The Film Society of Lincoln Center and The Museum of Modern Art have announced the initial eight official selections for the 45th edition of New Directors/New Films (March 16-27), a festival dedicated to the discovery of new works by emerging and dynamic filmmaking talent.
Representing 13 countries from around the world, the initial eight selections are Zhao Liang’s Behemoth (China/France), Marcin Wrona’s Demon (Poland/Israel), Anna Rose Holmer’s The Fits (USA), Pietro Marcello’s Lost and Beautiful (Italy/France), Yaelle Kayam’s Mountain (Denmark/Israel), Gabriel Mascaro’s Neon Bull (Brazil/Uruguay/Netherlands), Raam Reddy’s Thithi (India/USA/Canada), and Clément Cogitore’s The Wakhan Front (France/Belgium).
The initial lineup includes three feature debuts: Yaelle Kayam’s Mountain, about a Jewish Orthodox mother who experiences an inner awakening; Raam Reddy’s Thithi, the winner of Locarno’s Best First Feature and Filmmakers of the Present Golden Leopard Awards, which follows a patriarch’s death and its effect on three generations of sons; and Clément Cogitore’s Cannes critical success The Wakhan Front, a tense, metaphysical thriller that takes place in war-torn Afghanistan.
Set to screen at Sundance this week is Anna Rose Holmer’s transfixing first narrative film, The Fits, about a pensive tomboy (Royalty Hightower, in a breakout performance) who seeks acceptance in a Cincinnati dance team with a mysterious affliction. Gabriel Mascaro’s acclaimed follow-up to August Winds, Neon Bull, is a provocative look at Brazilian rodeo subcultures that won awards at Venice and Toronto. Rounding out the initial selections are Pietro Marcello’s Locarno prizewinner Lost and Beautiful, a chronicle of a beloved shepherd’s dying wish that bears influence from both neorealism and commedia dell’arte; the late Marcin Wrona’s enthralling horror-comedy Demon, in which a wedding getaway turns sinister when the groom unearths a vengeful spirit; and Zhao Liang’s Dante-inspired Behemoth, a harrowing documentary that combines images of pollution-ravaged Inner Mongolia with poetic visions of the environmental devastation.
Well into its fourth decade, New Directors/New Films has been a beacon for emerging directors eager to make their mark on contemporary cinema. The festival has introduced or cemented the status of some of the world’s most celebrated filmmakers, including Chantal Akerman, Pedro Almodóvar, Darren Aronofsky, Ken Burns, Agnieszka Holland, Spike Lee, Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg, and Wong Kar Wai. The past few years have featured the work of Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night), J.C. Chandor (Margin Call), Shane Carruth (Upstream Color), Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl), Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), Terence Nance (An Oversimplification of Her Beauty), Naji Abu Nowar (Theeb), Joshua Oppenheimer (The Act of Killing), Sarah Polley (Stories We Tell), Dee Rees (Pariah), Stevan Riley (Listen to Me Marlon), Justin Simien (Dear White People), Miroslav Slaboshpitsky (The Tribe), and Denis Villeneuve (Incendies), among others.
The New Directors/New Films selection committee is made up of members from both presenting organizations: from the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Dennis Lim, Florence Almozini, Marian Masone, and Gavin Smith, and from The Museum of Modern Art, Rajendra Roy, Joshua Siegel, and Sophie Cavoulacos. The complete lineup of selections for the 45th New Directors/New Films Festival will be announced in February. For more information about the festival, visit newdirectors.org and follow the festival on Facebook and Twitter (@NDNF, #NewDirectors).
Film Society and MoMA members may purchase tickets starting at noon on Monday, February 29. Tickets will be available for purchase by the general public at noon on Friday, March 4. To become a member of the Film Society or MoMA please visit filmlinc.org and MoMA.org, respectively.
Behemoth / Beixi moshuo
Zhao Liang, China/France, 2015, 91m
Mandarin with English subtitles
Political documentarian Zhao Liang draws inspiration from The Divine Comedy for this simultaneously intoxicating and terrifying glimpse at the ravages wrought upon Inner Mongolia by its coal and iron industries. A poetic voiceover speaks of the insatiability of desire on top of stunning images of landscapes (and their decimation), machines (and their spectacular functions), and people (and the toll of their labor). Interspersed are sublime tableaux of a prone nude body—asleep? just born? dead?—posed against a refracted horizon. A wholly absorbing guided tour of exploding hillsides, dank mine shafts, cacophonous factories, and vacant cities, Behemoth builds upon Zhao’s previous exposés (2009’s Petition, 2007’s Crime and Punishment) by combining his muckraking streak with a painterly vision of a social and ecological nightmare otherwise unfolding out of sight, out of mind. Winner of the environmental Green Drop Award at the Venice Film Festival. North American Premiere
Marcin Wrona, Poland/Israel, 2015, 94m
English, Polish, and Yiddish with English subtitles
Newly arrived from England to marry his fiancée Zaneta, Peter has been given a gift of her family’s ramshackle country house in rural Poland. It’s a total fixer-upper, and while inspecting the premises 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, that iconic ancient figure from Jewish folklore, takes a toehold in this present-day celebration—for a very particular reason, as it turns out. The final work by Marcin Wrona, who died just as Demon 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. Winner of Best Horror Feature at Fantastic Fest. An Orchard release.
Anna Rose Holmer, USA, 2015, 72m
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 young woman’s journey of discovery. Toni (played by the majestically named Royalty Hightower) is an 11-year-old 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. An Oscilloscope release.
Lost and Beautiful / Bella e perduta
Pietro Marcello, Italy/France, 2015, 87m
Italian with English subtitles
Pietro Marcello continues his intrepid work along the borderline of fiction and documentary with this beautiful and beguiling film, by turns neorealist and fabulist, worthy of Pasolini in its matter-of-fact lyricism and political conviction. Shot on expired 16mm film stock and freely incorporating archival footage and folkloric tropes, it begins as a portrait of the shepherd Tommaso, a local hero in the Campania region of southern Italy, who volunteered to look after the abandoned Bourbon palace of Carditello despite the state’s apathy and threats from the Mafia. Tommaso suffers a fatal heart attack in the course of shooting, and Marcello’s bold and generous response is to grant his subject’s dying wish: for a Pulcinella straight out of the commedia dell’arte to appear on the scene and rescue a buffalo calf from the palace. With Lost and Beautiful, a documentary that soars into the realm of myth, Marcello has crafted a uniquely multifaceted and enormously moving work of political cine-poetry. Winner of two awards at the Locarno Film Festival. U.S. Premiere
Mountain / Ha’har
Yaelle Kayam, Denmark/Israel, 2015, 83m
Hebrew with English subtitles
Atop Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives, Zvia, a Jewish Orthodox woman, lives surrounded by an ancient cemetery with her four children and husband, a Yeshiva teacher who pays scant attention to her. Yaelle Kayam’s feature debut moves beyond the symbolic landscape of a woman’s isolation to offer a subtle and finely paced entryway into the character’s surprising inner life. On a nighttime walk through the tombstones, Zvia encounters a group of prostitutes and their handlers and gradually becomes an unlikely bystander to their after-hours activities, trading home-cooked meals for companionship—an usual sort, perhaps, but one that upends her existence as a mother and wife. Shani Klein’s arresting lead performance challenges clichés of female subjectivity in the filmmaker’s own society, culminating in Zvia’s dramatic attempt to bring change to her life; throughout, keenly observed frames, by turn luminous and moody, asserts the heroine’s volition with intention and finesse.
Neon Bull / Boi neon
Gabriel Mascaro, Brazil/Uruguay/Netherlands, 2015, 101m
Portuguese with English subtitles
A rodeo movie unlike any other, Gabriel Mascaro’s Venice and Toronto prize-winning follow-up to his 2014 fiction debut August Winds tracks handsome cowboy Iremar (Juliano Cazarré) as he travels around to work at vaquejada rodeos, a Brazilian variation on the sport in which two men on horseback attempt to bring a bull down by its tail. Iremar dreams of becoming a fashion designer, creating flamboyant outfits for his co-worker, single mother Galega (Maeve Jinkings). Along with Galega’s daughter Cacá and a bullpen worker named Zé, these complex characters, drawn with tremendous compassion and not an ounce of condescension, make up an unorthodox family, on the move across the northeast Brazilian countryside. Sensitive to matters of gender and class, and culminating in one of the most audacious and memorable sex scenes in recent memory, Neon Bull is a quietly affirming exploration of desire and labor, a humane and sensual study of bodies at work and at play. A Kino Lorber release.
Raam Reddy, India/USA/Canada, 2015, 132m
Kannada and Hindi with English subtitles
Raam Reddy’s bold, vibrant first feature is closer to Émile Zola than it is to Bollywood. Filmed in India’s southern Karnataka state with mostly nonprofessional actors, the sprawling narrative follows three generations of sons following the death of the family’s patriarch, their 101-year-old grandfather known as “Century Gowda.” The men’s respective vices—ranging from greed to womanizing to cut-and-dry escapism—bring deliciously comedic misadventures to their village in the days leading up to the thithi, a funeral celebration traditionally held 11 days after a death. This incisive portrait of a community in a time of radical change (while some are looking after their sheep, others are lost in their cell phones) yields exemplary humanist comedy. Winner of two awards at the Locarno Film Festival, the film equally affirms the advent of a new realism within Indian cinema, as well as an engaging new voice in contemporary world cinema.
The Wakhan Front / Ni le ciel ni la terre
Clément Cogitore, France/Belgium, 2015, 100m
French and Persian with English subtitles
The ingenious conceit of The Wakhan Front, a critical success at Cannes, is to transform the Afghan battlefield—dust and boredom and jolts of explosive violence—into the backdrop for a metaphysical thriller. Jérémie Renier stars as a French army commander who begins to lose the loyalty of his company, as well as his sanity, when soldiers start mysteriously disappearing one by one. Rarely is the madness of war conveyed on screen with such simmering tension and existential fear. Rarely, too, is the ignorance and mistrust between cultures—are the shepherd villagers innocent civilians or Taliban spies?—limned with such poetic insight. U.S. Premiere