Cary Fukunaga

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Cary Fukunaga
Fukunaga talking about Sin Nombre in 2009
Fukunaga talking about Sin Nombre in 2009
Born Cary Joji Fukunaga
(1977-07-10) July 10, 1977 (age 37)
Oakland, California, U.S.
Residence New York City, New York
Education Grenoble Institute of Political Studies
Tisch School of the Arts
Alma mater University of California, Santa Cruz
Occupation Director
Years active 2003–present
Known for Sin Nombre
Jane Eyre
True Detective

Cary Joji Fukunaga (born July 10, 1977) is an American film director, writer, and cinematographer. He is best known for writing and directing the 2009 film Sin Nombre (for which he won the Directing Award at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival), directing the 2011 film Jane Eyre, and for directing and executive producing the 2014 HBO series True Detective (for which he won the 2014 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series).[1][2][3][4][5]

Early life[edit]

Fukunaga was born in Oakland, California, the son of a third generation Japanese-American father born in a Japanese internment camp during World War II,[6] who worked for a generator company and later for the University of California, Berkeley; and a Swedish mother,[7][8] who worked as a dental hygienist and later as a history teacher.[9] His parents divorced and remarried, his father to an Argentine woman, and his mother to a Mexican-American.[7]

Fukunaga said that his uncles and aunts are all elementary school teachers or scientists.[9] Fukunaga said that his family has always been a "conglomeration of individual, sort of displaced people," recombinations of relatives and step-relatives, blood kin and surrogate kin, parents and what he calls "pseudo-parents" who treated him like a son.[7] His family moved around a lot within the San Francisco Bay Area; moving to Berkeley, Albany, Vallejo, Benicia, Sebastopol and back to Oakland.[8]

On his childhood: Fukunaga said he "began writing fictional stories and little screenplays when I was in fifth grade. We had a video camera that had a VCR still attached to the back in a backpack, like something out of Ghostbusters, which I’d use. When I was 14, I wrote a 60-page Civil War epic about two brothers that were in the Seven Days Campaign and were in a field hospital and fall in love with the same nurse. My friends and I also used to make little comedic videos all the time, like one of us would go for a slam-dunk and get our finger cut off by the rim—stuff like that. And when Blair Witch came out, me and my brothers shot a spoof of it where we get lost in our own house."[10]

Fukunaga originally wanted to be a pro snowboarder: "Every season, I’d go for the winter to train and compete. At 22, I had a good year and went to live in Japan, had a couple of magazine articles and stuff. But by the time I turned 23, I came back and looked at my friends who were 26, 27, and working as lift operators, and realized I didn’t want to be that. I’d always been interested in filmmaking so figured I’d try it out. But snowboarding taught me a lot about discipline and pushing my limits."[10]

Fukunaga got his start as a camera intern and later applied to film school.[11] He graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a Bachelor of Arts in history in 1999,[12][13] and attended Institut d'études politiques (IEP) de Grenoble. He enrolled in New York University's Tisch School of the Arts Graduate Film Program.[14][15]


Short films[edit]

Fukunaga wrote and directed the short film Victoria para Chino (2004) while at NYU, which screened at the Sundance Film Festival and received a Student Academy Award in 2005.[16] The short film also won an Audience Award for Best Narrative Student Short film at the 2004 Austin Film Festival, a "Best Student Film" award at the 2006 Ashland Independent Film Festival, a "BAFTA/LA Award for Excellence - Honorable Mention" award at the 2005 Aspen Shortsfest, Best Student Film at the 2005 BendFilm Festival, Best Short Film and an Audience Award for Best Short Film at the 2005 Gen Art Film Festival, Best Short film at the 2005 Milan International Film Festival, and the Jury Prize for Best Student Short at the 2004 Woodstock Film Festival.

He has also wrote and directed the short films Kofi (2008) (shot in black and white) and more recently, Sleepwalking in the Rift (2012), described as a color film about "a young woman on her first visit to East Africa who crosses paths with the Ranger charged with being her guide. They have something in common and when they meet, a light within them both begins to flicker." Fukunaga has also wrote and directed a segment in the omnibus film project "Chinatown Film Project" (2009).

Feature films[edit]

Sin Nombre[edit]

Fukunaga made his feature film debut with Sin Nombre which he both wrote and directed and received positive reviews.[17][18] The film received a number of awards, including the Directing award at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and a "New Director's Award" for Fukunaga at the 2009 Edinburgh International Film Festival. The film also won "Best Foreign Language Film" awards from the Austin Film Critics Association in 2009, the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards in 2009, the Florida Film Critics Circle Awards in 2009, the San Diego Film Critics Society Awards in 2009 (2nd place for Best Foreign Language Film), and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Awards in 2009. The film's cinematographer, Adriano Goldman, also won the Cinematography award at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, and at the 2009 Stockholm Film Festival, the film won a Best Actor award (for Edgar Flores), as well as a Best Directorial Debut and FIPRESCI Prize for Fukunaga. Fukunaga also won a 2010 Premios ACE award for "Cinema - Best First Work." The film was also nominated for Best Feature, Best Director and Best Cinematography from the 2010 Independent Spirit Awards, and was also nominated by the 2009 British Independent Film Awards (Best Foreign Film), the 2010 Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards (Best Foreign Language Film), the 2009 Chicago Film Critics Association Awards (Most Promising Filmmaker; Best Foreign Language Film), the 2010 Image Awards (Outstanding Foreign Motion Picture), the Bronze Horse at the 2009 Stockholm Film Festival and the 2009 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize.

Jane Eyre[edit]

In 2010, Fukunaga directed a new film adaptation of Jane Eyre starring Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell and Judi Dench. The film was released in 2011 and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Achievement in Costume Design for Costume Designer Michael O'Connor and a 2012 Goya Award for Best European Film. The film was also nominated for a 2012 BAFTA Award (Best Costume Design), a 2012 Broadcast Film Critics Association Award (Best Costume Design), the 2012 Costume Designers Guild Awards (Excellence in Period Film), the 2012 Evening Standard British Film Awards (Best Technical Achievement), the 2011 Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards (Best Costume Design), the 2011 Satellite Awards (Best Costume Design). The 2012 Australian Film Institute awards as well as the 2011 British Independent Film Awards nominated Mia Wasikowska for a "Best Actress" award. The film's screenplay and screenwriter Moira Buffini (as well as author Charlotte Bronte) were nominated for a 2012 USC Scripter Award.

For his role in the film and other films that year (including Shame, A Dangerous Method, and X-Men: First Class), lead actor Michael Fassbender also won "Best Actor" awards from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards, the 2011 National Board of Review Awards, the Central Ohio Film Critics Association Awards, the 2012 Evening Standard British Film Awards (also for Shame), and a 2012 Sant Jordi "Best Foreign Actor" award (also for A Dangerous Method, and X-Men: First Class).


True Detective[edit]

Fukunaga directed all eight episodes of the first season of the 2014 HBO TV series True Detective, which was written and created by novelist, fiction writer and screenwriter Nic Pizzolatto.[19] The series stars Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson and Michelle Monaghan. Fukunaga also served as an Executive Producer on the show. The series received critical praise and was nominated for five Primetime Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Directing for Fukunaga. For the second season of True Detective, Fukunaga will not be directing—but will continue to executive produce.[10]

Writing and producing[edit]

Fukunaga has written most of the films he has directed. The short films that he has written the screenplays for include Kofi (2003) and Victoria para chino (2004). He has also written the screenplay to his feature film, Sin Nombre (2009), as well as his segment for the omnibus film, Chinatown Film Project (2009). He is also currently attached as the screenwriter for the feature film projects Beasts of No Nation and It.

Fukunaga has also produced or served as executive producer on most of the projects he has directed. He was the executive producer for his short films Kofi (2003) and Victoria para chino (2004). He was also an executive producer on Andrew Okpeaha MacLean's feature film thriller, On the Ice, which won "Best Debut Film" and the "Crystal Bear" (Best Feature Film for the Generation 14+) at the 2011 Berlin Film Festival, among other awards.

Fukunaga also served as an executive producer for the HBO series he directed, True Detective.

Cinematography and other work[edit]

Fukunaga has also served as a cinematographer on a number of short film projects, including Handmade (2013) (a documentary short directed by Rob Meyer), Sikumi (2008) (also known as Sikumi (On the Ice) about an Inuit hunter on the frozen Arctic Ocean, directed by Andrew Okpeaha MacLean), Team Queen (2007) (a short film directed by Leah Meyerhoff), the feature documentary Death of Two Sons (2006) (directed by Micah Schaffer), the short films Clear Water (2005) (directed by Natalie Mooallem), White (2005) (directed by Sebastian Mantilla), Kinnaq Nigaqtuqtuaq (2005) (directed by Andrew Okpeaha MacLean), Two Men (2005) (directed by Ian Olds) and Mating Call (2004) (directed by Patricio Serna).

He has also served as a camera operator on the short Glory at Sea (2008) (directed by Beasts of the Southern Wild director Benh Zeitlin), as a gaffer on the short film Just Make Believe (2008) (directed by Jadrien Steele), as an additional cinematographer on the TV documentary Small Steps: Creating the High School for Contemporary Arts (2007), assistant camera on the short film Dock (2004) (directed by Nina Martinek), additional photography for the documentary Lockdown, USA (about the "War on Drugs" campaign and directed by Rebecca Chaiklin and Michael Skolnik), additional camera for Autumn's Eyes (2006) (directed by Paola Mendoza and Gabriel Noble), a grip on the feature film Mango Kiss (2004) (directed by Sascha Rice), and as an additional film loader on the feature film Black Cadillac (2003) (directed by John Murlowski and starring Randy Quaid).

Future projects[edit]

In May 2011, it was announced that Fukunaga would direct and co-write No Blood, No Guts, No Glory, a 2009 Black List script by Chase Palmer about "a spy and 20 Union soldiers in disguise who board a train in Georgia in order to pull off a heist that could bring a quick end to the Civil War", although by 2012 he was no longer attached to that project.[20]

Warner Bros. has also chosen Fukunaga to develop, direct, and write a new adaptation of Stephen King's It, which would be split into two films and is due to start shooting in summer 2015.[21] Fukunaga is directing the first film, but producer Dan Lin said Fukunaga is "currently closing a deal to co-write the second."[21][22]

His next feature was rumored to be a twist-filled science-fiction love story, Spaceless, from a well-known and long admired unproduced original script by I, Robot screenwriter Jeff Vintar, a favorite project of director Gore Verbinski, who would produce for Universal. Fukunaga's rewrite of Vintar's spec was too far removed from the original, and Fukunaga has since been removed as director. Verbinski is now set as the director of the original Vintar Spaceless draft.

Fukunaga directed and wrote the upcoming Beasts of No Nation, based on the novel of the same name by Uzodinma Iweala, in Idris Elba stars as Agu, the protagonist.[23] The movie was reportedly picked up by Netflix for a reported $12 million as part of an effort to expand into original films.[24]

During the summer of 2015, Fukunaga's is producing, via his Parliament of Owls production company, the film Black Lung, a supernatural thriller that is set to star Amanda Seyfried and Theo James.[25]

Personal life[edit]

Fukunaga lives in New York City, New York. Fukunaga has lived in France, Japan and Mexico City, and says, "I kind of like being a chameleon in that way and trying to integrate myself in whatever place I'm at."[7] He is fluent in French and Spanish.[7] Fukunaga said he learned Spanish as a kid because his family used to go down to Mexico for part of the year, every year. "My mom was married to a Mexican guy—a surfer—and so we'd kind of camp out on the beach the swell season. I would just kind of run around on the beach with locals, and I guess that's how I learned. Then I refined it later on in life, once I learned French, properly. I sort of applied French grammar to Spanish, and then got my Spanish in shape by the time I did my first short film down in Mexico, which was a short I did at NYU called Victoria para chino (2004)."[9]

Fukunaga dated actress Michelle Williams briefly in 2011.[26]

Fukunaga counts screenwriter Naomi Foner as a mentor: “We met six years ago at the Sundance Lab, when I was writing Sin Nombre,” Fukunaga said. “She was an adviser of mine. She’s just sort of, like, this amazing woman. So now I write screenplays and she’s writing screenplays, so we go to movies together and talk about movies. I look to her for advice.”[27]

He has received several grants, including a USA Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship, the John H. Johnson Film Award / Princess Grace Foundation Fellowship, and a Katrin Cartlidge Foundation bursary.


Year Title Director Writer Cinematographer Executive producer Notes
2003 Kofi Yes Yes Yes Short film
2003 Black Cadillac Additional film loader
2004 Victoria para chino Yes Yes Yes Short film
2004 The Adventures of Supernigger: Episode I - The Final Chapter Yes Short film
2004 Mating Call Short film
Assistant camera
2004 Mango Kiss Grip
2005 Two Men Yes Short film
2005 Kinnaq Nigaqtuqtuaq Yes Short film
2005 White Yes Short film
2005 Clear Water Yes Short film
2006 Death of Two Sons Yes Documentary
2006 Autumn's Eyes Documentary
Additional camera
2006 Lockdown, USA Documentary
Additional photography
2007 Team Queen Yes Short film
2007 Small Steps: Creating the High School for Contemporary Arts Yes Television documentary
2008 Sikumi (On the Ice) Yes Short film
2008 Just Make Believe Short film
2008 Glory at Sea Short film
Camera operator
2009 Sin Nombre Yes Yes Sundance Film Festival Dramatic Directing Award[28]
Edinburgh International Film Festival Skillset New Directors Award
Nominated—Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic
Nominated—Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Most Promising Filmmaker
Nominated—Independent Spirit Award for Best Director
Nominated—Golden Eye Award for Best International Feature Film
2009 Chinatown Film Project Yes Yes Yes Kiwi Lotion[29][30]
2011 On the Ice Yes
2011 Jane Eyre Yes Nominated—Goya Award for Best European Film
2012 Sleepwalking in the Rift Yes Short film
2013 Handmade Yes Documentary short
2014 True Detective Yes Yes Television series
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series
2014 Sikumi Yes Short film
2015 Beasts of No Nation Yes Yes Post Production
It Yes Yes Pre-Production
Black Lung Yes Pre-Production


  1. ^ Couch, Aaron (25 August 2014). "Emmys: Cary Fukunaga Wins Outstanding Directing for 'True Detective'". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  2. ^ Finnegan, Leah (25 August 2014). "Cary Fukunaga: Hottest Straight Guy at the Emmys". Gawker. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  3. ^ Dobbins, Amanda (5 March 2014). "Are You Into Cary Fukunaga Yet? You Should Be". Vulture. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  4. ^ Dobbins, Amanda (25 August 2014). "And Now, Cary Fukunaga’s Beautiful Man-Braids". Vulture. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  5. ^ Nessif, Bruna (25 August 2014). "Oh, Hello, Cary Joji Fukunaga! Internet Gushes Over True Detective Director After 2014 Emmys Win". E! Online. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  6. ^ "Film Captures the Joy and Terror of Immigrants' Trip North Through Mexico". 2009. Retrieved August 26, 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c d e Johnson, Reed (8 March 2009). "Crossing borders with 'Sin Nombre'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  8. ^ a b Stone, Judy (15 March 2009). "Cary Joji Fukunaga on the (Very) Bay Area Story Behind 'Sin Nombre'". SF360. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  9. ^ a b c Brown, Emma (January 2014). "True Director". Interview Magazine. Retrieved August 26, 2014. 
  10. ^ a b c Stern, Marlow (26 February 2014). "True Detective Director Cary Fukunaga’s Journey from Pro Snowboarder to Hollywood’s Most Wanted". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  11. ^ Coombs, Molly J. (12 March 2011). "Jane Eyre director Cary Fukunaga and star Mia Wasikowska – The Blast Interview". Blast. Retrieved 12 March 2011. 
  12. ^ Rappaport, Scott (25 January 2009). "UCSC alumnus wins 2009 Sundance directing award for first feature film". UCSC Newscenter. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  13. ^ "Alumnus Wins Film Award". UC Notes - Campus News. September 2005. Archived from the original on 28 May 2010. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  14. ^ "Featured Guest: Cary Fukunaga". Focus Features. 21 August 2008. Archived from the original on 4 June 2011. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  15. ^ "66th Primetime Emmy® Nominees". NYU Tisch. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  16. ^ Rappaport, Scott (June 27 – July 10, 2005). "Awards and Honors: Alumnus wins Student Academy Award". Currents Online. Vol. 9, No. 42: UC Santa Cruz. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  17. ^ McCarthy, Todd (12 March 2009). "Review: ‘Sin Nombre’ - A big new talent arrives on the scene with "Sin Nombre."". Variety. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  18. ^ Hill, Logan (23 March 2009). "Sin Nombre Director Cary Fukunaga on Poverty Porn and Why His Next Film Might Be a Musical". Vulture. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  19. ^ St. John, Allen (9 February 2014). "'Let The Actors Do Their Work:' A Conversation With 'True Detective' Director Cary Joji Fukunaga". Forbes. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  20. ^ Sneider, Jeff (24 May 2011). "Fukunaga, Focus team for Civil War heist pic". Variety. Retrieved 24 May 2011. 
  21. ^ a b Buchanan, Kyle (5 December 2014). "Cary Fukunaga Will Shoot Stephen King’s It Next Summer". Vulture. Retrieved 5 December 2014. 
  22. ^ Squires, John (3 March 2015). "Re-Adaptation of Stephen King’s It Looking for New Pennywise". Dread Central. Retrieved 3 March 2015. 
  23. ^ Prudom, Laura (25 August 2014). "‘True Detective’ Emmy Winner Cary Fukunaga Talks HBO Drama". Variety. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  24. ^ Kit, Borys (2 March 2015). "Netflix Picking Up Cary Fukunaga's African Drama 'Beasts of No Nation'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 3 March 2015. 
  25. ^ Evry, Max (4 February 2015). "Amanda Seyfried and Theo James to Headline Black Lung". Retrieved 3 March 2015. 
  26. ^ Vokes-Dudgeon, Sophie (26 August 2014). "Cary Fukunaga Becomes Instant Emmys Crush, Hot True Detective Director is Internet Sensation". Us Weekly. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  27. ^ Greco, Patti (29 March 2012). "Cary Fukunaga Is Addicted to Cabin Porn". Vulture. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  28. ^ "2009 Sundance Film Festival Announces Awards: We Live in Public, Push, Rough Aunties and The Maid (La Nana) Earn Top Jury Prizes; Audience Favorites Feature Afghan Star, An Education, The Cove and Push". Sundance Film Festival. 24 January 2009. Archived from the original on 26 November 2009. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  29. ^ "MOCA Monday: Chinatown Film Project". Museum of Chinese in America. 19 December 2011. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  30. ^ "Chinatown Film Project". Museum of Chinese in America. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 

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