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Complete lineup: the 37th New Directors/New Films Festival

MoMA and the
Film Society of Lincoln Center have announced their rich slate of 26 films with solid picks from the 2007 Cannes and 2008 Sundance film festival titles. the festival opens with Frozen River (see pic above). The fests takes place between March 26th to the 6th of April.

Frozen River,” directed by Courtney Hunt (U.S.)
In awarding
Courtney Hunt the Grand Jury Prize for Drama at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival,
Quentin Tarantino said of her debut feature, “It put my heart in a vise and
proceeded to twist that vise until the last frame.” That’s pretty significant
praise from a filmmaker whose work is as hyperbolic as Hunt’s is restrained. But
like her supporter, Hunt packs a wallop. Two women in upstate New York–one
recently left with two sons to raise, the other a widow on the Mohawk
reservation straddling the U.S./Canadian border–need money fast, and they
become unlikely, uneasy and even unwilling partners in a perilous and illegal
enterprise. In portraying women determined not go over the edge, Melissa Leo
(Detective Howard in television’s ‘Homicide’) and Misty Upham give exquisite,
hard-edged and vulnerable performances. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

Ballast,” directed by Lance Hammer (U.S.)
A man’s suicide
irrevocably alters the already fraught relationship of three people in a rural
Mississippi Delta township. First-time director Lance Hammer sensitively traces
the innumerable ways one radical act affects life’s larger issues and daily
details for those left behind. Nonprofessionals all, the three main actors’
nuanced performances accentuate the tentative ties that uneasily bind together a
solitary bachelor, his brother’s embittered ex-girlfriend and her troubled
12-year-old son. The slow-burn trajectory of this story gradually unfolds,
anchored in psychological truth and the authenticity of locale. Improvising
scenes with his actors, Hammer makes his debut with a strong emotional impact.
His is a distinct and courageous new voice in American cinema. An IFC First Take
release.

Correction,” directed by Thanos Anastopoulos (Greece)
Referencing Ulysses’s mythic meandering and the contemporary
realities of immigration, xenophobia and hooliganism, director Thanos
Anastopoulos crafts a subtle yet haunting portrait of a broken man. Yorgos,
released from prison, wanders Athens from the half-way house to places that seem
familiar to him, yet remain as enigmatic as his past. A woman and her daughter
are objects of his fascination, but it is unclear if they are his estranged
family, strangers stalked by a predator or merely cohabitants of a
conflict-ridden society. Winner or the Best Screenplay award at the 48th
Thessaloniki International Film Festival, the film is a journey through urban
chaos and decay that mirrors the brave inner search for national identity and
responsibility.

Eat, for This is My Body,” directed by Michelange Quay (Haiti/France)
Michelange Quay’s extraordinary first feature invites us to
abandon the rules of traditional storytelling and embrace a poetic cinematic
language uniquely his own, as was evident in his ferocious short “The Gospel Of
The Creole Pig” (ND/NF 2004). This seductive and radical film begins with a
breathtaking aerial traveling shot over a tropical island where nature’s bounty
vies with images of poverty and suffering. A woman with a huge belly undergoes a
difficult birth; the sound of a rushing waterfall quells her plaintive cries. A
voodoo ceremony erupts with fervor. A white woman serves an imaginary dinner to
a group of black boys forced to reiterate “merci.” Vibrant musical sequences
give way to contemplative tableaux of sexual ambiguity. More than playing the
race card, Quay reflects on the political and sexual politics of a country with
a stormy past and an uncertain future in a film you are not likely to
forget.

Epitaph,” directed by Jung Bum-Sik and Jung Sik (South
Korea)
“K” horror rules, as powerfully evidenced by this sensational debut
feature by South Korea’s Jung Brothers. The impending demolition of a hospital
conjures up memories of inexplicable events for one doctor. In the first
episode, the doctor, then a young intern assigned to the morgue during 8. World
War II, feels that a beautiful corpse is beckoning him to join her in the
beyond. In the second, the sole survivor of a car crash can’t shake the presence
of those who perished. In the final episode, a man feels his overworked doctor
wife is drifting away–but he’s shocked to discover how far. Visually inventive
and full of narrative twists and turns, “Epitaph” has more than enough chills
for fans of the genre while offering a provocative meditation on the idea of
haunting in recent Korean cinema. A TLA Releasing Release.

Falling from Earth,” directed by Chadi Zeneddine (Lebanon/France)
A true cinema poet, Chadi Zeneddine’s poignantly surrealist
debut film pays tribute to four lonely people trying to survive their own
private wars in Beirut. These seamlessly woven chapters each reflect their own
particular time and place. In 1958, a solitary little girl exchanges her world
of toys and make-believe for a camera that captures the harsher reality outside.
In 1975, a security official grieving over the loss of a loved one finds solace
in the graffiti he reads and scrawls in a men’s room. In 1982, a woman dances
and weeps, waiting in vain for a missing lover. And in the present, Joussef has
a magical encounter. Falling From Earth is a moving elegy for a lost homeland
from a director whose talent and sensitivity imbue every frame.

Foster Child,” directed by Brillante Mendoza (Philippines)
International adoption has become international big business;
every year, hundreds of thousands of children move from their native lands in
the poor, developing world to what are assumed will be more advantageous homes
far, far away. In the Philippines, John-John is a mischievous tyke who has been
under the foster care of Thelma and her family for most of his three years.
Hard-working and respected in her field, Thelma–Foster Mother of the Year,
several times–must prepare John-John today to meet the American couple that is
going to adopt him. Brillante Mendoza’s heart-rending Foster Child is a powerful
look at the end of the baby business cycle, and a cool and sober study that
avoids sensationalism but never lets you forget the emotional toll the adoption
business takes on all of these characters.

La France,” directed by Serge Bozon (France)
It’s the fall
of 1917 and war is raging across Europe. Far from the conflict, Camille spends
her time awaiting news of her husband, who is at the front. One day she receives
a note from him ending their relationship. Distraught, she disguises herself as
a man and goes to the front to find him. On the way, she encounters a small band
of soldiers as they trudge through a war-torn countryside that is a no man’s
land in more ways than one. Traveling in the shadows of the war, these soldiers
add to the surreal quality of their trek by breaking into song and playing
homemade folk instruments. Only as the men discover Camille’s true identity does
Camille realize the soldiers have secrets of their own. Director Serge Bozon,
who won the Prix Jean Vigo for this first feature, has fashioned a truly
original war film that has aspects of an eerie fairytale. With Sylvie Testud as
Camille and Pascal Greggory as the leader of the rag tag regiment.

Japan Japan,” directed by Lior Shamriz (Israel)
A young
man adrift and in search of stimulation leaves his small-town home and moves to
the fertile sexual terrain of the big city. Director Lior Shamriz takes this
age-old scenario and updates it for an era when the unimagined limits of
adventurousness arrive and dissolve at light speed online. His hero, Imri,
unable to concentrate on the frivolity of a pointless job, cruises cinemas for
boys, chills with aspiring artists and surfs the Web for fantasies in foreign
lands. Set in the ultimate 21st century cutting edge-city, Tel Aviv, Shamriz’s
film creates a post-exotic cinema where a war zone borders a metropolis,
precision redirects to chaos, and subtle grace links to graphic pornography.
“Japan Japan” is the fabricated land that, unlike a metaphor, delivers the real
potential for instant escape from the familiar.

Jellyfish,” directed by Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen (Israel/France)
At Cannes last year “Jellyfish” stood out, winning the
Camera d’Or for best debut feature. Co- directors Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen,
each a celebrated Israeli writer, explore life in Tel Aviv, a densely populated
metropolis where determining one’s destiny is an illusion rather than a promise.
Here the sea becomes a place of refuge, shelter and comfort for many–including
Karen, a bride whose honeymoon is threatened when she breaks her leg at the
wedding; Batya, into whose life comes a little girl who may or may not be real;
and Joy, a Filipino caregiver who plays reconciler between estranged mother and
daughter. Hapless and attractive, the characters try to make sense of what’s
happening to them but like jellyfish they keep floating on the whim of tides and
currents, bemused but determined. A Zeitgeist Films Release.

A Lost Man,” directed by Danielle Arbid (Lebanon/France)

In the chaos of the Lebanese civil war, a man is seen running through the
streets of Beirut. Twenty years later, his erotic encounter with a woman at a
border crossing is captured on film by Thomas (Melvil Poupad), a French
photographer who travels the globe in search of extreme experiences to document.
Thomas and Fouad (British-Sudanese actor Alexander Siddig) strike up a
friendship and embark on a sensual journey through the Middle East. Fouad,
suffering a trauma, remembers nothing of the past, and Thomas tries to uncover
the mystery of his missing life. In her second feature film, Danielle Arbid
explores the sexual taboos of the Arab world, focusing on issues of memory and
loss while creating a dynamic pas de deux that begs the question, who is really
the lost man?

Megane,” directed by Naoko Ogigami (Japan)

Screenwriter/director Naoko Ogigami’s third feature is a comedy as
refreshing as shaved ice on a warm afternoon. A propeller ride away, where the
sky is deep blue and the sandy beaches curve into the ocean, stands a unique
seaside inn. Taeko, a serious young woman and the first client of spring, rolls
in her gigantic suitcase, unaware that her needs will be minimal. She is greeted
in a curious manner by the staff and is soon confounded by the customs, cuisine
and general oddity of her hosts. Are they quite sane? Zen in spirit, gentle in
plot, and absolutely cinematic in style, Megane offers the joys and delights of
a Shangri-La with sushi on the side.

Momma’s Man,” directed by Azazel Jacobs (U.S.)
The
narcissism and inherent freedom of adolescence can have addictive properties.
For Mikey, a thirty-something father of a newborn who works a nothing job, a
moment of adolescent relapse becomes a rabbit-hole of immobility. Visiting his
New York artist parents (portrayed with heart-breaking depth and impressive
naturalism by director Azazel Jacobs’s real-life parents, Ken and Flo) on a
business trip away from his family in California, Mikey finds himself unable to
leave his childhood home (the Jacobs’ own downtown loft, a true character unto
itself). His actions are not based in malice, though his indecisiveness and the
natural, sweetly overbearing concern of his family cause him to spiral down a
path of untruth and abandonment. Filled with wry humor and an authenticity that
once defined independent film, “Momma’s Man” is superbly crafted, funny, and
utterly poignant.

Moving Midway,” directed by Godfrey Cheshire (U.S.)
New
York-based film critic Godfrey Cheshire’s richly observed documentary film about
his colonial roots in the American South begins with the impending move of
Midway, the old family plantation in Raleigh to a new location to make room for
a shopping mall. This coincides with the news that Godfrey and his cousins are
kin to the Hintons, an African-American branch of the family. What starts as an
investigation of heritage and change develops into an eye-opening family drama.
How will the anticipated upheaval affect the family “ghosts,” principally Mary
Hinton, eccentric former doyenne of Midway, not to mention Godfrey’s
delightfully patrician mother to whom the revelation of newly discovered black
relatives is a source of astonishment and possible amusement? A thoroughly
entertaining, informative, and stimulating film about the Southern plantation as
both a symbol and a fading reality.

Munyurangabo,” directed by Lee Isaac Chung (U.S./Rwanda)

Set in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, Lee Isaac Chung’s impressive
debut feature is story of two young men–one a Tutsi, the other a Hutu–trying
to create futures by putting their pasts behind them. For Munyurangabo, this
means seeking justice for his parents, who were killed during the fighting. For
his friend Sangwa, resolution might come once he’s able to re-visit the lands he
fled so long before. The two reach the home of Sangwa’s parents, but the parents
are scared of the intentions of their son’s companion–after all, “Hutus and
Tutsi are supposed to be enemies.” Chung, a Korean-American, traveled to Rwanda
with a small crew and a nine-page script outline. Working with the cast, he
completed his script with their real experiences. The result is fresh, immediate
and utterly authentic.

Sleep Dealer,” directed by Alex Rivera
Sometime in the not
too distant future, big corporations control the water supply and international
borders are truly airtight. In a Mexican village, Memo, a young man who loves to
tinker with technology, hacks into the wrong system and finds himself in big
trouble. When he runs off to a border town, he finds a job and a girl–but no
guarantee of a happy ending. In his debut feature, director Alex Rivera creates
a chilling scenario that is not so far-fetched. With the look and energy of a
futuristic computer game, the film treats us to a world where migrant workers’
nervous systems are plugged into a global network, allowing them to do menial
jobs in the U.S. for the same low wages but without setting foot north of the
border. A thriller of a ride that is a chilling indictment of global capitalism
and a look at the lost promises of the world wide web.

Slingshot Hip Hop,” directed by Jackie Reem Salloum
While
America’s image abroad has been battered of late, its music remains a unifying
force in global culture. New York filmmaker Jackie Reem Salloum’s first feature
documentary on Palestinian rap, is an exuberant mix of live-action and
animation. Beginning in Lyd, Israel, where Tamer Nafar heard Tupac Shakur and,
influenced by Shakur’s protest lyrics and fierce rhythms, formed DAM, the first
Palestinian hip hop group, the filmmaker travels to West Bank communities and to
Gaza to record what, in spite of poverty and military checkpoints, DAM hath
wrought. That includes PR (Palestinian Rapperz), whose members hope someday to
meet fellow rappers outside the confinements of Gaza; and the female rapper
Abeer and the group Arapeyat, who are redefining gender roles in their
societies. “Slingshot Hip Hop” is a rousing testament to the power of music and
the aspirations of youth.

Soul Carriage,” directed by Conrad Clark (China/UK)
Desperately in need of cash, Xinren, a young worker at a Shanghai construction
site, takes on the onerous task of returning the body of a co-worker who died on
the job to his family. Nasty as the chore may be, it seems simple enough–but
nothing is simple in a changing China. As Xinren works his way from the city to
the countryside – in opposition to the direction most workers go for jobs –
looking for someone, anyone, who will acknowledge the dead man, we witness his
growing isolation, as his only companion is the body in the back of his van.
First-time filmmaker Conrad Clark (who received the New Directors Award at the
San Sebastian Film Festival) spent two years in China researching the country’s
shift towards urbanization and has created a daring work in which the
environment is a major character. Beautifully shot, this story of modernity
overtaking tradition serves as a metaphor for Chinese migrant workers searching
for material – and spiritual – fulfillment.

The Toe Tactic,” directed by Emily Hubley (U.S.)
Mona Peek
is a young woman engulfed by loss. Her father has passed away, her wallet
disappears, and those around her are on their own. Through the nimble creativity
of animator Emily Hubley, we discover a layered world of live action and
illustrated images. Mona’s life, her grieving and searching, and the lives of
those in her neighborhood are manipulated by four capricious dogs playing a game
of cards. Winsome newcomer Lily Rabe, joined by the voices of Eli Wallach,
Marian Seldes, Andrea Martin and Mary Kay Place, melds with the animated forms
that push, pull and caress the film’s flesh-and-blood cohabitants through a
journey of renewal. The unique kinetic flow of Hubley’s remarkable feature debut
is enhanced by the music of the equally innovative band, Yo La Tengo.

Trouble the Water,” directed by Tia Lessin and Carl
Deal
(U.S.)
This astonishingly powerful documentary, at once horrifying
and exhilarating, won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at this year’s
Sundance. Two weeks after Katrina made landfall, New York filmmakers Tia Lessin
and Carl Deal flew to Louisiana to make a film about soldiers returning from
Iraq who were now homeless. But the National Guard closed off access. Just when
the filmmakers were ready to disband their crew, Kim and Scott Roberts,
streetwise and indomitable, introduced themselves. Kim had bought a camcorder
the day before the hurricane, and using it for the first time, she captured the
devastation and its pathetic aftermath, including the selfless rescue of
neighbors and the appalling failure of government. The strong center of “Trouble
The Water,” though, are the Roberts themselves who, says Deal, “survived all the
storms of their lives not because they were lucky, but because they had
intelligence, guts, and the kind of hope that is based in will rather than
experience.”

Valse Sentimentale,” directed by Constantina Voulgaris (Greece)
Constantina Voulgaris’s first feature film is a delightful anomaly
in contemporary cinema, sort of like a Cat Power song. Raw, earnest, melancholy,
awkward in parts, razor sharp in others, it’s lyrical, yet with an undercutting
touch of offbeat humor. And more than anything it’s unapologetically a girl’s
bedroom song, an utterly sincere home movie. Made with the ever- generous
currency of a cast and crew of friends, and the ample downtime that Greek
summer-in- the-city affords, when everybody else is sunning and hooking up out
in the islands, it’s a film about two exiles — in Athens, in summer, in love. A
sentimental dance between a girl and a boy who could be stuck in downtown
any-ville, yearning to be with each other but too cool to dare, too chicken to
admit it, too clumsy not to step on each other’s Doc Martins, and too damn
sentimental not to surrender, in the end, to that old-fashioned thing called
love.

Water Lilies,” directed by Celine Sciamma (France)

Emphatically imagined from a female perspective, “Water Lilies” delves into
the mysterious world of teenage girls. Marie (Pauline Acquart) is a lanky
teenager content to hang out with Anne (Louise Blanchere), an awkward chubbette
and her devoted slave, until blonde dazzler Floriane (Adele Haenel) captures
Marie’s interest and lures her into a murkier pool of desire and disenchantment.
Celine Sciamma’s precisely rendered first feature is devoid of adults and by
design, boys appear only in relation to the female trio and the backdrop of
synchronized swimming that is their daily summer activity. “Water Lilies”
captures the dynamics of the girls’ shifting relationships and brilliantly
navigates a psychological terrain rarely if ever captured on film with this
degree of honesty. While most cinematic examinations of teenage life are full of
aimless conversation, this one plays like a thinking person’s action film. A
Koch Lorber Films Release.

We Went to Wonderland,” directed by Xiaolu Guo (U.K.)
A
Chinese man who has lost his voice after an operation for cancer now
communicates through the written word. Despite his age and frail health, he has
always dreamed of visiting Europe. Now he and his delightfully pragmatic wife
embark on a long awaited great adventure, first stopping at their daughter’s
home in England and continuing on to the Continent. There are some amusing
encounters along the way, as well as some surprising revelations about the
husband. In minute detail director Xiaolu Guo follows the couple on their
adventure, with subtle digs at the consequences of globalization as well as
capturing the confusion of the pair as they confront an alien culture for which
they have few reference points.

Wonderful Town,” directed by Aditya Assarat (Thailand)

With an unerring feeling for lives on hold, director Aditya Assarat creates
an atmosphere of guardedness, uneasiness, and mystery to highlight the story of
two lonely people attempting a fragile emotional connection. The film’s
saturated colors reinforce the lifelessness of a location that suffered
immensely during the tsunami three years ago. An architect from Bangkok pulls up
to a motel in a near-ghost town of deserted streets and beaches. His obscured
past finds symmetry in the repressed history of the girl he meets and pursues.
Each is trying to discover how to give way and function in the present. This
quiet narrative of suggestion and hushed emotions has an unexpected denouement
that is as shocking as it is earned. A Kino International Release.

XXY,” directed by Lucia Puenzo (Argentina/Spain/France)

For just about everybody, slipping past adolescence means having to confront
a number of choices and life decisions, but rarely any as monumental as the one
facing Alex (Ines Efron). Born a hermaphrodite, Alex has been raised as a girl,
but the moment has come when a decision must be on the surgery that will define
her future. Some family friends come to visit Alex’s family, bringing along
their teenage son, Alvaro (Martin Piroyanski). Alex immediately feels some kind
of attraction to the young man–adding yet another level of complexity to Alex’s
personal search for identity. Debut director Lucia Puenzo handles such
potentially explosive material with extraordinary grace and tact, probing past
the sensational outward appearances to uncover the rich, emotional core of this
story. Efron and Piroyanski both give brave, deeply touching performances, and
Ricardo Darin is superb as Alex’s father, a man of logic and science trying to
make sense of a situation for which reason offers few answers. A Film Movement
Release.

La Zona,” directed by Rodrigo Pla (Spain/Mexico)
The
privileged isolation of wealthy people in gated communities does little to
insulate them from the dangers of a society where the gap between rich and poor
increases with dizzying haste. As in a horror movie, the unnaturally perfect
‘zona’ is as much a character as the inhabitants, a premise filmmaker Rodrigo
Pla exploits with impressive dramatic flair. After a robbery goes awry and one
of the young robbers goes on the run inside the gates, vigilante justice and
private contractors conspire to keep the police at bay. The disaffected,
powerless teens on both sides forge a bond against the older generation’s vulgar
displays of wealth and entitlement. The pitch-perfect direction and well-honed
script of this edge-of-the-seat suspense film provide a perfect backdrop for the
three-dimensional characters.

Shorts:

Cinema Mundial (1958-2007)“: Carles Ascensio’s featurette about a
film theater in Madrid is seen through the eyes of projectionists and the
theater’s disillusioned owner. A collection of nostalgic images about the
tactile joys of handling film become a passionate ode to cinema.

The Wind’s Stories“: A young boy living with his family on a remote
farm grasps the connection between nature and nurture in the course of a typical
day in Javier Beltran Ramos’s lyrical idyll in which only the sound of the wind
punctuates the silence.

Camels Drink Water“: Nathalie Djurberg, a Berlin-based artist whose
short animations are in many public and private collections, receives her New
York theatrical premiere with this curious view of camels and liquids.

my olympic summer“: Daniel Robin’s curiously resonant film about
mothers, fathers and internal and exterior events won the Grand Jury Prize for
Short Film at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.

Man“: Two sisters–rivals and friends–bond in a dramatic encounter
with a young man. Directed by Myna Joseph.

Flotsam Jetsam“: In 2005 an American nuclear submarine crashed into
an uncharted underwater mountain in the Pacific Ocean. Two years later, artists
Patty Chang and David Kelley constructed their own submarine and launched it in
the Yangtse River in China, just below the Three Gorges Dam. With members of a
Chinese opera troupe on board, the sub’s journey becomes an imaginative
performance exploring space, identity and memory.

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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