With record warm temperatures bringing early blossoms to New York, the surest sign yet that winter is over and spring is here is the appearance this week of New Directors/New Films, one of the city’s most provocative film festivals, co-presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Film Department of the Museum of Modern Art. Culling the gems from previous festivals (Sundance and Berlin especially), with a focus on first-time directors, this year’s edition is essential viewing and a great way to check the pulse of the indie and international film world (which, I am happy to report, is strong). NDNF runs from March 21 to April 1, with screenings at both MoMA and Lincoln Center.
Amidst the 29 features (24 narrative, 5 documentaries) and 12 short films from 28 countries, NDNF highlights include a rare screening of Stanley Kubrick’s 1953 first feature, FEAR AND DESIRE, as well as the festival’s first-ever 3D feature, THE RABBI’S CAT and the rousing Indonesian martial-arts thriller THE RAID, which will be shown as a midnight screening. Another twist new this year is a surprise screening that will serve as the closing night selection. The film will not be announced in advance of its screening that evening, building up much speculation.
Here are some of the highlights of this year’s event with descriptions provided by NDNF. To see the full line-up and follow interviews and other details, visit: www.newdirectors.org:
THE AMBASSADOR (Mads Brugger, Denmark)
The consummate agent-provocateur–his method fittingly described as “Graham Greene meets Borat”–Brügger (THE RED CHAPEL, NDNF 2010) shocks and mightily entertains by performing an artistic intervention in reality using role-playing and hidden cameras to expose an awful truth
DONOMA (Djinn Carrénard, France)
Rumored to have been shot for about $200, DONOMA announces the arrival of an intriguing new talent on the French scene, Haitian-born, Paris based Djinn Carrénard. Devised, shot (often guerrilla-style) and edited over a period of years, the film is a choral piece that chronicles the romantic destinies of three women, offering a fresh, funny portrait of an emerging French generation.
5 BROKEN CAMERAS (Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi, Palestine/Israel/France)
Emad Burnat’s and Guy Davidi’s documentary began five years ago in the Palestinian town of Bil’in when Burnat bought a camera to record the birth of his son Gibreel. Gibreel’s arrival, however, coincided with a period of great unrest in the area, which is witnessed by five video cameras, each subsequently damaged by bullets or rocks. A Kino Lorber release.
GENERATION P (Victor Ginzburg, Russia)
Ginzburg’s GENERATION P could be described as a metaphysical Mad Men from the go-go 1990s – a wonderland of images and ideas that emerged from the rebirth of a nation as a marketer’s paradise. The film offers a “view” of post-Communist Russia as the arrival of democracy and Pepsi-Cola brought the advance of capitalism with all of its mechanisms and fuzzy messages.
GIMME THE LOOT (Adam Leon, USA)
In his feature film debut, Adam Leon has created a raucous, car-less road trip that is an homage to street-smart kids and New York City. Malcolm and Sofia, two determined teens from the Bronx, are the ultimate graffiti writers. When their latest masterpiece is wiped out by a rival gang, they must hustle, steal and scheme to get spectacular revenge and become the biggest graffiti writers in the city.
GOODBYE (Mohammad Rasoulof, Iran)
In his latest film, celebrated Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof creates a dramatic and tense tale set in Tehran, where a young woman is desperately attempting to acquire a visa to leave the country. The beautifully shot film uses the confinement of space to cinematically express claustrophobia, its precise framing catching every subtle expression on the face of the astonishing Leyla Zareh, who plays the disbarred human rights lawyer, Noora, looking for a way out.
HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE (David France, USA)
David France’s immersive moving-image document chronicling the rise of AIDS activism shows a movement though the lenses of those who captured it firsthand. Desperate people leveraged the skills they had—some wrote, some lobbied, many marched, and all mobilized—to flight a plague that vast swaths of society saw as just punishment for immoral actions. A Sundance Selects release.
HUAN HUAN (Song Chuan, China)
Song Chuan’s first feature captures the dreams and desires, disappointments and regrets, of a life not fully lived via the title character. In a rural Chinese village, a young woman who is the local doctor’s mistress struggles against her family, government bureaucracy and social mores to move away and create a life for herself.
LAS ACACIAS (Pablo Giorgelli, Argentina)
One of the discoveries of the 2011 Cannes Critics Week, Pablo Giogelli’s road movie with a difference takes a 900-mile trip from Asunción in Paraguay to Buenos Aires in the company of Rubén, a gruff, taciturn truck driver and the two illegal immigrants—a young woman, and her new-born daughter—he is reluctantly transporting.
OMAR KILLED ME (Roschdy Zem, France)
Actor-turned-director Roschdy Zem’s OMAR KILLED ME tells a story of racism, politics, and injustice with the clarity of a documentary and the pacing of a thriller. When a rich widow was murdered in the south of France 20 years ago, her Moroccan gardener was convicted and jailed with no evidence; it took a committed journalist to try to unravel the rush to judgment that laid bare the racism that was hidden in the French justice system.
OSLO, AUGUST 31ST (Joachim Trier, Norway)
Daylight lingers at the end of August in Oslo, but sunlight is not a friend to Anders, a semi-recovered addict, facing a new life, which may not be appealing without former habits. Adapted from the same novel as Louis Malle’s THE FIRE WITHIN (1963), Joachim Trier’s OSLO, AUGUST 31ST follows Anders as he tries to adjust – making love, wandering through Oslo, having a job interview, seeing old friends, and trying to get comfortable with his situation. A Strand Releasing Film.
AN OVERSIMPLIFICATION OF HER BEAUTY (Terence Nance, USA)
Frank, funny, and bracingly contemporary, visual artist Terence Nance gleefully bends the cinematic rules for his personal meditation on love in the new millennium with his film, AN OVERSIMPLIFICATION OF BEAUTY. Passages of live action sequences and direct-to-camera interviews are accented with a wide variety of animation styles as Nance analyzes his amorous history as well as his current circumstances.
ROMANCE JOE (Lee Kwang-Kuk, South Korea)
In his playful first feature, Lee Kwang-Kuk expertly weaves several narrative strands into an elegant web and a meditation on storytelling. A teasing and pleasing portrait of a filmmaker in search of a story to tell, ROMANCE JOE begins as a young, self-possessed barmaid in a remote inn recalls the time she met the title character.