2016 makes a whopping 45 years that New York City tri-state audiences have gotten to enjoy the best in cinema from the next generation of who the Film Society at Lincoln Center deems the latest international superstars in filmmaking with New Directors/New Films.
Home to fresh debuts (though sometimes sophomore feature films) from emerging filmmakers such as Dee Rees, Terence Nance, and countless others, the films presented at ND/NF this year truly break the mold in drama, documentary, and even horror selections. Also significant are the short film slates, not home so much to new directors as they are to those always willing to break conventions with their film concepts and executions. Amidst controversies from Hollywood about alienating audiences and certain voices, as well as the quality of cinema in general, Film Society’s Director of Programming Dennis Lim, “If this is even a small glimpse into the future of cinema, there are many reasons to be hopeful.”
He could not be more correct.
Opening the festival is Babak Anvari’s debut feature Under the Shadow, about a mother and daughter haunted by a sinister, largely unseen presence during the Iran-Iraq War. The Closing Night selection is Kirsten Johnson’s Cameraperson, a self-described memoir of the cinematographer-turned-director’s first solo effort that deftly examines the delicate, complex relationship between filmmaker and subject.
Screenings take place each at the Film Society of Lincoln Center (FSLC) and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), allowing two opportunities to see each.
We were able to see many of the films, so check out the reviews below as. For more information about the festival, which runs March 16-27, visit newdirectors.org and follow the festival on Facebook and Twitter (#NewDirectors).
Directed by T.W. Pittman & Kelly Daniela Norris
Ghana/USA, 2016, 90m
Kusaal with English subtitles
North American Premiere
Friday, March 18 (8:30p) at FSLC; Sat. March 19 (2:00p) at MoMA
While there are not a lot of films coming out of Ghana to America, at least in theaters, when they do they deserve attention. Luckily, Nakom is worthy of receiving attention. And even though it was not actually directed by Ghanian filmmakers, with a combined local and international crew, there is a genuineness that places among the best recent exports from the nation.
Happy go-lucky medical-student Iddrisu must leave the good life in the very urban Accra to return home to Nakom upon the sudden death of his father. Now the family patriarch, he finds he must repay a debt to his uncle before his family gets evicted from their longtime land. While the debt is the most unsurmountable problem, Iddrisu, a newly reluctant farmer, must now confront both the tragedy and the beauty of village life and delays his prosperous future not only for his family, but the the entire village. With a mother in mourning, a ‘second’ young mother (and her baby) being ostracized, a lazy little brother, and a highly intelligent sister who wants better but is stifled by patriarchy, Iddrisu has his work cut out for him. But it isn’t all as dour as it seems.
The only way to do this successfully is for Iddrisu to bring a fresh perspective to his village and his land without disrespecting those of the past, and his forthright yet humble nature aids him in beginning to make it happen, in no small part enhanced by actor Jacob Ayanaba extraordinary on-screen presence. He inhabits his role as if he’s been there before…no doubt he understands the sentiment of his character’s decisions. It helps that he is attracts the attention of the village chief (the coolly wonderful James Azudago) and that of his lovely daughter Comfort (Felicia Atampuri) a rebel in her own right who slyly courts Iddrisu. The other women of Nakom make the film also stand out, especially spunky little sister Damata (Grace Ayariga), who if she chooses to further pursue acting should have a great career, as she portrays Damata’s struggles to resume her studies and grow beyond the village – at least in mind if not physically – as righteous and necessary passion.
It’s easy to assume that these powerful women, and the film’s themes of hierarchy and gender politics, are in no small part due to director Kelly Daniela Norris and co-director/writer TW Pittman. As women of color themselves that must have faced the challenges of the aforementioned themes (they also worked on 2013’s Sombras de azul together) and have crafted a must-see film here.
Nakom is the first ever feature film in the Kusaal language. Kusaal is not standardized in its written form, so most actors learned their lines orally during rehearsals. The cast is comprised of talented non-actors, nearly all from Nakom, and the production of the film took place over four months in the actual village of Nakom. It’s obvious that a special kind of love took place to make this film, and it should be watched with the same reverence. But the film is not simple in anyway. A lot of unexpected things occur, so brace yourself.
Directed by Darius Clark Monroe
2016, 7 mins.
part of Shorts Program 1: Sat. March 19 (1:30p) at FSLC; Sunday March 20 (1:30p) at MoMA
Something special happens when you sit down to watch a film from Darius Clark Monroe. It doesn’t matter whether it is in short film form, like Train (2011), or previous films such as his award-winning documentary on his revisiting of his time as a small-time felon, Evolution of a Criminal (2014), as you feel like you’ve been transported to the inner workings of a particular mind – both his characters (and subjects, and presumably himself – that is in the middle of a deep transformation out of, or into, disparity.
That said, Dirt is neither heady nor complicated, but is perhaps best described as a ‘fly on the wall’ experience into a mysterious man and his questionable actions. Lead, well, only, actor Segun Akunde absorbs the screen, thanks to his own physicality and Monroe’s deft direction. This is no small part enhanced by cinematographer Daniel Patterson’s strong camerawork, still way too underrated for my tastes.
Shorts Program 1 is already a strong set of films, but Dirt makes it a must-see.
Neon Bull (Boi Neon)
Directed by Gabriel Mascaro
Portuguese with English subtitles
Friday, March 25 (9:00p) at FSLC; Saturday, March 26 (7:00p) at MoMA
Straight up, the premise of Neon Bull is odd – but the good kind. And while the plot may be perceived (by some) as odd for odd’s sake, it succeeds beautifully, both story-wise and visually, in its portrayal of bodies at work and play.
Iremar (Juliano Cazarré) is a ruggedly handsome Vaqueiro, a cowboy working the vaquejadas rodeos in the northeast of Brazil where two men on horseback try to bring down a bull by grabbing its tail (which at first looks cruel and by film’s end, fun). He travels the countryside from vaquejada to vaquejada, alongside driver and co-worker Galega, a single mother to the overly-spirited tomboy Cacá, and rotund bullpen worker Zé, as they feed, prep and transport the rodeo bulls – a difficult and thankless job that unites them as a disparate family unit. But as socio-economic life in the region changes, Iremar intends to change with it, and dreams of being a fashion designer – starting by designing glitzy outfits for the Galega and her moonlighting job as an exotic dancer.
Director Gabriel Mascaro does the unexpected with his sophomore feature film. He flips stereotypical gender ‘roles’ (even those regarding hair) and body hierarchy, presents a boyish little girl who (no spoilers, really) stays boyish, and may also shock American audiences with raw, and beautifully filmed, sex scenes that don’t last the standard Hollywood thirty seconds. And none if it is pretentious. You cannot predict what will happen throughout Neon Bull as it has many repetitions of daily cowhand life, broken up continuous insights into all our characters as they operate day-to day and grow, or regress, as people. That lack of predictability allows the film to overtake you…and it’s a welcome feeling.
Audiences familiar with Brazil’s Cinema Novo, essentially, Brazilian New Wave cinema of the 1960’s to early 70’s, many of which were also filmed in the northeast, will feel familiar elements of all three phases of that film movement with Neon’s emphases on the working class and their issues, populist sentiments, and a certain level of kitsch – all designed to reflect the true lives and desires of the people. Mascaro is sensitive to cycles and subtleties of everyday existence, and the wonder of these lives that makes memorable stories.
Also worth seeing:
Directed by Marcin Wrona
Poland/Israel, 2015, 94m; English, Polish, and Yiddish with English subtitles
Sat. March 26 (9:15p) at FSLC; Sunday, March 27 (7:15p) at MoMA
We seldom cover horror on Bold As Love, but Demon is told in such a riveting yet eased fashion, that while it doesn’t reshape the genre, it definitely adds a cool sense to it. And the film deals with folklore, which when done right tends to be quite fun.
Newly arrived from England to marry his fiancée Zaneta, Peter has been reluctantly given a gift of her family’s ramshackle country house in rural Poland. A total fixer-upper, while he is inspecting the grounds on the eve of the wedding, he falls into a pile of human remains. The ceremony proceeds, but strange things begin to happen… During the wild reception, Peter begins to come undone, and a dybbuk, an ancient figure from Jewish folklore, takes a toehold in this present-day celebration—for a very particular reason, as it turns out. Demon is the final work by Marcin Wrona, who died just as the film’s was set to premiere in Poland, is an eerie, richly atmospheric film—part absurdist comedy, part love story—that scares, amuses, and charms in equal measure.
Directed by Anna Rose Holmer
USA, 2015, 72m
Sat. March 19 (9:15p) at MoMA; Sunday, March 20 (4:30p) at FSLC
The transition from girlhood to young womanhood is one that’s nearly invisible in cinema. Enter Anna Rose Holmer, whose complex and absorbing narrative feature debut elegantly depicts a captivating 11-year-old’s journey of discovery. Toni (Royalty Hightower) is a budding boxer drawn to a group of dancers training at the same rec center in Cincinnati. She begins aligning herself with one of the two troupes, the Lionesses, becoming immersed in their world, which Holmer conveys with a hypnotic sense of rhythm and a rare gift for rendering physicality—evident most of all when a mysterious, convulsive condition begins to afflict a number of girls. Set entirely within the intimate confines of a few familiar settings (public school, the gym), and pulsating with bodies in motion, The Fits encourages us to recall the confused magic of entering the second decade of life.