The Museum of Modern Art and Film at Lincoln Center announce the 50th anniversary edition of New Directors/New Films (ND/NF), available April 28 – May 8 via virtual cinema, with in-person screenings extending through May 13 at FLC. Throughout its rich, half-century history, the festival has celebrated filmmakers who represent the present and anticipate the future of cinema, and whose daring work pushes the envelope in unexpected ways. This year’s festival will introduce 27 features and 11 shorts to audiences nationwide in the MoMA and FLC virtual cinemas, and to New Yorkers at Film at Lincoln Center. 

“From intimate, personal tales to political, metaphysical, and spiritual inquiries, the films in the 50th edition of New Directors/New Films embody an inexhaustible curiosity and a fearless desire for adventure,” said La Frances Hui, Curator of Film at The Museum of Modern Art and 2021 New Directors/New Films Co-Chair. “They prove that cinema will continue to illuminate and inspire the way we live, and make art.”

Opening the festival is writer-director-star Amalia Ulman’s breakthrough El Planeta, a captivating portrait in miniature of a mother and daughter barely scraping by in Spain’s northwestern seaside town of Gijón. ND/NF will close with All Light, Everywhere, winner of a Sundance Jury Prize for Experimentation in Nonfiction. Director Theo Anthony’s follow-up to the acclaimed Rat Film, All Light, Everywhere uses U.S. law enforcement body-cam footage to anchor an ever-expanding treatise on perception, power, and policing. The rest of the lineup showcases work from a broad geographic range, with films from Iran, South Korea, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Nigeria, Australia, Greece, and Georgia; prizewinners from Rotterdam (Pebbles), Sundance (Luzzu), and Berlin (We); and many feature debuts.

The complete 2021 New Directors/New Films lineup:

Features

  • Aleph dir. Iva Radivojević
  • All Light, Everywhere dir. Theo Anthony
  • All the Light We Can See dir. Pablo Escoto Luna
  • Apples dir. Christos Nikou
  • Azor dir. Andreas Fontana
  • Bebia, à mon seul désir dir. Juja Dobrachkous
  • Bipolar dir. Queena Li
  • Dark Red Forest dir. Jin Huaqing
  • Destello Bravío dir. Ainhoa Rodríguez
  • Eyimofe (This Is My Desire) dir. Arie & Chuko Esiri
  • Faya Dayi dir. Jessica Beshir
  • Friends and Strangers dir. James Vaughan
  • Gull dir. Kim Mi-jo
  • Liborio dir. Nino Martinez Sosa
  • Luzzu dir. Alex Camilleri
  • Madalena dir. Madiano Marcheti
  • Moon, 66 Questions dir. Jacqueline Lentzou
  • Pebbles dir. P.S. Vinothraj
  • El Planeta dir. Amalia Ulman
  • Radiograph of a Family dir. Firouzeh Khosrovani
  • Rock Bottom Riser dir. Fern Silva
  • Short Vacation dir. Kwon Min-pyo & Seo Han-sol
  • Stop-Zemlia dir. Kateryna Gornostai
  • Taming the Garden dir. Salomé Jashi
  • We (Nous) dir. Alice Diop
  • We’re All Going to the World’s Fair dir. Jane Schoenbrun
  • Wood and Water dir. Jonas Bak

Shorts

  • Beyond Is the Day dir. Damian Kocur
  • Binh dir. Ostin Fam
  • Heaven Reaches Down to Earth dir. Tebogo Malebogo
  • Hola, abuelo dir. Manuela Eguía
  • I Am Afraid to Forget Your Face dir. Sameh Alaa
  • Limousine dir. Saulė Bliuvaitė
  • A Love Song in Spanish dir. Ana Elena Tejera
  • More Happiness dir. Livia Huang
  • Nha Mila dir. Denise Fernandes
  • Summits and Ashes dir. Fernando Criollo
  • Surviving You, Always dir. Morgan Quaintance

“We’re delighted to finally return to our cinemas with this landmark edition of New Directors/New Films,” said Florence Almozini, FLC Senior Programmer at Large and 2021 New Directors/New Films Co-Chair. “There’s something so special about walking into a theater, not knowing what to expect, and discovering your new favorite filmmaker on the big screen. For 50 years, ND/NF has not only launched careers; it’s also, time and again, given audiences that singular, cinematic experience of unearthing something new.”

To celebrate this edition’s 50-year milestone, MoMA and FLC will also present a free virtual retrospective looking back on the festival’s history. In 1972, FLC (formerly the Film Society of Lincoln Center) and MoMA’s Department of Film presented the inaugural New Directors/New Films festival: a modest but eclectic program of 11 films born from a simple desire to share the best new works by emerging international directors with New York moviegoers. Richard Roud, one of its founding programmers, reflected in the Village Voice then that the festival allows one to “sit down and find out just where, in fact, the New Cinema is going.” 

The last 50 years of ND/NF prove that there is not simply one way forward, as young directors continue to blaze into the vanguard of filmmaking. Directors early in their careers who were presented to New York audiences, some for the very first time, include Hou Hsiao-hsien, Kelly Reichardt, Pedro Almódovar, Souleymane Cissé, Euzhan Palcy, Jia Zhangke, Spike Lee, Lynne Ramsay, Michael Haneke, Wong Kar Wai, Agnieszka Holland, Lino Brocka, Guillermo del Toro, Luca Guadagnino, and over a thousand others. Now in a vastly different film landscape and accessible to viewers nationwide through streaming, the program has grown in size and stature while maintaining its commitment to experimentation and sharing the gift of discovery with audiences. Presented here is a small selection of favorites from the first 30 years of the festival, showcasing early works from filmmakers such as Lee Chang-dong, Chantal Akerman, Charles Burnett, and Christopher Nolan.

New Directors/New Films at 50: A Retrospective lineup:

  • Duvidha dir. Mani Kaul
  • Following dir. Christopher Nolan
  • The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick dir. Wim Wenders
  • The Living End dir. Gregg Araki
  • Lucía dir. Humberto Solás
  • My Brother’s Wedding dir. Charles Burnett
  • Peppermint Candy dir. Lee Chang-dong
  • Playing Away dir. Horace Ové
  • Les Rendez-vous d’Anna dir. Chantal Akerman
  • Sleepwalk dir. Sara Driver
  • Twenty Years Later dir. Eduardo Coutinho

 “At 50, New Directors/New Films is by definition, and in spirit, forever young,” added Hui. “The statement-making titles in the retrospective, all made before 2000, remain fresh and trailblazing today. Together, they celebrate a vital festival that has helped launch some of cinema’s most glorious careers.”

The New Directors/New Films selection committee is made up of members from both presenting organizations. The 2021 feature committee comprises Florence Almozini (Co-Chair, FLC), La Frances Hui (Co-Chair, MoMA), Rajendra Roy (MoMA), Josh Siegel (MoMA), Dan Sullivan (FLC), and Tyler Wilson (FLC), and the shorts were programmed by Brittany Shaw (MoMA) and Madeline Whittle (FLC).

New Directors/New Films also salutes programmers past and present (in alphabetical order): Florence Almozini, Mary Lea Bandy, Sally Berger, Sophie Cavoulacos, Stephen Harvey, La Frances Hui, Jytte Jensen, Laurence Kardish, Wendy Keys, Joanne Koch, Robert Koehler, Izzy Lee, Dennis Lim, Adrienne Mancia, Marian Masone, Joanna Ney, Richard Peña, Richard Roud, Rajendra Roy, Brittany Shaw, Josh Siegel, Gavin Smith, Dan Sullivan, Madeline Whittle, and Tyler Wilson.

Tickets for the 50th anniversary edition go on sale to the general public on Friday, April 16 at noon. Virtual rentals are $12 and in-theater tickets are $17. Discover more and save with the discounted Virtual All-Access Pass for $275 ($348 value). Film at Lincoln Center members receive a pre-sale period starting on Tuesday, April 13 at noon and additional 20% discounts on virtual rentals and $5 savings on in-theater tickets. MoMA members will be able to view New Directors/New Films titles and the virtual retrospective for free on MoMA’s Virtual Cinema starting on April 16 for the virtual retrospective and April 28 for the ND/NF festival. All rentals for the virtual retrospective are free and open to the public. To access membership benefits for ND/NF, become a member of Film at Lincoln Center or MoMA today. In celebration of ND/NF’s 50th anniversary, FLC is offering $50 off all New Wave memberships for a limited time. All ticketing, scheduling, and film information will be available on newdirectors.org.

New Directors/New Films is presented by Film at Lincoln Center and The Museum of Modern Art, and is supported by Film at Lincoln Center’s New Wave Membership Program.

Support for Film at Lincoln Center is provided by American Airlines and The New York Times. Additional funding is provided in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, and is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

Film at MoMA is made possible by CHANEL. Additional support is provided by the Annual Film Fund. Leadership support for the Annual Film Fund is provided by Debra and Leon D. Black and by Steven Tisch, with major contributions from The Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art, Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, MoMA’s Wallis Annenberg Fund for Innovation in Contemporary Art through the Annenberg Foundation, the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP), The Junior Associates of The Museum of Modern Art, the Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation, Karen and Gary Winnick, and The Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston. 

 

FILMS & DESCRIPTIONS

 

50th New Directors/New Films

Still from El Planeta

Opening Night
El Planeta
Amalia Ulman, 2021, Spain, 80m
English and Spanish with English subtitles
With unforced deadpan humor, writer-director-star Amalia Ulman presents a captivating portrait in miniature of a mother and daughter barely scraping by in Spain’s northwestern seaside town Gijón. Whether shoplifting, trying to get out of paying for an extravagant meal, or weighing the pros and cons of low-key sex work, Leo and María—played by Amalia and her real-life mother, Ale—are constantly transacting deals, large and small, their daily urban life given to a bemused sort of desperation. Coasting on the considerable charms and decades-honed chemistry of its two stars, and shot in evocative, Jarmuschian black and white, El Planeta is a delightful and slyly dark breakthrough for multidisciplinary artist Ulman, whose film reminds us that every day, every gesture in our contemporary world is a performance. A Utopia Release

Still from All Light, Everywhere

Closing Night
All Light, Everywhere
Theo Anthony, 2021, USA, 109m
As evidenced by his provocative 2016 feature debut Rat Film, Theo Anthony sees the nonfiction cinematic form as an opportunity for forensic exploration and an essayistic zeroing in on the entrenched biases that lie beneath our contemporary social and technological realities. His new film is a breakthrough, using the increased regularity of body cams in U.S. law enforcement as the anchor point for an ever-expanding treatise on perception, power, and policing, and how these ideologies stem from legacies of racial profiling that in part define the makeup of the Western world. Anthony’s compelling film eschews “ripped-from-the-headlines” issue-oriented documentary filmmaking for a burrowing, intellectual curiosity, interrogating subjectivity itself and reminding the viewer that the camera, with the ingrained perceptual biases of those who wield it, can be the deadliest weapon of all. A Super Ltd Release

Aleph
Iva Radivojević, 2021, USA/Croatia/Qatar, 91m
Arabic, English, Greek, Nepali, Serbian, Spanish, Thai, and Zulu with English subtitles
In her magical, unpredictable second feature, Belgrade-born, globe-hopping artist Iva Radivojević has created a labyrinthine vision inspired by the writings of Jorge Luis Borges. Using a variety of visual styles that miraculously cohere into one unified and unique aesthetic, the multihyphenate filmmaker and her collaborators offer an episodic structure bending time and space, in which one character seems to unwittingly pass the narrative baton to the next, fashioning a film whose scope extends from Argentina to Greenland to South Africa, with plenty of pit stops along the way. Ultimately, they are all part of the same expanse, a continuum containing the entire universe. Radivojević’s puzzle-like film is amusing rather than heavy-handed in its philosophical journeying, adding a few new wrinkles to the cinematic conventions of time and interconnectedness.

All the Light We Can See
Pablo Escoto Luna, 2020, Mexico, 123m
Nahuatl and Spanish with English subtitles
An unusually ambitious epic told in eloquently simple brush strokes, Mexican filmmaker Pablo Escoto Luna’s All the Light We Can See is a daring work of minimalist gestures on a maximalist canvas, unfolding against the grand volcanic landscapes of Popocatépetl and Ixtaccihuatl. Guided by mythic storytelling traditions, the film, set during some indeterminant past, begins as the tale of a woman who runs off into the forest when forced to marry a bandit, before gradually revealing itself as a time-bending work of metaphysical beauty, responsive to the light and terrain of this radiant corner of the world. A ghost story, an ode to nature, and an examination of the artifice of narrative, Escoto Luna’s film offers to its viewers a rich and immense folkloric power.

Apples
Christos Nikou, 2020, Greece, 91m
Greek with English subtitles
In this gently drawn dystopia, Aris (Aris Servetalis) awakens one morning with no memory of who he is and where he’s going—the latest victim in an ever-widening pandemic of amnesia. After receiving hospital care and finding that no loved ones have come to collect him, he is given the option of starting over and trying to find his place in an unfamiliar world. From this unnerving, inherently existential premise, debut feature filmmaker Christos Nikou finds unexpected slices of joy, pain, and eccentricity, teasing out questions of identity and selfhood while Aris gradually comes to regain his own form of consciousness. Apples takes place in neither the past nor the future, but a slightly defamiliarized analog world of Polaroids and tape recorders that foregrounds only the human. A Cohen Media Release.

Still from Azor

Azor
Andreas Fontana, 2021, Switzerland/France/Argentina, 100m
French and Spanish with English subtitles
Swiss director Andreas Fontana brings an astonishingly assured eye to this gripping debut feature set in the cloistered world of high finance in Argentina in the 1970s. With a finely tuned sense of impassive anxiety, Fabrizio Rongione (Two Days, One Night) plays a banker who has traveled from Geneva to Buenos Aires with his wife (Stéphanie Cléau) to disentangle the complicated threads left behind by a colleague who has mysteriously disappeared. Once there, he finds himself descending ever deeper into a sinister inner circle, connecting the country’s upper classes to the military junta’s ongoing “Dirty War.” A MUBI Release.

 Bebia, à mon seul désir
Juja Dobrachkous, 2020, Georgia, 113m
Georgian and Russian with English subtitles
Ariadna, a 17-year-old woman working as an international runway model, finds her life interrupted when she is summoned home to her rural Georgian village for her grandmother’s funeral. There, she must deal with her mother’s embittered invective, as well as memories of the deceased, who instilled much confusion and doubt in her as a child. To her surprise, Ariadna is enlisted to carry out an arduous ritual—connecting back to Greek mythology—in which the family’s youngest must guide the soul of the dead to its final resting place. In her strikingly filmed debut, Juja Dobrachkous employs unorthodox camera motion and crisp black-and-white imagery to craft a story of transformation, tradition, and identity.

Bipolar
Queena Li, 2021, China, 111m
Mandarin, Tibetan, Cantonese, English, and French with English subtitles
In this continually surprising, stylistically wild road movie, a young singer-songwriter (played by Leah Dou, daughter of Cantonese pop superstar Faye Wong) arrives in Lhasa, Tibet with no articulated purpose. Reeling from a recent, mysterious trauma, she suddenly finds kinship, or perhaps inspiration, in the brightly colored rainbow lobster on display in a tiny aquarium in her hotel lobby. Soon she absconds with the supposedly holy crustacean to return it to the legendary waters where it was caught—halfway across the country. Beijing Film Academy alum Queena Li’s debut feature uses this peculiar scenario as a framework for an outlandishly moving, occasionally hallucinatory tale of becoming and self-actualization.

Dark Red Forest
Jin Huaqing, 2021, China, 85m
Tibetan with English subtitles
A work of visual awe and matter-of-fact spiritual inquiry, Dark Red Forest is a majestic documentary portrait that details the annual retreat of thousands of Tibetan nuns to small wooden houses on the vast Tibetan Plateau. With extraordinary intimacy, the camera nestles in with the women of the Yarchen Monastery, who, during the 100 coldest days of the year, learn about—and in some cases experience—profound matters of life and death, suffering and healing, karma and consequence. A document of the experiences of a group of increasingly politically embattled people, Jin Huaqing’s film is also a clarifying work of faith and philosophical inquiry, set against a forbidding landscape.

Still from Destello Bravio

Destello Bravío
Ainhoa Rodríguez, 2021, Spain, 98m
Spanish with English subtitles
A small town in southwestern Spain provides the setting for Ainhoa Rodríguez’s singular vision, a prismatic, alternately realist and uncanny rendering of lives in the rural Extremadura region. Adding surreal touches to a nonfiction framework, Rodriguez casts nonprofessional actors who add an oddball authenticity to this portrait of a community, especially focused on the secret desires and mysterious energies of its women as well as its religious ceremonial pageantry. With controlled long takes and compositional rigor, Rodríguez pays eccentric tribute to the largely autonomous part of the world where she was raised, and where the yearning for magical deliverance is the only hope of escape from outmoded patriarchal and spiritual beliefs.

Still from This is My Desire

Eyimofe (This Is My Desire)
Arie & Chuko Esiri, 2020, Nigeria, 116m
Nigerian-English with English subtitles
With fluid storytelling and precise, detailed attention to quotidian life, Nigerian filmmaking duo Chuko and Arie Esiri have created a tale consisting of two parallel narratives, following a pair of characters trying to transcend their daily struggles in teeming Lagos. In the first, engineer Mofe (Jude Akuwudike) wades through the paperwork necessary for him to emigrate to Spain, but sees his plans potentially thwarted when tragedy befalls his family; in the second, young hairdresser Rosa (Temi Ami-Williams) pursues various financial avenues to start a new life in Italy, but finds herself up against various transactional obstacles. Though inspired by the legacies of neorealism, the Esiri brothers find their own cinematic language, creating a tale of attempted migration and economic desperation that refuses to succumb to misery, maintaining a matter-of-fact awe for the vibrant life in a city of more than 14 million.

Still from Faya Dayi

Faya Dayi
Jessica Beshir, 2021, Ethiopia/USA, 120m
Amharic, Harari, and Oromiffa with English subtitles
In her hypnotic documentary feature, Ethiopian-Mexican filmmaker Jessica Beshir explores the coexistence of everyday life and its mythical undercurrents. Though a deeply personal project—Beshir was forced to leave her hometown of Harar with her family as a teenager due to growing political strife—the film she returned to make about the city, its rural Oromo community of farmers, and the harvesting of the country’s most sought-after export (the euphoria-inducing khat plant) is neither a straightforward work of nostalgia nor an issue-oriented doc about a particular drug culture. Rather, she has constructed something dreamlike: a film that uses light, texture, and sound to illuminate the spiritual lives of people whose experiences often become fodder for ripped-from-the-headlines tales of migration. A Janus Films release.

Friends and Strangers
James Vaughan, 2021, Australia, 84m
The callow fumbling of wayward young people seeking romantic and professional satisfaction remains an ever-present theme of international cinema, yet Australian director James Vaughan has found entirely new, poignant, and hilarious ways to reveal his characters’ charms and deficits, privileges and blind spots. The story pivots on the failed attempts of freelance videographer Ray (Fergus Wilson) to woo the disinterested Alice (Emma Diaz) during an impromptu camping trip, and the fallout back in Sydney. Vaughan’s ear for the casual cut-down and the solipsism of youth is matched by his refreshing affinity for structural surprise, climaxing in an extended, hilarious sequence at the home of a wealthy client of Ray’s that gently pushes the boundaries of comic realism.

Gull
Kim Mi-jo, 2020, South Korea, 75m
Korean with English subtitles
O-bok, a woman in her early 60s, spends her days working at an outdoor fish market in Seoul and preparing for her daughter’s wedding. One night, her life is upended when she becomes the victim of a sexual assault by a coworker. As she comes to terms with what happened, she discovers that other colleagues have been all too eager to cover up the event, and that her family is incapable of handling her trauma. Kim Mi-jo’s searing drama—anchored by a multifaceted performance by Jeong Ae-hwa—elides any gratuitous representations of sexual violence, and is all the more devastating for it, allowing the assault to linger as an off-screen memory while focusing instead on O-bok’s gradual acceptance of her own rage—for her own assault and for a violent, chauvinistic culture.

Luzzu
Alex Camilleri, 2021, Malta, 94m
Maltese with English subtitles
A hardworking Maltese fisherman, Jesmark is faced with an agonizing choice. He could repair his leaky wooden luzzu boat in the hopes of eking out a meager living at sea for his wife and newborn son, just as his father and father’s father did before him. Or he could cast his lot with a sinister black-market operation that is decimating the Mediterranean fish population and the livelihoods of the local families who depend on it. Luzzu justly won a Sundance Jury Prize for the nonprofessional lead actor Jesmark Scicluna, and heralds the arrival of writer-director-editor Alex Camilleri, a gripping storyteller in the neorealist tradition of early Luchino Visconti and the Dardenne brothers as well as his mentor Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart, The White Tiger), a producer of the film and an alumnus of New Directors himself. A Kino Lorber Release

Still from Liborio

Liborio
Nino Martinez Sosa, 2021, Dominican Republic, 99m
Spanish with English subtitles
Faith and magic become flesh and blood in this consummate debut feature from Dominican filmmaker Nino Martinez Sosa. Divided into seven sections, the film tells the legend of Liborio, a farmer who disappeared from his village near the beginning of the 20th century, only to be resurrected as a figure of spiritual healing and political rebellion, both an exalted messiah and a tangible human being. Using a prismatic storytelling approach, ultimately centering on the villagers’ fight for independence from occupying U.S. forces, Sosa weaves a tapestry made of multiple perspectives, a reminder that history is collective memory and shared myth.  

Madalena
Madiano Marcheti, 2021, Brazil, 85m
Portugese with English subtitles
In this hauntingly oblique yet vivid moral drama, set in a rural Brazilian town, three characters’ lives are affected in different ways by the death of Madalena, a local trans woman whose body is found in one of the vast soybean fields that stretch across the region. For cisgender Luziane (Natália Mazarim) and Cristiano (Rafael de Bona), a bar hostess and a wealthy soy farm scion, respectively, her death occasions vastly different kinds of rupture, while for Bianca (Pâmella Yule), a trans woman and friend of the deceased, it is a more tragically matter-of-fact instance of increasing violence perpetrated on their community. Director Madiano Marcheti’s almost sidelong approach—with Madalena providing the film’s structuring absence—is a provocative challenge to conventional narrative and a rebuke to formulaic depictions of trauma.

 Moon, 66 Questions
Jacqueline Lentzou, 2021, Greece, 108m
Greek with English subtitles
The feature debut of Greek filmmaker Jacqueline Lentzou confirms the bold formal experimentation and naked emotional interiority promised by her acclaimed shorts such as The End of Suffering (A Proposal). Sofia Kokkali—the star of Lentzou’s previous two works—brings her remarkable physicality to the role of Artemis, a twentysomething who tentatively reunites with her estranged father, Paris (Lazaros Georgakopoulos), after he is diagnosed with a debilitating illness. Instead of traversing familiar dramatic terrain with standard psychological realism, Lentzou relies largely on body movement, texture, and the flow of feeling to animate her tale of intergenerational reconciliation.

Pebbles
P.S. Vinothraj, 2021, India, 74m
Tamil with English subtitles
Constant movement defines the visceral feature debut of Indian filmmaker P.S. Vinothraj, a tale of irrevocable social and familial breakdown. Set in the Tamil regions of southern India, Pebbles tells the economical and anxious story of an impoverished, alcoholic man named Ganapathy, fueled by bottomless reservoirs of rage while on a mission with his young son to retrieve his wife, who has left him on account of his abusive behavior and returned to her family’s village. A blunt, unsparing depiction of poverty and anger, beautifully filmed against a forbidding desert landscape, Pebbles won this year’s Tiger Award, the top prize at the Rotterdam Film Festival.

Still from Radiograph of a Family

Radiograph of a Family
Firouzeh Khosrovani, 2020, Norway/Iran/Switzerland, 81m
Farsi and French with English subtitles
Firouzeh Khosrovani has created an experience of profound immersion, using archival photographs, video footage, letters read aloud, and other fragments and mementos to tell the story of her family. The narrative of her parents—Hossein, a progressive-minded radiologist studying in Switzerland, and Tayi, the more devout Muslim woman he brings there from Tehran to marry—is also a valuable document of the history of contemporary Iran, deftly and movingly exploring assimilation versus tradition, and depicting her mother’s own awakening in the lead-up to the country’s cultural revolution that took shape in the late 1970s. Radiograph of a Family is a loving and evocative reminder of the human-scale fragility beneath every epochal social movement.

Rock Bottom Riser
Fern Silva, 2021, USA, 70m
Hawaii’s swirling, roiling flow of volcanic lava provides the anchor for this energetic, visually and sonically bold cinematic essay by experimental filmmaker Fern Silva. Filled with astounding telescopic imagery and engaging digressions into philosophically related phenomena, Rock Bottom Riser breaks temporal and generic boundaries, touching upon everything from astronomy to geology to ethnography, from the origins of the universe to colonialism’s remapping of our planet. Silva erupts all notions of what one might expect from “nature documentary” filmmaking, and shows viewers familiar worlds made alien. A Cinema Guild Release

Short Vacation
Dir. Kwon Min-pyo & Seo Han-sol, 2020, South Korea, 79m
Korean with English subtitles
A delightful meditation on young people’s discovery of the world around them, Short Vacation follows four middle school girls (members of their school’s photography club) who decide to spend a bit of their summer holiday seeking out the very ends of the earth. Armed with little more than disposable cameras, the girls take a line on the Seoul Metropolitan Subway as far as it goes before setting out on foot, continuing their journey while stopping frequently to admire the new-to-them scenery, to muse on the everyday events unfolding around them, and above all else, to strengthen their bonds through conversation and their shared experience of this eye-opening dérive. A leisurely and understatedly poetic sketch of children glimpsing the threshold of the world of adults for the first time, Short Vacation more than lives up to the promise of its title.

Still from Stop-Zemlia

Stop-Zemlia
Kateryna Gornostai, 2021, Ukraine, 122m
Ukrainian with English subtitles
Guided by a humane curiosity and completely lacking in sensationalism, Kateryna Gornostai’s penetrating study of the confusions and beauty of youth takes enormous emotional care as it observes a class of Ukrainian 11th graders over the course of one year. A documentarian with a dramatist’s eye, the director uses a cast of remarkably poised teenagers playing fictional versions of themselves, centering mostly on Masha (a spellbinding Maria Fedorchenko), trying to make sense of the world around her, and the sensitive Sasha (Oleksandr Ivanov), who’s constantly negotiating a complicated relationship with his mother. Expansive in its time frame yet intimate in scope, Stop-Zemlia finds new, graceful ways to limn the edges of tender adolescence.

Taming the Garden
Salomé Jashi, 2021, Georgia/Switzerland, 91m
Georgian and Mingrelian with English subtitles
At the center of Salomé Jashi’s spellbinding film is an image of immense power: a massive tree, uprooted from the earth, improbably floating across a vast sea on a raft of soil. This surreal, metaphorically resonant invocation of man’s attempts to harness and control nature is the visual centerpiece of a patient, lyrical documentary about a man of wealth and power—a former Georgian prime minister—and his heaven-and-earth-moving project to transport centuries-old trees from his country’s coastline to his own personal garden. Charting the course of these natural wonders through every step of their journey, Jashi’s film is a magnificent vision of process and hubris.

Still from We (Nous)

We (Nous)
Alice Diop, 2020, France, 115m
French with English subtitles
In this nuanced, sophisticated, and wonderfully engaging documentary, filmmaker Alice Diop creates a kaleidoscopic portrait of people from largely Black and immigrant communities in the Parisian suburbs, their lives and work connected by the RER B commuter train that cuts through the city from north to south. Her subjects include a migrant from Mali working as a mechanic; her own sister, a community care worker making house calls to the elderly; the writer Pierre Bergounioux, expounding upon centuries of French history and inequity; and an energetic variety of young people enjoying coveted leisure time in their own corners of the banlieues. Appearing on screen—and therefore making herself part of the “we” of the title—Diop says that in her filmmaking she aims to “conserve the existence of ordinary lives.” Her film is not just a work of conservation, but also of intellectual rigor, and of love.

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair
Jane Schoenbrun, 2021, USA, 86m
A remarkable, rare combination of frightening and tender, Jane Schoenbrun’s accomplished narrative debut is a hypnotic and destabilizing tale of the fragility of online existence and the human capacity for change. Anna Cobb embodies heartrending teenage fragility as Casey, an isolated high schooler who has decided to take the “World’s Fair Challenge,” a role-playing horror game with the alleged power to enact real-world body modifications and emotional effects. Initially using a static webcam aesthetic familiar to fans of recent first-person internet horror, Schoenbrun ultimately creates something unique, a film about deprivation and connection, dysphoria and desire, that allows its characters self-awareness and grace even as they descend deeper into dark interior spaces.

Still from Wood and Water

Wood and Water
Jonas Bak, 2021, Germany/France/Hong Kong, 79m
Cantonese, English, and German with English subtitles
With seamless grace, German director Jonas Bak moves from the tall spires of the Black Forest to the teeming skyscrapers of Hong Kong in his tranquil, deeply moving feature debut. Newly retired from her church job, Anke dreams of spending time with her grown children—including her uncommunicative and elusive son, Max, who has been living for years in Hong Kong, and who is unable to join his mother and sister back in Germany due to the ongoing pro-democracy protests. In a daring decision, Anke, though suffering from depression and anxiety, travels to Hong Kong to find Max and perhaps also herself. In his hushed, wholly original approach to this fish-out-of-water set-up, Bak constructs a gentle, ambiguous fable of becoming, shot on 16mm and featuring a wondrous, naturalistic performance by his own mother, Anke Bak.

 

Shorts Program 1
TRT: 84m
Films listed in the order they will screen.

Still from I Am Afraid to Forget Your Face

I Am Afraid to Forget Your Face
Sameh Alaa, 2020, Egypt/France, 15m
Arabic with English subtitles
Following a long separation, a young man goes to great lengths to be reunited with his lover in this quietly devastating meditation on loss and devotion, awarded the short film Palme d’Or at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival.

Heaven Reaches Down to Earth
Tebogo Malebogo, 2020, South Africa, 10m
seSotho and isiZulu with English subtitles
Narrated in vibrant, lyrical voiceover, the third film from director Tebogo Malebogo (Mthunzi, NYFF57) traces a transformative encounter between two friends, for whom a shared communion with the natural landscape catalyzes sensual and spiritual awakenings.

A Love Song in Spanish
Ana Elena Tejera, 2020, France/Panama, 24m
Spanish with English subtitles
Multidisciplinary artist Ana Elena Tejera makes patriarchy personal, tracing its long shadow from Panama’s military dictatorship to her family. Through careful observation of the movement of bodies in spaces imbued with memory and use of archival images, these intertwining threads reveal a tenderly crafted family portrait. 

Hola, abuelo (Hi, Grandpa)
Manuela Eguía, 2020, Mexico, 3m
Spanish with English subtitles
Loosely sketched pencil drawings illustrate this charming snapshot of a day in the life of the director in Mexico City, offering a sweet hello to her grandfather from a faraway place.

Surviving You, Always
Morgan Quaintance, 2021, UK, 18m
Self-described “teenage acid casualties” in 1990s London find detachment and isolation rather than the doors of perception on their voyage through psychedelics. Director Morgan Quaintance precisely crafts this first-person story of a treasured but doomed friendship with black-and-white snapshots, on-screen text, and audio recordings of Timothy Leary espousing the benefits of LSD.

Still from More Happiness

More Happiness
Livia Huang, 2021, USA, 13m
Hakka with English subtitles
In this elliptical New York story, fragmented memories of a relationship are rendered poetic but not sentimental as images of a love lost are narrated by a mother and daughter pondering life and possibilities of happiness. 

 

Shorts Program 2
TRT: 95m
Films listed in the order they will screen.

Still from Nha Mila

Nha Mila
Denise Fernandes, 2020, Portugal/Switzerland, 18m
Cape Verdean Creole and Portuguese with English subtitles
En route to visit a sick relative in her native Cape Verde after a 14-year absence, Salomé (Yaya Correia) runs into a childhood acquaintance in the Lisbon airport and accepts an invitation to spend her stopover at the woman’s home. Anchored by the unhurried sensitivity of Correia’s performance, this gentle vignette simultaneously evokes the melancholic absences and unexpected joys of shared diasporic memory.

Limousine
Saulė Bliuvaitė, 2020, Lithuania, 15m
Lithuanian with English subtitles
The camera fills the role of a silent, pensive passenger in this documentary, tucked in the back of various stretch limos as they navigate the streets of Vilnius along with a vibrant assortment of fellow travelers: teens gossiping, older women commiserating, schoolchildren huddling together for strobe-lit selfies. With patience and humor, Saulė Bliuvaitė deftly interweaves these slices of life to capture the rhythms and moods of a city in transit.

Binh
Ostin Fam, 2020, Vietnam, 22m
Vietnamese with English subtitles
An alien in human guise visits Vietnam in search of materials for his home planet, and finds a sprawling construction site erecting a mega-temple. This quietly observed sci-fi tale probes questions of home, belonging, and spirituality while reflecting a changing world mired in capitalistic exploitation. 

Beyond Is the Day
Damian Kocur, 2020, Poland, 24m
Arabic, English, and Polish with English subtitles
The arrival an undocumented migrant from Palestine disrupts the routine of a lonely rural ferryman, and transforms daily life in his tiny riverside shack, in this dryly humorous and intricately textured fable, shot in velvety black and white.

Still from Summits and Ashes

Summits and Ashes
Fernando Criollo, 2020, Peru, 18m
Quechua and Spanish with English subtitles
In the Peruvian mountains, rituals offer connection between participants and the divine. Resplendently realized in black and white by director Fernando Criollo, this documentary captures a place where the heavens meet the earth.

 

New Directors/New Films at 50: A Retrospective

Duvidha
Mani Kaul, 1973, India, 72m
A hypnotic and enigmatic ghost story derived from a Rajasthani folktale, Duvidha endures as a seminal contribution to the Indian cinema of the 1970s. A mischievous (and lonely) ghost seeking company fixates upon a beautiful young woman whose merchant husband is away on a five-year business trip (which began the day after their wedding!), so he transmutes himself into the man’s doppelganger. But the ghost’s plan goes awry when the husband finally returns home… A strikingly stylized synthesis of folklore and cinematic modernism, Duvidha is a singular work as attuned to spectral vibrations as it is the rhythms, rituals, and textures of quotidian life.

Following
Christopher Nolan, 1998, UK, 70m
Bill (Jeremy Theobald), a wannabe writer, spends his considerable free time tailing people, picked at random, through the streets of London. For a time, his self-imposed regulations give him peace of mind, though soon enough he finds himself breaking his own rules, and the stalking becomes an intensifying obsession. Consequently, Bill is caught in the act by one of his quarries, a debonair burglar named Cobb (Alex Haw), who introduces Bill to a voyeuristic world of breaking and entering, where prying into people’s lives takes precedence over stealing objects. Through an ingenious series of flashbacks, flash-forwards, and counter-flashbacks, Christopher Nolan’s wickedly clever feature debut ensnares its characters (and the audience) in a winding, startling, and utterly engrossing cinematic labyrinth.

The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick
Wim Wenders, 1972, West Germany/Austria, 101m
Wenders’s second feature, adapted from Peter Handke’s novel of the same name, is a tautly constructed, Hitchcockian tale of anomie and isolation. After goalkeeper Josef Bloch (Arthur Brauss) is ejected from a football match, he wanders around Vienna, spends the night with a cinema cashier, and commits a seemingly purposeless crime. As always, Wenders’s use of music is unerringly precise and surprising—“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” as the anthem to an existential crisis?—and as Bloch puts another coin in the jukebox, the film charts his moral disintegration with a resolute lack of sentimentality.

The Living End
Gregg Araki, 1992, USA, 81m
A landmark work of the New Queer Cinema of the early 1990s, Gregg Araki’s third feature marked a visionary reinvention of the road movie, suffused with the ambient irony, despair, and anger in the wake of the AIDS crisis. Destiny leads hustler Luke (Mike Dytri) to meet film critic Jon (Craig Gilmore), who, like Luke, is HIV-positive. When Luke kills a homophobic cop, the stage is sety for an expressly nihilistic road trip–cum–crime spree that transmutes the hopelessness of the LGBTQ+ community—after years of dealing with ubiquitous bigotry, persecution, and the pathogenic horror of the AIDS epidemic—nto a lovers-on-the-run fever dream quite unlike any other.

Lucía
Humberto Solás, 1968, Cuba, 161m
Among the most revered works of Cuban cinema, Humberto Solás’s masterful Lucía never had its stateside premiere at the inaugural edition of New Directors/New Films in 1972 because the print failed to arrive from Cuba due to the U.S.’s embargo. Some 49 editions of ND/NF later, we’ve come full circle: Solas’s vast black-and-white triptych, about three women negotiating their oppressive circumstances at three critical moments in Cuban history (the war for independence in the 1890s, the uprising against the Machado dictatorship in the 1930s, and the post-revolutionary 1960s), remains as astonishing and immersive today as it was way back when. Produced when Solás was just in his mid-20s, Lucía was, at the time, the most expensive Cuban film ever made; a singularly lush and dialectical period epic, it endures as perhaps that national cinema’s crowning achievement.

My Brother’s Wedding
Charles Burnett, 1983, USA, 81m
Unreleased following its 1984 New Directors/New Films premiere, Charles Burnett’s deeply humanist follow-up to Killer of Sheep (1978) observes a man adrift, Pierce Mundy (Everett Silas), navigating friendship and familial obligation in South Central Los Angeles. Relatively ambitionless and content to work at his parents’ dry-cleaning business for the foreseeable future, Pierce is a quintessential underachiever, at least compared to his lawyer brother Wendell (Monte Easter), who has upward class mobility on his mind with an impending wedding to a wealthy, pretentious woman. But when Pierce’s best friend Soldier (Ronnie Bell) gets out of prison, Pierce finds his own conflicts with the world around him coming to a head. My Brother’s Wedding stands among Burnett’s richest and most affecting meditations on the tragicomedy of everyday life.

Peppermint Candy
Lee Chang-dong, 1999, South Korea/Japan, 129m
Middle-aged Yong-ho (Sol Kyung-gu) appears to be on the verge of suicide at a 20-year reunion with friends. Multiple flashbacks show ust his interim life, from 1979 to 1999. In a period defined by a series of pivotal national events—the Gwangju Uprising, which ended in the deaths of hundreds of people demonstrating against the military government; the subsequent repressive political environment; the rise and fall of the Korean economy—Yong-ho finds himself swept up by momentous forces beyond his control. Lee Chang-dong displays an extraordinarily deft touch in interweaving complex historical events and private life, national trauma and personal failure, portraying a man who is both victim and aggressor.

Playing Away
Horace Ové, 1986, UK, 100m
Horace Ové’s wry satire (originally produced for Britain’s Channel 4) is set in a seemingly idyllic (and affluent) village in Suffolk amid its “Third World Week” celebration. The residents decide to cap the festivities by inviting a West Indian cricket team from Brixton to come and play a charity match against the local side. Suffice it to say, their best-laid plans are thwarted to hilarious effect, as the Trinidadian Ové brilliantly paints the absurd, at times clumsy ways in which disparate communities attempt to overcome their cultural differences. Buoyed by an exceptional ensemble cast, Playing Away is a never-less-than-entertaining send-up of cultural mores and a genuinely and incisively political examination of the state of multiculturalism in mid-’80s Britain.

Les Rendez-vous d’Anna (The Meetings of Anna)
Chantal Akerman, 1978, Belgium/France/West Germany, 128m
In Chantal Akerman’s fourth feature—a follow-up to her breakthrough film, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)—Belgian filmmaker Anna (Aurore Clément), on a promotional tour through a featureless northern Europe, fluctuates between intimacy and disengagement with a series of figures, including a one-night stand (Helmut Griem), a former lover (Jean-Pierre Cassel), and her distant mother (Lea Massari). A kind-of self-portrait as only Akerman could have made, Les Rendez-vous d’Anna dials down the legendary rigor of Jeanne Dielman in favor of a more open, wide-ranging structure to evoke the solitude of a woman drifting along the currents of history.

Sleepwalk
Sara Driver, 1986, USA, 78m
A beguiling and enigmatic nocturnal adventure set at the intersection of SoHo, Chinatown, and Tribeca, Sara Driver’s first feature begins in mundane daily life but imperceptibly drifts into the dreamlike realm of the trance film. Single mother Nicole (Suzanne Fletcher), a typesetter who happens to speak fluent Mandarin, is hired by a mysterious teacher (Stephen Chen) to translate an equally mysterious manuscript. Soon enough, portentous events and encounters proliferate around Nicole to increasingly spooky effect, vividly foregrounding downtown New York City (here captured pre-gentrification) as a ghostly domain in which there’s nothing strange nor inexplicable about the strange and inexplicable.

Twenty Years Later
Eduardo Coutinho, 1984, Brazil, 119m
In 1964, Eduardo Coutinho was making a film about João Pedro Teixeira, who was murdered by police as a result of his efforts to organize farm workers in northeast Brazil. The director cast nonactors in the production, including Teixeira’s widow as herself, but shooting was cut short in the wake of the military coup that same year; footage was seized, with a number of participants imprisoned. The project was finally revived 20 years later, as the country was transitioning to a democracy, but now the film took on a different shape: Coutinho incorporated the earlier material as well as new interviews with those originally involved and reflections on the injustices of the interval, yielding a prismatically reflexive, genre-defying essay on political commitment and life under dictatorship.