Marielle Heller's The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Since 1972, New Directors/New Films has been bringing discoveries from around the world to New York audiences. All aspects of cinema, from production to exhibition, have changed dramatically over the years, but the spirit of innovation and the element of surprise that have always defined this festival remain intact. ND/NF is dedicated to the discovery of new works by emerging and dynamic filmmaking talent, and this year's edition, taking place March 18-29, will open with Marielle Heller's The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

[Related: Full Lineup Announced for 44th New Directors/New Films]

In addition to having its world premiere at Sundance last month, The Diary of a Teenage Girl took the top prize in the Generation section of the Berlin International Film Festival. The film recounts the coming-of-age adventures of 15-year-old Minnie Goetze in 1970s San Francisco. Brilliantly adapted for the screen by first-time writer/director Marielle Heller, and based on the acclaimed illustrated novel by Phoebe Gloeckner, The Diary of a Teenage Girl stars British newcomer Bel Powley as Minnie and Kristen Wiig as her mother.

Rajendra Roy, Chief Curator of Film at MoMA, noted: “While the 'New' in New Directors/New Films does not mean 'young' per se, the festival has always had a deep connection to youth culture, and coming-of-age narratives in particular. The Diary of a Teenage Girl adds a vivid—one might even say explicit—new chapter to the narrative of young women's sexual empowerment that has been unveiled in cinema and serial television in the 21st century. It quite simply is very 'now.'”

Several of the films in the lineup will also premiere after winning major awards on the festival circuit: The Fool was awarded four prizes at the Locarno Film Festival, which also gave the Best Emerging Director prize to Simone Rapisarda Casanova for his feature documentary-hybrid The Creation of Meaning (La creazione di significato); Court was the winner of top prizes at the Venice and Mumbai Film Festivals; Britni West’s Tired Moonlight won the Jury Award for Narrative Feature at this year’s Slamdance; and Kornél Mundruczó’s White God won the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes.


Gabriel Abrantes's Taprobana

The Film Society's Director of Programming Dennis Lim observed that this year's lineup includes titles that defy genre and are recalibrating storytelling: “One thing we look for in programming New Directors is to be surprised, and we were pleased to find so many films this year that did just that, and in very different ways too. As it happens, some of the most ambitious films in the lineup are also among the hardest to classify.”

Among the international offerings is the North American premiere of Benjamin Crotty's French/Tunisian feature Fort Buchanan. The film follows the story of Roger, whose husband Frank is sent to the African nation of Djibouti. He remains behind with his adopted daughter, the temperamental Roxy, at Fort Buchanan, a remote base in the middle of the woods. Over the course of the four seasons he seeks advice, company. and consolation from a middle-aged woman, three pretty wives abandoned by their husbands, and a farmer cum personal trainer, all of whom have their own romantic turmoil.

“Benjamin Crotty is a young American filmmaker who studied film in France and is now based in Paris,” noted Lim. “Fort Buchanan is his first feature, a kind of meta-melodrama with a completely singular tone, beyond irony and sincerity. We're excited to be pairing it with a wonderful short, Taprobana, by Gabriel Abrantes, another talented young director who has collaborated with Crotty on several short films. Mercuriales is a feature by Virgil Vernier, a French filmmaker who has made some interesting short and medium-length work, combining aspects of fiction and documentary. This is his most accomplished work so far, a breakthrough film for him, formally inventive and incredibly beautiful. Yohei Suzuki's Ow, a sort of science-fiction comedy/political allegory, came as a total surprise. It hasn’t shown much on the festival circuit and is one of the most exciting independent films to come out of Japan in a while.”

One of the American titles, Bill and Turner Ross's documentary Western spotlights border towns Eagle Pass, Texas, and Piedras Negras, Mexico. For generations all that distinguished the two cities was the Rio Grande, which flowed between them. But the onset of the drug war threaten their neighborly rapport and a cowboy and lawman face the new reality that threatens their way of life.

Western is a very classic tale, told with nuance and grace—something rarely associated with border issues and drug violence,” said Roy. “For me, the steady hands and calm heads of the directors are mirrored in Mayor Foster, a modern Western hero…”


Stevan Riley's Listen to Me Marlon</em>

Fellow doc Listen to Me Marlon capitalizes on the extraordinary unheard personal archive of audio recordings collected throughout the life of screen legend Marlon Brando. The film charts his exceptional career as an actor and his extraordinary life away from the spotlight, exploring the complexities of the man by telling the story from Brando's perspective, entirely in his own voice.

“We found the film in Sundance and fell under the spell of a man laid bare by his own words,” said Roy. “One could only dream of having a therapist as insightful and compelling as Marlon Brando, though I'm not sure you would come out the other end any better than he did.”

Kornél Mundruczó's Hungarian film White God centers on 13-year-old Lili fighting to protect her dog, Hagen. She is devastated when her father eventually sets Hagen free on the streets. Still innocently believing love can conquer any difficulty, Lili sets out to find her dog and save him. Added Roy about the film: “Racial and ethnic purity are such jurassic constructs, and the 'inhuman' violence that attempts to enforce that purity is inevitable and lamentable at this stage in our evolution. It is hard not to make that link when watching White God.”

Previously announced titles 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).

Entertainment will close out this year's ND/NF on March 29. The drama follows an aging comedian who is en route to meet his estranged daughter. Attempting to revive his dwindling career, he plays a string of dead-end shows in the Mojave Desert. His stand-up set is an abrasive assault on audiences, so radically tone-deaf as to be mesmerizing.

“In closing with Entertainment, I think we're making the point that this is a festival that values originality,” said Lim. “Rick Alverson is a few films into his career now, and is clearly an original, someone with a real voice, a fully formed sensibility and worldview. He's practically on another planet from the rest of the American indie film world… Rick's work strikes some people as abrasive and discomfiting, but that's a big part of what makes it interesting, and there's also far more going on than just provocation. There's a real intelligence at work in Entertainment, and the more you think about it, the more it seems to be about.”

For more information on this year's lineup and tickets to New Directors/New Films, visit newdirectors.org.