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Once again The Film Society of Lincoln Center and The Museum of Modern Art join forces to complete another lineup for the 45th annual New Directors/New Films Festival (ND/NF), running March 16 - 27, 2016.
Since 1972, the festival has been an annual New York City spring event for cinephiles sometimes offering exciting discoveries from around the world. Other times it has confounded film fans. Dedicated to offering new works by emerging talent, this year’s fest screens 27 features and 10 short films.
Babak Anvari’s debut Under the Shadow opens the festival with a story of a mother and daughter haunted by a sinister, largely unseen presence during the Iran-Iraq War. It supposedly has a mounting sense of dread until its ominous finish. A breakout hit at Sundance, Indiewire’s Eric Kohn called it, “the first great horror movie of the year.”
Well, I missed it but not the closing night selection — Kirsten Johnson’s Cameraperson, a chronicle of the cinematographer-turned-director’s life through her collaborations with documentarians such as Laura Poitras, Michael Moore, and others. A disjointed memoir, Johnson’s first solo directorial effort offered snippets of films I’d would have rather seen than this doc, but it did display some outtakes of worthy films and for that alone, viewing her compilation was worth it.
It was one of nine festival features and four shorts directed by women, several of those made for a time well spent.
Films seen in New Directors/New Films are usually more of mixed bag than most of the festival featured at either MoMA or The Film Society — maybe because of the programming cross-pollination. That notwithstanding, there’s usually enough discoveries to outweigh the films that confuse or dismay.
And I missed several of the bigger buzz films such as Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s Sundance Grand Jury Prizewinner Weiner as well as Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Happy Hour, for which the main cast shared Locarno’s Best Actress award. But others caught my attention.
Disregarding those films which seemed far less than the guide’s description suggested, I was taken with the following three women-centric films.
The FitsAnna Rose HolmerUSA, 2015, 72mThough this debut feature isn’t entirely successful, it presents enough mystery and intrigue to engage a viewer long enough to take them to its conclusion. Detailing a transition from girlhood to womanhood, Holmer depicts 11-year-old Toni’s journey of discovery (Royalty Hightower) as a young boxer drawn to dancers training at the same rec center in Cincinnati. She joins one of the troupes, The Lionesses, and becomes immersed in their world. The film successfully conveys her challenge to become part of the group and then a mysterious, convulsive condition begins to afflict her team. Set within the intimate confines of familiar settings — the public school, the gym and its grounds — The Fits tries to intertwine two confusing story lines as one to some curious effect. This Oscilloscope release is worth looking into even with its flaws.
Kill Me Please / Mate-me por favorAnita Rocha da SilveiraBrazil/Argentina, 2015, 101m, Portuguese with English subtitlesAnita Rocha da Silveira’s starts out with a predictable coming-of-age story that becomes something else entirely. Again intriguing but not quite successful, the film’s passive/aggressive sexuality turns from teenage angst to becoming some kind of strange slasher flick. Set in Rio de Janeiro’s Barra da Tijuca —a new upper-middle-class neighborhood of thoroughfares, malls, and white condos — a clique of teen girls become captivated by a series of gruesome murders. Bia (Valentina Herszage) really becomes obsessed and mayhem ensues. Though there’s nods to many classic such as Brian De Palma’s Carrie, Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People, and David Lynch’s entire oeuvre, da Silveira’s isn’t quite yet up to these stars of the genre.
Mountain / Ha'harYaelle KayamDenmark/Israel, 2015, 83m, Hebrew with English subtitlesIn this Israeli production, a Jewish Orthodox woman, Zvia, lives on the grounds of an ancient cemetery with her four children and her disaffected husband, a Yeshiva teacher who pays little attention to her. Kayam's debut transforms this portrait of an isolated woman into something far more insidious. On a late night walk through the tombstones, Zvia encounters a group of prostitutes and their handlers -- she becomes fascinated with them, turning into a voyeuristic bystander to their sexual activities, even bringing them home-cooked meals in order to connect with them. Actress Shani Klein’s performance addresses clichés with a finesse that’s hard to describe.
New Directors/New Films 2016March 16, 2016 – March 27, 2016
The Roy and Niuta Titus TheatersThe Museum of Modern Art11 W 53rd St, New York, NY 10019
Walter Reade Theater165 W 65th St.New York, NY 10023
Memories of Matsuko
Sometimes bizarre, sometimes uplifting, sometimes heartbreaking, but always charming, the musicals of Japanese cinema are often overlooked, but have a style all their own. And now the Japan Society (333 E 47th St, New York, NY) will be doing its own retrospective on Japan’s musical history (in glorious 35mm) with Japan Sings! The Japanese Musical Film, running April 8 - 23. Featuring ten films, the festival focuses primarily on the teen idol films of the 1950s and 60’s, but also pre-war musical films, and some of the more offbeat musicals to emerge from the 2000s. And since most of the films being shown are not available on DVD in the US, you better catch this festival while you can.
Series curator, Michael Raine (Assistant Professor of Film Studies at Western University, Canada) says"Seeing and hearing the tradition of musical films in Japanese cinema gives us a different view of Japanese popular culture that is smart as well as silly and sometimes devastating, too. In the 20th century, American culture became global culture: Japanese filmmakers faced up to that geopolitical fact with a mix of homage and parody that also sometimes offered audiences a way of understanding their place in the world."
The films being shown are:
For more information, go to http://www.japansociety.org/
Japan Sings! The Japanese Musical FilmApril 8 - 23, 2016
The Japan Society333 E 47th St.New York, NY 10017
Dance Iranian Style
Now in it’s third year, the rising Socially Relevant Film Festival (March 14 - 20, 2016) has its own blend of panels, documentaries, features, and shorts tackling a range of issues in today’s society in its mission to promote social change through the power of cinema.
Addressing genocide, sexuality, race, and identity, the Socially Relevant film fest assembles filmmakers from around the world for its hard-hitting themes and stories.
Narrative features include:
There will also be panels and workshops addressing issues like low-budget production and distribution, the applications of virtual reality to filmmaking and documentary storytelling.
To learn more, go to: http://www.ratedsrfilms.org/
Socially Relevant Film FestivalMarch 14 - 20, 2016
Various locations in Manhattan
When it comes to North American film festivals, Austin, Texas’ South By Southwest (or SXSW) is one of the top three fests, alongside Sundance and Toronto. But SXSW not just a film festival, but a music festival, political event, and electronics trade show in one.
Most of the SXSW "festival territory" is on the notorious Sixth Avenue entertainment district, where there are dozens of clubs and the best pizza in the state. Within this area is 80% of the whole thing.
The SXSW festival (known by some as “South-buy”) was founded in 1986 by the people who ran the New Music Seminar (http://newmusicseminar.com/). After the first few years, the festival changed it’s name from NMS to Southwest, and became an annual fixture that basically takes over downtown Austin for two weeks. The whole mishegas is divided into three major parts and several smaller ones. Music, Movies and Interactive, plus what they call “eco” and some other things I can’t recall.
InteractiveThe Interactive portion of the festival is is a trade show, pure and simple, with products on exhibition and various seminars. The thing will start when at 8AM with the first panel discussions. President Obama himself makes a keynote speech Friday, March 11 at 2:30pm at Dell Hall at The Long Center for the Performing Arts (701 W Riverside Dr., off Guadalupe), admission for that is via a lottery.
MusicWhen Interactive ends, then the music festival starts. This is also a convention, but is more open and there are lots of places where one can just hang out and do what God put Austin there for you to do, listen to country-western and punk until you’re ears bleed. The entire industry will be there to some extent and it’s going to be one of those party-till-you-drop events.
FilmThis thing goes on for nine days. They’re going to screen 139 films: 89 world premieres, 14 North American premieres and seven U.S. premieres, including 52 films from first-time directors. These films were selected from 2,455 feature-length film submissions composed of 1,467 U.S. and 990 international feature-length films from a total of 7,235 submissions.
Among the highlights are a special work-in-progress preview screening of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele’s catnapping comedy Keanu, Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused sequel Everybody Wants Some and John Michael McDonagh’s brilliantly titled: War on Everyone.
Notable world premieres include Mike Birbiglia’s Don’t Think Twice, starring the above mentioned Keegan-Michael Key; Ti West’s In a Valley of Violence, starring Ethan Hawke and Taissa Farmiga; The Master Cleanse, with Johnny Galecki and Anna Friel; Sophie Goodhart’s My Blind Brother, starring Adam Scott and Nick Kroll; Shovel Buddies, featuring Bella Thorne; The Trust, starring Nicolas Cage and Elijah Wood; and Kasra Farahani’s The Waiting, with James Caan.
Among the non premiers are: Jean-Marc Vallée’s Demolition, which opened Toronto in September, stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts and Chris Cooper and biopics about Miles Davis Miles Ahead, starring Don Cheadle, which closed the New York Film Festival last year) and Chet Baker (Born to Be Blue, starring Ethan Hawke).Not only that, they’ve decided to include TV shows: Danny McBride’s Vice Principals will also be featured. Between these three, there’s almost no time to sleep. (there is also an “Eco” section, or so they say—wow).
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