 18, 2020


Welcome to The Living Directors (1986–2019) which, for the time being, is an ongoing document meant to be amended. The rules are set, but additions and retractions can and will be made as new shit comes to light. Links to new media will be posted, podcasts will be recorded, and YouTube videos will be published. Enjoy.

The Rules

  1. No films before 1986
  2. The director had to be alive on December 31, 2019
  3. No television, shorts, documentaries, or stage work

This isn’t a best-of list for American directors, but it is made from an American perspective. There are plenty of international greats who missed the cut, but at least that gives us another list to make.

Why 1986–2019?

33 years ago I was in a Maryland suburb going back and forth between parents. I was six going on seven, the age when a turn of awareness begins for many. Sports in the yard were a thrill and necessity, but movies were as important as anything else. Moonstruck, Wall Street, and The Untouchables were above my capacity, but The Fly, Top Gun, Labyrinth, Stand By Me, Ferris Bueller, Karate Kid, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Crocodile Dundee, Short Circuit, Three Amigos!, Little Shop of Horrors, An American Tail, Howard the Duck, The Golden Child, The Last Emperor — seven-year-old me was obsessed with these movies.

What Makes a Film Great?

In order,

  1. Story (director as teacher)
  2. Acting (director as coach)
  3. Cinematography (director as artist)
  4. The million other things (director as executive)

Like a teacher, the director’s job is to bring something new to the viewer’s life. It is to shock and wow them. It is to expand upon what they know and what they think they know. This begins with story. Any director will tell you that the script dictates the potential of the film.

Next comes the ability to inspire and facilitate great acting performances. A director is like the coach of a sports team in this way. Players and actors must give their greatest efforts…



Ahlswede Collection

Living Directors / Self Pour / Talking Black Art stream wherever you listen to podcasts