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Hot 20: The Auteur, Ryan Coogler

Photograph by Jay L. Clendenin

HOT. The word carries so many meanings: passionate, sizzling, trendy, intense, and yes, sexy. But for us, it signals our favorite month. Meet the 20 movers and shakers that have us fired up this year.

As the tragic story of the Oscar Grant shooting at the Fruitvale BART station emerged, Ryan Coogler watched with bated breath. “Oscar could have been me,” says the Oakland native. “We were the same age; his friends looked like my friends. I was devastated that this could happen in the Bay Area.” Inspired to restore Grant’s overlooked humanity, the graduate of USC’s prestigious School of Cinematic Arts set out to make his first feature.

Fruitvale Station gained the early support of an all-star lineup: Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker produced the film; The Help star Octavia Spencer committed to playing Grant’s mother, Wanda, within a few days of reading the script; and Friday Night Lights hero Michael B. Jordan landed the lead with his inviting smile and warm eyes. “Just like Oscar’s,” says the director.

Michele Turnure-Salleo, director of SF Film Society’s Filmmaker360 program, which granted Coogler $100,000 for post-production costs, isn’t surprised that the film—shot in just 20 days—won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in January 2013. “Ryan has an innate ability to connect deeply with his actors, the crew, and most of all, the story,” says Turnure-Salleo. “He inspired everyone to do their best work.”