Naji Abu Nowar's Theeb

The first nine selections of this year's New Directors/New Films (ND/NF) were unveiled today by the Museum of Modern art and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. The festival, taking place March 18-29, is dedicated to the “discovery of new works by emerging and dynamic filmmaking talent.”

Hailing from 11 countries around the world, the initial nine films set to screen in ND/NF's 44th edition include Charles Poekel’s Christmas, Again (USA), Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court (India), Rick Alverson’s Entertainment (USA), Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’s Goodnight Mommy (Austria), Sarah Leonor’s The Great Man (France), Nadav Lapid’s The Kindergarten Teacher (Israel/France), Naji Abu Nowar’s Theeb (Jordan/Qatar/United Arab Emirates/UK), Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s The Tribe (Ukraine), and Kornél Mundruczó’s White God (Hungary).

“We've ended up with a very diverse, very global lineup, even though we weren't necessarily trying to check geographic boxes. It was a more organic process,” said the Film Society's Director of Programming Dennis Lim. “We looked at a lot of films from all over the world and found ourselves responding to films from all over. In this initial lineup you see films from Jordan, Israel, India, the Ukraine, as well as American and French titles obviously. You'll see Latin America and East Asia represented in the final lineup, so I'm glad to say we are finding a lot of very interesting work from all over, many of them complete unknowns and very exciting discoveries for us.”

Added Rajendra Roy, Chief Curator of Film at MoMA: “While I would never say that there is — or ever should be — a 'New Directors Film,' it is amazing to travel world and recognize that there are kindred innovators at play everywhere.  Many of these first nine films were instant contenders for inclusion in the festival this year, based purely on that fact they add such vibrant texture to the landscape of NDNF's history of discovery.”

Four films unveiled in today's announcement will screen at the Sundance Film Festival, which opens Thursday, including two feature directorial debuts. Charles Poekel’s Christmas, Again centers on a heartbroken Christmas tree salesman, and Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s The Tribe, winner of the Cannes Critics' Week grand prize, is set at a school for deaf and mute coeds, and is communicated entirely in sign language—with no subtitles. Kornél Mundruczó’s White God, which won the Un Certain Regard prize in Cannes, follows the brutal struggle a little girl’s dog must go through to find his way back to her after he is abandoned in the city. Rick Alverson’s Entertainment, meanwhile, is a follow-up to his 2012 feature The Comedy, and follows a broken-down comedian playing a string of stand-up gigs across the Mojave Desert. 

Winner of numerous prizes at film festivals, including the Luigi De Laurentiis Award and the Venice Horizons Award at the Venice Film Festival, Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court is a devastating exploration of a kangaroo court process railroading an aging folk singer. Another multiple prizewinner is Naji Abu Nowar’s Theeb, taking the Jury Prize for Best Cinematography and Art Direction at the Cairo International Film Festival, Best Directorial Debut at Camerimage, and the Venice Horizons Award for Best Director at the Venice Film Festival. The film is a coming-of-age story of a young Bedouin boy as he guides a British officer through harsh territory.

Nadav Lapid's The Kindergarten Teacher

Nadav Lapid follows his first feature Policeman (2011), which was a New York Film Festival selection and subsequently screened at FSLC’s Film Center, with The Kindergarten Teacher. A winner at the Jerusalem Film Festival and Seville European Film Festival, the film follows a teacher who becomes overly protective of a young prodigy in her class.  And Sarah Leonor follows her award-winning 2009 feature debut, A Real Life with The Great Man, about an immigrant in the French Legionnaire’s whose actions lead to an ambush on his unit. Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’s Austrian thriller/drama Goodnight Mommy won the FIPRESCI Prize at the Thessaloniki Film Festival in November. The feature focuses on a pair of 9-year-old twins who believe their mother, recently returned from facial reconstruction surgery, is actually a stranger.

“[ND/NF also] champions filmmakers we know, [and] are already starting to put together small but very distinctive bodies of work,” observed Lim. “Nadav Lapid is one of the most exciting filmmakers working today. I don't think there's anyone else quite like him. Both his films are extremely intelligent provocations, films of ideas, completely original and unpredictable. The Kindergarten Teacher is not only one of the best films of the past year by a young filmmaker, but one of the best period. And Rick Alverson is another real original. The Comedy was a very polarizing film, and there's a good chance Entertainment will be as well – it's even more ambitious and he's already one of the most distinctive voices in American independent cinema.”

Now in its fourth decade, New Directors/New Films has introduced or cemented the status of some of the globe's most celebrated filmmakers. Directors who made their early mark on contemporary cinema via the festival include 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), Gareth Huw Evans (The Raid), Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), Terence Nance (An Oversimplification of Her Beauty), Joshua Oppenheimer (The Act of Killing), Sarah Polley (Stories We Tell), Dee Rees (Pariah), Justin Simien (Dear White People), Denis Villeneuve (Incendies), and more.

The complete lineup of selections for the 44th New Directors/New Films Festival will be announced in February.

[Film Society and MoMA Members may purchase tickets starting at noon on Tuesday, March 3. Tickets will be available for purchase by the General Public on Tuesday, March 10. To become a Member of the Film Society or MoMA please visit: and, respectively.]

The Initial 9 selections screening in the upcoming 44th New Directors/New Films Festival are:

Christmas, Again
Charles Poekel, USA, 2014, 79m
A forlorn Noel (Kentucker Audley) pulls long, cold nights as a Christmas-tree vendor in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. As obnoxious, indifferent, or downright bizarre customers come and go, doing little to restore Noel’s faith in humanity, only the flirtatious innuendos of one woman and the drunken pleas of another seem to lift him out of his funk. Writer-director Charles Poekel has transformed three years of “fieldwork” peddling evergreens on the streets of New York into a sharply observed and wistfully comic portrait of urban loneliness and companionship. While Christmas, Again heralds a promising newcomer in Poekel, it also confirms several great young talents of American indie cinema: actors Audley and Hannah Gross, editor Robert Greene, and cinematographer Sean Price Williams.

Chaitanya Tamhane, India, 2014, 116m
Marathi, Gujarati, and Hindi with English subtitles

Winner of top prizes at the Venice and Mumbai Film Festivals, Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court is a quietly devastating, absurdist portrait of injustice, caste prejudice, and venal politics in contemporary India. An elderly folk singer and grassroots organizer, dubbed the “people’s poet,” is arrested on a trumped-up charge of inciting a sewage worker to commit suicide. His trial is a ridiculous and harrowing display of institutional incompetence, with endless procedural delays, coached witnesses for the prosecution, and obsessive privileging of arcane colonial law over reason and mercy. What truly distinguishes Court, however, is Tamhane’s brilliant ensemble cast of professional and nonprofessional actors; his affecting mixture of comedy and tragedy; and his naturalist approach to his characters and to Indian society as a whole, rich with complexity and contradiction.

Rick Alverson, USA, 2015, 110m
Following up his 2013 breakthrough, The Comedy, director Rick Alverson reteams with that film’s star, Tim Heidecker (here serving as co-writer), for a hallucinatory journey to the end of the night. Or is it the end of comedy? Cult anti-comedian Gregg Turkington (better known as Neil Hamburger) stars as a washed-up comic on tour with a teenage mime (Tye Sheridan), working his way across the Mojave Desert to a possible reconciliation with the estranged daughter who never returns his interminable voicemails. Our sort-of hero’s stand-up set is an abrasive assault on audiences, so radically tone-deaf as to be mesmerizing. Alverson uses a slew of surrealist flourishes and poetic non- sequiturs to fashion a one-of-a-kind odyssey that is by turns mortifying and beautiful, bewildering and absorbing. John C. Reilly, Michael Cera, Amy Seimetz, Dean Stockwell, and Heidecker are among the performers who so memorably populate the strange world of Entertainment, a film that utterly scrambles our sense of what is funny—and not funny.

Charles Poekel's Christmas, Again

Goodnight Mommy
Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz, Austria, 2014, 100m
German with English subtitles

The dread of parental abandonment is trumped by the terror of menacing spawn in Fiala Severin Franz and Veronika Franz’s exquisite, cerebral horror-thriller. Lukas and Elias are 9-year-old twins, alone with their fantastical playtime adventure-worlds in a countryside home, until their mother comes home from facial-reconstructive surgery. Or is she their mother? Her head entirely bandaged, and her personality radically changed, the boys begin to wonder what this stranger has done to their “real” mother. They set out to uncover the truth, by any means their childish minds can conjure. As with most fairy tales, it turns out that children can imagine and endure things that cause more mature minds and bodies to wither from fear. Produced by renowned auteur, and frequent script collaborator with Franz, Ulrich Seidl, Goodnight Mommy is an intelligent and engaging step forward for Austrian cinema. Fans of Michael Haneke’s work will find much to appreciate as well. Ultimately, this is a heartbreaking tale of love and loss wrapped in one of the scariest films of the year. A RADiUS-TWC release.

The Great Man
Sarah Leonor, France, 2014, 107m
French with English subtitles

When we first meet Markov (Surho Sugaipov), he and fellow French Legionnaire Hamilton (Jérémie Renier) are tracking a wild leopard in a desert war zone, at the end of their posting in Afghanistan. An ambush results in an abdication of duty—despite it stemming from an act of fidelity. We learn that Markov had joined the Legion as a foreign refugee, hoping to gain his French citizenship and provide a better life for his young son. Ultimately, the complications of immigration and legal status seem petty when compared with the primal urge to do right by those who have committed their lives to saving others’. The intrinsic struggle between paternal/fraternal responsibility and unfettered mobility takes on a deeply moving dimension in Sarah Leonor’s alternately heartbreaking and empowering sophomore feature.

The Kindergarten Teacher
Nadav Lapid, Israel/France, 2014, 119m
Hebrew with English subtitles

Nadav Lapid’s follow-up to his explosive debut, Policeman, is a brilliant, shape-shifting provocation and a coolly ambiguous film of ideas. Nira (Sarit Larry), a fortysomething wife, mother, and teacher in Tel Aviv, becomes obsessed with one of her charges, Yoav (Avi Shnaidman), a 5-year-old with a knack for declaiming perfectly formed verses on love and loss that would seem far beyond his scope. The impassive prodigy’s inexplicable bursts of poetry—Lapid’s own childhood compositions—awaken in Nira a protective impulse, but as her actions grow more extreme, the question of what exactly she’s protecting remains very much open. The Kindergarten Teacher shares the despair of its heroine, all too aware that she lives in an age and culture that has little use for poetry. But there is something perversely romantic in the film’s underlying conviction: in an ugly world, beauty still has the power to drive us mad.

Rick Alverson's Entertainment

Naji Abu Nowar, Jordan/Qatar/United Arab Emirates/UK, 2014, 100m
Arabic with English subtitles

A quietly gripping adventure tale that’s perhaps intended as a corrective to the romantic grandeur of Lawrence of Arabia, Naji Abu Nowar’s Theeb is classic storytelling at its finest. The year is 1916, the setting is a desert province on the edge of the Ottoman Empire, and it’s a time of war. Seeking help, a British Army officer and his translator arrive at an encampment of Bedouins, who, according to their traditions, provide hospitality and assistance in the form of a guide. The guide’s younger brother Theeb (Jacir Eid) follows and then tags along with the three grown-ups, who soon find themselves threatened by hostiles. As a boy who learns how to survive and become a man amidst the violent and mysterious agendas of adults, Eid carries this concise and unsentimental film on his young shoulders with amazing assurance.

The Tribe
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, Ukraine, 2014, 132m
A silent film with a difference, this entirely unprecedented tour de force was one of the must-see flash points at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. Why? Because its entire cast is deaf and mute and the “dialogue” is strictly sign language—without subtitles. Set at a spartan boarding school for deaf and mute coeds, The Tribe follows new arrival Sergey (Grigory Fesenko), who’s immediately initiated into the institution’s hard-as-nails culture with a beating before ascending the food chain from put-upon outsider to foot soldier in a criminal gang that deals drugs and pimps out their fellow students. With his implacable camerawork and stark, single-minded approach (worthy of influential English director Alan Clarke), first-time feature director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy overcomes what may sound like impossible obstacles to tell a grim but uncannily immersive story of exploitation and brutality in a dog-eat-dog world, delivering a high-school movie you won’t forget. A Drafthouse Films release.

White God
Kornél Mundruczó, Hungary, 2014, 119m
Hungarian with English subtitles

Thirteen-year old Lili and her mixed-breed dog Hagen are inseparable. When officials attempt to tax the mutt (a law that didn’t pass in Hungary, but was actually attempted), Lili’s father dumps Hagen on the street. While Lili tries in vain to find her dog, he goes through numerous trials and tribulations, along with other cast-off pets that wander alleyways looking for food and avoiding the pound. Hagen is taken in by some no-goods and trained to be a fighter, losing his domestic instincts in the process. When Hagen finally escapes with an army of canines in tow, they set out to take their revenge on the humans who wronged them, taking no prisoners. Kornél Mundruczó’s shocking fable, which won the Un Certain Regard prize in Cannes, captivatingly weaves together elements of melodrama, adventure, and a bit of horror in order to pose fundamental questions of equality, class, and humanity. A Magnolia Pictures release.