The original poster for the 1966 film Batman, directed by the world’s second oldest living filmmaker
It’s unlikely that anyone will surpass Manoel de Oliveira’s record of being the world’s oldest active filmmaker. The Portuguese maestro was 105 when he completed his final short, The Old Man of Belem (2014), which also earned him the record for the longest directorial career, as he started back in 1931 with the silent city symphony, Douro, Faina Fluvial.
Yet, De Oliveira is not the longest lived film director. That distinction goes to George Abbott, who was 107 and seven months when he passed away on 31 January 1995. Primarily known as a playwright, Abbott began acting in films in 1918 and made his directorial bow with The Carnival Man (1929). However, he saved the best until last, when he teamed with Stanley Donen to adapt his hit Broadway musicals The Pajama Game (1957) and Damn Yankees (1958).
Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this list. If there are older living directors out there, please let us know.
20. Gene Deitch (8 August 1924)
Hailing from UPA and Terrytoons, Deitch relocated to Prague to make Munro (1961), the first Oscar-winning animation produced outside the USA. He also made 13 Tom and Jerry cartoons for MGM. Among his 100+ credits are the Oscar-nominated Sidney’s Family Tree (1958), an abandoned mid-60s adaptation of The Hobbit and a 1973 take on Where the Wild Things Are.
Stanley Donen (right) with Gene Kelly on the set of Singin' in the Rain (1952)
War hero, journalist, poet and playwright, Gatti associated with the Left Bank group and collaborated regularly with Chris Marker. His debut, Enclosure (1961), was acclaimed at Cannes, while El otro Cristóbal (1963) was filmed in Cuba after Gatti was recommended to Fidel Castro by Che Guevara. He tacked the Irish question in The Writing on the Wall (1981).
17. Matti Kassila (12 January 1924)
A stalwart of Finnish cinema, Kassila has produced 30 features and numerous documentaries and shorts since his 1949 debut. Despite switching between noir (The Radio Commits Burglary, 1951), drama (The Harvest Month, 1956) and the road movie (The Heart of Glass, 1959), he’s best known for the Inspector Palmu quartet (1960-69), inspired by the novels of Mika Waltari.
Although commended for the 1953 short, The Crimson Curtain, and the features Les Mauvaises Rencontres (1955) and Une vie (1958), Astruc’s reputation rests on ‘The Birth of a New Avant-Garde’, an article in the 30 March 1948 edition of L’Ecran français that propounded the ‘caméra-stylo’ technique that influenced the auteur shooting style of the French new wave.
Branded to Kill (1967), directed by Seijun Suzuki
14. Seijun Suzuki (24 May 1923)
Departing from the lurid studio style with Youth of the Beast (1963), Suzuki so upset the Nikkatsu hierarchy with the stylised yakuza masterpieces Tokyo Drifter (1966) and Branded to Kill (1967) that he was banned for a decade. He returned triumphantly, however, with the ‘Taisho trilogy’ (1980-91) and proved typically unpredictable at 82 with Princess Raccoon (2005).
13. Mrinal Sen (14 May 1923)
Introduced to cinema by the Indian People’s Theatre Association, Sen approached diverse social issues from a Marxist perspective. The comedy Bhuvan Shome (1969) and the ‘Calcutta trilogy’ (1971-73) confirmed him as a key figure in Indian ‘parallel cinema’, and he won prizes at Berlin for In Search of Famine (1980) and Cannes for The Case Is Closed (1982).
A Lithuanian survivor of wartime labour and displaced persons camps, Mekas emigrated to the USA with his brother Adolfas in 1949 and founded Film Culture and the Film-Makers’ Cooperative. Following the underground classic, The Brig (1963), he became known for diary films like Sleepless Nights Stories (2011) that captured reality and memory “without being poetic”.
10. Ebrahim Golestan (19 October 1922)
Resident in Sussex since 1975, Golestan began producing industrial shorts like The Wave, Coral and Rock and A Fire (both 1961), which was edited by poet Forough Farrokhzad. A satirical intent informed The Iranian Crown Jewels (1965), as well as his features, The Brick and the Mirror (1964) and The Secret of the Treasure of the Jinn Valley (1972).
The doyen of Sinhalese cinema, Peries began with experimental shorts and government infomationals before his debut feature, Rekava (1956), was acclaimed at Cannes. Noted for their quiet contemplation, his 20-plus pictures include the ‘Wickremasinghe trilogy’ – Gamperaliya (1964), Kaliyugaya (1982) and Yuganthaya (1985) – as well as Golu Hadawatha (1968), Nidhanaya (1970) and his sole English outing, The God King (1974).
Lester James Peries filming The God King (1974)
2. Leslie H. Martinson (16 January 1915)
A journalist before becoming an MGM script clerk in 1936, Martinson began directing TV western shows before debuting with the Mickey Rooney sci-fi romp, The Atomic Kid (1954). He remained a small-screen stalwart, but enjoyed cult success with Hot Rod Girl (1956), PT 109 (1963), Batman (1966) and Fathom (1967) before his cinematic swan song, Mrs Pollifax: Spy (1971).
1. Antony Mithradas (2 November 1913)
A pioneer of Malayalam and Tamil cinema, the world’s oldest film director only has seven pictures to his credit. He debuted with the Tamil drama Dayalan (1941) before attracting attention with the 1954 Prem Nazir duo, Baalyasakhi and Avakasi. In 1955, he directed the first Malayalam mythological, Harishchandra, before concluding his career with the Sinhalese hit, Duppathage Duka (1956), and legendary actor M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar’s farewell, Sivagami (1960).