Series Preview: New Directors/New Films Offers Up a Feast of Fresh Cinematic Treats

Ben Umstead, East Coast Editor
2012 marks the 41st year in which The Film Society of Lincoln Center and The Museum of Modern Art present to New York City audiences an intriguing and exciting new set of films and filmmakers from across the globe in their joint venture, New Directors/New Films. Past directors that have had their early works screened in the series include Céline Sciamma, Shane Meadows, Darren Aronofsky, Kevin Smith and Todd Solondz -- and that's just in the last 20 years. Running March 21st - April 1st, this year's selection includes 28 features and two feature-length shorts programs from an eclectic slew of new talent, as well as a rare screening of Stanley Kubrick's purposefully buried first feature Fear and Desire.

Peter Gutierrez and Dustin Chang are your guides to the 2012 edition, offering up their takes on 14 of the 29 feature films scheduled to play in the coming weeks at FSLC and MoMA. But first, an opening comment from Dustin on why he saw the films he saw, what he missed, and what this ND/NF seems to mean in comparison to last year's:

There were obviously time constraints as to how I ended up with these 8 films and not the others. All in all (and of course, judging only from what I've seen), this year's selections seem to be on the gentler side of things (maybe except for 5 Broken Cameras), and if not less bold, more mature. But The Raid was the first movie they screened for the press (and like an idiot, I didn't skip work to go see it like I was told by all my Twitch colleagues- I suck). So I could be totally wrong about all this. Some of the films missed are: 
An Oversimplification of Her Beauty, Las Acasias and Crulic.


Where do we go now_still.jpgWHERE DO WE GO NOW? (Lebanon) | Opening Night Gala, March 21st, 7pm & 8pm at MoMA

The first act promises so much--I particularly liked the musical numbers--but things go slowly yet inexorably downhill from there.  Perhaps chosen as the opening night film because it's thought to be something of a crowd-pleaser, with its mixture of light comedy, light romance, and light tragedy--but by the film's end the impression I was left with was of a lightweight mish-mosh. As Where Do We Go Now? keeps trying to one-up itself with new levels of semi-farce, it ultimately gets bogged down in its own silliness, loses whatever power it mustered early on, and squanders its opportunity for true heartbreak. Granted, the final few minutes present a rich and memorable idea--I just wish it had come an hour or so earlier. - Peter Gutierrez

found_memories_still.jpgFOUND MEMORIES (Brazil) | Screens March 22nd, 9pm at MoMA and March 24th, 4:30pm at FSLC

Found Memories is the other Brazilian film represented in this year's ND/NF, and it can't be any more different from Neighboring Sounds in tone and subject matter. In the film, the rural, lush mountain setting and candle-lit, Rembrandt-esque interiors are all beautifully photographed. It gracefully illustrates that the continuation of one's memories can be brought on by unexpected sources. Julia Murat's sensitive, leisurely storytelling style reminds me of magic realism in Latin American literary tradition. Lisa Fávero portrays perhaps the most beguiling angel of death, who dances around to Franz Ferdinand in her headphones.  One of my favorites in the series.
 - Dustin Chang

the_raid_still.jpgTHE RAID: REDEMPTION (Indonesia/USA) | Screens March 22nd, 6pm at MoMA, 11pm at FSLC

There's not much more one can say about this (dare I say it?) landmark film, at least not to Twitch readers. But I do want to mention the critics who, after the press screening, lightly complained that including genre films of this sort in the lineup (a trend they blamed on Tribeca's launching of the "Cinemania" strand a few years back) is a form of pandering. Well, to that I say, "Thank you, MoMA and Film Society--please pander away." - PG

Gimme the Loot-Tashiana Washington and Ty Hickson-credit Seven for Ten.jpgGIMME THE LOOT (USA) | Screens March 23rd, 6:30pm at FSLC and March 25th, 2:30pm at MoMA

I must confess that this film's recent win at SXSW puzzled me a bit. Amiable, and boasting some very nice turns by leads Tashiana Washington and Ty Hickson, Gimme The Loot still feels half-formed in many ways. Like a lot of talented writers who also want to make sure they get their points across, Adam Leon nails countless subtle, naturalistic interactions but then resorts to clumsy caricature when he wants you to react to the script's "big" dramatic reversals. And two of the film's rare kinetic scenes are completely botched by awkward staging, camerawork, and editing:  you never believe for a second that Washington is chasing a thief in one, or that she's being attacked in another. Maybe I'm too picky, but those sorts of shortcomings bug me, especially when a film can pull off more difficult things with such grace and ease. - PG

omar_killed_me.JPGOMAR KILLED ME (France) | Screens March 24th, 6:45pm at FSLC and March 25th, 7:30pm at MoMA

Smart, masterfully-made, and oh-so-watchable, Omar Killed Me is the kind of movie that I wish Hollywood would produce when it sets out to make a legal drama or a based-on-true-events saga of the wrongfully accused. Yes, there's a message movie of sorts in here, but the messages delivered are varied, complex, and thought-provoking. Really hope this finds a wide audience. - PG

neighboring_sounds.jpgNEIGHBORING SOUNDS (Brazil) | Screens March 24th, 9:15pm at MoMA and March 25th, 7:15pm at FSLC

Director Kleber Mendonça Filho captures the essence of a changing urban middle class neighborhood in Brazil's booming economy, still under the constant threat of violence. Neighboring Sounds is an ambitious, sprawling work with three distinctive storylines and multiple characters combined with great use of street noises and juxtaposing of architecture, highlighting the disparity and tension that is still evident in a masters and servants relationship in Brazilian society without ever featuring a single gun. - DC

I was pretty much transfixed by this from beginning to end, and in fact this is where ND/NF won me over for good: it's probably worth seeing all the films in a fest on the off-chance that you can discover a gem like this one. Nearly every shot is not only flawless and interesting, but pulses with mystery and, almost as often, menace. Yes, it's a portrait of a Brazilian neighborhood, but Neighboring Sounds is really about people everywhere and what they hide from each other. I truly hope director Kleber Mendonça Filho gets to make the films he wants for the next forty years or so--I can't wait to see them. - PG

How_to_survive_a_plague_view.jpgHOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE (USA) | Screens March 24th, 9pm at FSLC and March 26th, 6pm at MoMA

No question that there's some content in this doc that makes you sit up and pay attention, or that this is a story very worth telling--of ACT UP's late '80s, early '90s campaign to make effective drugs available to AIDS patients. Still, I detected a certain condescension to the audience, or maybe they were just signs of a relatively new documentarian not quite sure if today's audiences know/recall just how dire things were 20-25 years ago. Overall, I'd have to say that How to Survive a Plague is quite good, just not the home run it might have been. - PG

Rabbi'sCat#1.jpgTHE RABBI'S CAT (France/Austria) | Screens March 25th, 11am at MoMA and March 27th, 6pm at FSLC

Before the screening I attended an announcement was made to the effect that this was, in addition to being ND/NF's first 3D film, its "first family film" as well. That statement might have been tongue-in-cheek because, with its ambling road-movie vibe, unexpectedly bloody violence, brief shot of cats copulating, and constant theological ruminations, I'm not sure what kind of family The Rabbi's Cat might appeal to. But for the record, I happened to love the film's narrative unpredictability, its guardrail-to-guardrail swerving between the scared and the profane, and its refusal to be easily classified. Oh, and the title sequence sports the most exquisite design sense of perhaps any 3D film I've ever seen. - PG

5_broken_cameras.jpg5 BROKEN CAMERAS (Palestine/Israel/France) | Screens March 26th, 6pm at FSLC and March 27th, 8:30pm at MoMA

Emad Burnat lives in Bil'in in The Occupied Territories of West Bank. He got his first video camera in 2005 to document the birth of his fourth son, Gabreel. But then he becomes an accidental video journalist recording day-to-day lives of the townsfolk protesting against Israeli settlements that have been inching up to their land with bulldozers and tanks. He has been harassed, shot at repeatedly, jailed and hospitalized. Burnat, with Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi, put together 6 years of footage shot by 5 different cameras into a chilling chronological indictment of injustices done to Bil'in and its people. 5 Broken Cameras is a telling first person documentary that shows the unending violence and its effect on the generations to come.
 - DC  

The rare doc that's intensely personal yet never overburdens the audience with the force of its maker/narrator's voice. In fact, if anything you want to be told more, have certain informational gaps closed, while watching this first-person chronicle of nonviolent resistance in the Occupied Territories. Still, this is a documentary in the purest sense of the word, and though not easy to watch during some segments, should be required viewing for any who may have lost faith in the power of nonfiction filmmaking. Eye-opening. Heart-opening, too. - PG

fearanddesire.jpgFEAR AND DESIRE (USA) | Screens March 28th, 6:30pm at FSLC and March 31st, 2:30pm at MoMA

This year's ND/NF dug up this seldom seen first feature by Stanley Kubrick for the occasion. It is said that Kubrick, being a crazy perfectionist, wanted to round up all the negatives of the film he directed and financed when he was 24 years old, and destroy them. The negatives were discovered in Puerto Rico and the film was restored in 2005. But it was rarely seen in public. The film, with its overdub soundtrack and awkward reaction shots, is indeed an amateurish work at best. But there are few interesting aspects in this anti-war, Twilight Zone like parable. One is the scene with a pretty peasant girl behind enemy territory that the four soldiers hold as a hostage. The other is some beautiful cinematography with an improvised fog machine (insecticide pump, with some insecticide still in, it is rumored). Hey, you gotta start it somewhere. - DC

oslo-august-31st3.jpgOSLO, AUGUST 31st (Norway) | Screens March 28th, 8:30pm at MoMA and March 29th, 6pm at FSLC

It's not fair to compare Oslo, August 31st to Joachim Trier's smashing debut Reprise, but with the same lead Anders Danielsen Lie, playing pretty much the same character (an older version, but this time a substance abuser in rehab rather than a mental hospital patient), I can't help doing so. But in many ways Oslo is an improvement. Trier restrains himself in style and concentrates all his energy on creating a great character study. Lie is fantastic as Anders, a 34 year old man who made some bad choices and ended up wasting his youth in a rehab. The film treks his one day trip from the rehab to Oslo, his once stomping ground. It's the first/last day of his life. He observes other people leading their lives with their ordinary concerns and wishes. Trier and writing partner Eskil Vogt are gifted writers, never making life's problems black and white and making sophistication easy and likable. 

But I couldn't get over Oslo's specificity of its subject and its foregone conclusion. Reprise had its mature universality that appealed to both the cynic and optimist in me. Oslo is decidedly a downer. It's still far better than Louis Malle's impenetrable Fire Within, the film that has the same source, Le Feu Follet by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle (I fell asleep during Malle's film years ago), thanks to Lie's affecting performance.
 - DC

Not much to say about this one, except to echo those who have already praised Trier's utter brilliance as a filmmaker. A tale of depression masquerading as a tale of addiction, Oslo is one of the most affecting and accomplished movies I've seen all year. Quite possibly a new classic. - PG

TEDDY BEAR. PRIORITY STILL.jpgTEDDY BEAR (Denmark) | Screens March 29th, 6pm at MoMA and March 31st, 8:45pm at FSLC

It's a 'moving out' movie starring 38 year old, 6'7", 300 lbs Danish body builder Kim Kold rather than some scrawny, rebellious teenager. To top it all, this teddy bear finds love in the seedy streets of Thailand. This all might sound cringe inducing, but thanks to Mads Mathiesen's light touch and his group of non-actors' earnest performances, Teddy Bear works as a soft, huggable light comedy.
 - DC

It's easy to see why Teddy Bear made director Mads Matthiesen a winner at Sundance: despite your sensing where this film is going nearly every step of the way, it provides great moments throughout. Somehow managing to be disarming without ever feeling precious or calculated, Teddy Bear leverages an unforgettable performance by the hulking but touchingly lowkey Kim Kold. The result is a movie romance that's really a belated coming-of-age story much in the manner of 1955's Marty. A great date movie, to be sure, but actually so much more. - PG

breathing_still.jpgBREATHING (Austria) | Screens March 29th, 8:30pm at MoMA and March 31st, 6:15pm at FSLC


Austrian actor Karl Markovics' first feature about a juvie is economical and unsentimental filmmaking at its best.  He is also not in a hurry in unfolding the troubled young man's story. We slowly get to know Roman (Thomas Schubert), a boy who was abandoned by his mother and grew up in an orphanage. He killed another boy by accident at age 14, and has been in the system ever since.

 The title- Breathing, as in being alive, as in relieving oneself, clues you in on why Roman chooses a mortuary job in the beginning of the film. Dead boy, being under water,  suffocation... everything fits in. But under Markovics' hand, nothing is overstated. As an actor directing and scripting his first film, Markovics debut shares the same sensibility with the Belgian neo-realists Dardennes films than something that is more hard-knuckled, say, Nil by Mouth by Gary Oldman, or the last year's Tyrannosaur by Peter Mullan. But Breathing achieves the same level of poignancy without the emotional fireworks or physical violence. - DC

NowForager press still - Black morel.jpgNOW, FORAGER (USA/Poland) | Screens March 30th, 9pm at FSLC and April 1st, 4:30pm at MoMA

Now finally a movie made for foodies! With beautifully shot fungi in the forest photography with the explanation of each specimen and how to prepare it and what it tastes like, co-director/actor/writer Jason Cortlund tells a story of passion and growing up in the tough culinary world. The thirty something couple, both well versed in art of cooking (Cortlund and Tiffany Estreb as Lucien and Regina Eschaverrias- yes, they both have Basque ancestry) treads a fine line between snobbery and passion for delectable mushrooms. Now, Forager is an off kilter, low key American indie that might easily pass under the radar and I am glad I got to see it in this year's ND/NF. It features many mouthwatering dishes too.

 - DC

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For a complete list of films playing at 2012's New Directors/New Films, and to purchase tickets to those films not previewed here, please visit NewDirectors.org.
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