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 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center (FSLC) and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), allowing audiences two opportunities to see the films over two days.
We were able to see many of the films, so check out the reviews below as. For more information about the festival, visit newdirectors.org and follow the festival on Facebook and Twitter (#NewDirectors).
Directed by Akosua Adoma Owusu
2016, 8 mins.
part of Shorts Program 1: Sat. March 19 (1:30p) at FSLC; Sunday March 20 (1:30p) at MoMA
Already well-known and highly regarded for her experimental film work (we covered her early retrospective two years ago), filmmaker Akosua Adoma Owusu has in the past few years taken to producing other filmmaker’s works, and now collaborating with others whose stories personally relate to her. In Reluctantly Queer, Owusu teams with the film’s writer and actor Kwame Edwin Otu, a self-identified queer Ghanaian living in the United Sates, whose love for his mother – who still lives in Ghana – conflicts with his love for same-sex desire amid tensions incited by same-sex politics in his homeland.
While the meditation begins slowly, in part due to the black & white Super 8 film choice and narrative use of “love” letter to his mom, the latter skirting an Oedipal line, Otu’s trip through his memory picks up quickly as his trip through memory traverses his present life in America and personal “unhappy home” in Ghana. His life as a Black man and daily decisions being queer, numerously noted as uneasy, are deftly reflected by Owusu’s leering takes and full motion stops, both of which allow us a quick but seemingly thorough look into the mind of this complex man.
Directed by Josh Kriegman & Elyse Steinberg
USA, 2016, 100m
Friday, March 25 (6:00p) at MoMA; Saturday, March 26 (4p) at FSLC
No, food fans, this isn’t a documentary on your favorite ballpark treat. And film fans, this isn’t a follow-up film about the lead character from Welcome to the Dollhouse (though that kind of recently happened). This is about that other Weiner. You know, the guy from New York, the congressman, Anthony Weiner, who, y’know, resigned after an awkward social media scandal that involved him showing, his, um, man parts bulge. Well, as awkward as it was getting to this point, try living Anthony Weiner’s life.
But Weiner’s scandalous activity was not the original premise of this fascinating new documentary from directors Josh Kreigman and Elyse Steinberg that premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. No, Weiner was originally set the follow the disgraced congressman as he set out to restore his reputation, and dignity, by running for higher office: the mayor of New York City. That is, until another young woman, one with malicious intent and timing, revealed her online relationship with Weiner just a few short weeks before the Democratic primary for mayor.
But before that tragedy, the directors become immersed in Weiner’s private and political life and mayoral bid in full cinema vérité style (in some ways eclipsing it), shining their lens on the politician and his superstar wife Huma Abedin, a trusted aide to Hillary Rodham Clinton. While supportive of her husband and the campaign, Huma has her own life – and them both their adorable son – and is often left exasperated from Weiner’s big personality. The narrative of a long-suffering wife is nothing new to storytelling, yet in Weiner it takes on a broader light. This makes the film sound sad, and there are melancholy tones present, but there is also a crazed, attractive energy to the film as Weiner, an outspoken and dynamic politician, fights for the people of NYC and their rights. And New Yorkers love him…after all, this is second-chance city.
If you didn’t know anything about Anthony Weiner other than his ‘bulge’ and “Carlos Danger” pseudonym (so awkward!), or even if that’s all you do know, you’ll love him – up to a point – when you watch this film. That said, it’s nowhere close to propaganda, but as an audience member it is difficult to not cheer on someone who is fighting so hard for others, regardless of how big his ego is.
The press notes from Weiner describe it as “the perfect political film for our time.” While I usually don’t directly quote the provided notes, this is the ideal description for this film in all its zany, topsy-turvy, and still shocking moments that reflect the ridiculous nature of American politics in the present age.
Directed by Kirsten Johnson
USA, 2016, 102m
Saturday, March 26 (6:30p) at FSLC; Sunday, March 27 (1:30p) at MoMA
It’s rare that a first time director creates such a moving piece of work, but when that director has led a life like Kirsten Johnson has, and captured indelible images to make some of best documentaries within the past 20 years shine, then it just makes sense.
In Cameraperson, the more than notable cinematographer, having shot CitizenFour, Fahrenheit 9/11, The Invisible War, The Oath, and Happy Valley, thus helping directors such as Laura Poitras, Michael Moore, Kirby Dick, Barbara Kopple gain (and maintain) top notoriety, creates a visual memoir using unused footage from many of her films. This footage, reframed to create touching moments that have personally affected Johnson, are interspersed with her own home footage of her twin children, her dad, and her Alzheimer’s disease stricken mother. This combination provides a narrative that touches on family, childhood, birth, death, religion and injustice and how those themes make Johnson the person she is, complete with how the challenges and limitations that her globe-trotting work impacts her.
The film is doubly powerful because of the unseen dilemmas Johnson faces outside of the obvious technical and creative ones. Including gaining trust and instilling hope in her subjects, the most profound one she mentions outside of the film is how, “I know little about how the images I shoot will be used in the future and can not control their distribution or use.” This is the life she chose, yes, but for a new generation in which imagery and video is everything, her understanding of this, and the sentiments in which she reflects her knowledge and sympathetic (when necessary) lens in her documentary, is telling.
That the title is Cameraperson, and not “Camera-woman,” is also telling, mainly because while her skill level is not gender-specific, Johnson’s ‘gaze’ in this personal documentary and the ones she shoots is very apparent, imbuing all these films with a sensitivity that is often needed. Cameraperson is a totally appropriate closing night film for New Directors, ideal for both cinephiles and those interested in how artists, or frankly anyone, views the greater world through themselves.