NYC Happenings: First Time Fest Celebrates and Supports Debut Filmmakers

One of the great things about living in New York City is its rich, eclectic and diverse film culture. One of the results of this is that you can't swing your arms without hitting a film festival of one kind or another, playing on any given day of the week. With film festivals of every stripe imaginable, for every purpose and every kind of audience you can think of, it can be very difficult to stand out. 

One festival coming to New York next week that definitely won't have that problem is First Time Fest, which will run from April 3-7. Now in its second edition, this very young festival celebrates and supports first time filmmakers, and this year they're offering an impressively packed lineup, filled with appearances from many luminaries. The ethos of the festival, co-founded by Johanna Bennett (daughter of Tony Bennett) and Mandy Ward, is to discover and showcase new talent and support that talent with help with theatrical distribution, as well as mentoring by more established filmmakers. The festival's director of programming is David Schwartz, chief film curator of the Museum of the Moving Image. Here is the festival's mission statement, taken from their press release:

Our world is increasingly less tolerant of the risks associated with supporting films by first time filmmakers.  This creates an ever more challenging environment for filmmakers to create truly inspired content without the need to focus on fundraising and economic success. Unfortunately many festivals have become so large they only provide exposure to already prominent filmmakers, while others are too small to attract quality films.  As a result, too many great films remain unseen and too many exceptional filmmakers undeveloped.
 
And so, FIRST TIME FEST was born.

The festival consists of two main sections. The first are ten Competition Films of recent debut features from all across the globe, which will be judged both by a selected jury and the audience. The Grand Prize winner will receive theatrical distribution of their film by Cinema Libre Studio. 

Here are this year's Competition Films (descriptions provided by the festival):

1982 USA. Director, Tommy Oliver. Set in Philadelphia at the onset of the crack epidemic, 1982 follows a father's efforts to protect his 10-year-old daughter from her drug-addled mother, while trying to steer her towards recovery. A grant recipient from the San Francisco Film Society and winner of the US in Progress award, 1982 premiered to great acclaim at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival. 
 
Bittersweet USA/Netherlands. Director, Marieke Niestadt. A thrilling, intimate, and unpredictable sports documentary follows Australian kickboxer and WIBA World Champion Diana Prazik's seemingly impossible quest to defeat Frida Wallberg of Sweden. 
 
Butter on the Latch USA. Director, Josephine Decker. At a Balkan music camp, one woman's respite devolves into a thrilling, psychosexual drama as her friendship and sanity are tested to extremes. Butter on the Latch had its international premiere at the 2014 Berlin Film Festival, alongside Decker's second film, Thou Wast Mild and Lovely. 
 
Class Enemy Slovenia. Director, Rok Bicek. A group of students rallies against their new German professor when one of their classmates commits suicide. The film premiered at the 2013 Venice Film Festival, and was Slovenia's official entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. 
 
Fall to Rise USA. Director, Jayce Bartok. In this multi-layered and absorbing New York drama, a famous principal dancer (Daphne Rubin-Vega) struggles to uphold her identity when a knee injury relegates her to motherhood. 

Farewell, Herr Schwarz Germany/Israel. Director, Yael Reuveny. A brother and sister survive the concentration camps but are separated in 1945. She migrated to the Middle East; he returned to Germany, where he became a Communist and lived near the camp where he was imprisoned. Their grandchildren are haunted by family secrets; the two families, in Germany and Israel - not knowing each other for years - are strangely mirrored. Yael Reuveny's epic documentary is a journey spanning three generations, two countries and one fateful decision.
 
Getting to the Nutcracker USA. Director, Serene Meshel-Dillman. This behind-the-scenes look at The Marat Daukayev School of Ballet's herculean efforts to stage The Nutcracker is an absorbing, intimate documentary that looks at the sacrifices and passion of its children dancers, ages three to eighteen. 
 
Love Steaks Germany. Director, Jakob Lass. She is an alcoholic chef, he, a sensitive masseur. Together they forge an unlikely relationship in this energetic and darkly comic romance set at a sea-side resort, which won the Lions Film Award at the 2014 Rotterdam Film Festival. 
 
Miss Julie Sweden. Director, Mikael Berg. A beautiful and bold new adaptation of Strindberg's classic battle of the sexes play set on a Midsummer's night in a rustic mansion in 1920s Europe.
 
The Sleepwalker USA/Norway. Director, Mona Fastvold. A young couple's renovation plans are thwarted by the unexpected arrival of her estranged sister in this thriller starring co-screenwriter Brady Corbett, Christopher Abbott and Gitte Witt, which premiered in Competition at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

There will also be two out-of-competition Special Screenings:

See You Next Tuesday USA. Director, Drew Tobia. A pregnant and abrasive grocery store clerk draws her troubled family close as she spirals toward her due date in this moving, dark comedy that recalls the films of John Waters and Todd Solondz.
 
Nothing Left To Fear USA, Director, Anthony Leonard III.  Producer/Composer, Slash. In this thrilling horror film, a family's journey toward a better life is interrupted by an unstable man of the cloth.

The festival also features a retrospective series called First Exposure, which showcases the debut features of now established and renowned filmmakers, who will appear in person to discuss their films. This year's selections are: Paris is Burning (Jennie Livingston), the festival's opening night film; Salesman (Albert Maysles); Titus (Julie Taymor); Roger & Me (Michael Moore); River of Grass (Kelly Reichardt); David Lynch's Eraserhead (cinematographer Frederick Elmes will appear); Fingers (James Toback); Targets (Peter Bogdanovich); The Station Agent (Tom McCarthy) [cast members Michele Williams, Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, and Bobby Cannavale are also expected to attend]; In a World (Lake Bell).

This year, Julie Taymor will receive the John Huston Award for Achievement in Cinema, the festival's honorary prize. (Last year's recipient was Darren Aronofsky.) There will also be two "Stand Alone" conversations with Michael Moore and Peter Bogdanovich, as well as a series of industry panels and workshops.

In all, this looks like a quite an exciting line-up and a very packed five days of screenings and events. For more information on the fest and to purchase tickets and passes, visit First Time Fest's website.


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