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9 Must-See Films From Emerging Indie Filmmakers At This Year’s New Directors/New Films

ND/NF has played home early films from such heavy hitters as Steven Spielberg, Pedro Almodovar, Richard Linklater, Darren Aronofsky, Christopher Nolan, Laura Poitras and Andrea Arnold.

Dedicated to the discovery of new works by emerging and dynamic filmmaking talent, this year’s New Directors/New Films festival will screen 29 features and nine short films. This year’s lineup boasts nine North American premieres, seven U.S. premieres, and two world premieres, with features and shorts from 32 countries across five continents.

The opening, centerpiece, and closing night selections showcase three exciting new voices in American independent cinema that all recently debuted at Sundance: Geremy Jasper’s “Patti Cake$” is the opening night pick, while Eliza Hittman’s “Beach Rats” is the centerpiece selection and Dustin Guy Defa will close the festival with “Person to Person.”

READ MORE: 2017 New Directors/New Films Announces Full Lineup, Including ‘Patti Cake$,’ ‘Beach Rats,’ ‘Menashe’ and More

Now in its forty-sixth year, ND/NF has played home early films from such heavy hitters as Steven Spielberg, Spike Lee, Chantal Akerman, Pedro Almodovar, Richard Linklater, Darren Aronofsky, Christopher Nolan, Laura Poitras, Andrea Arnold, Ben Wheatley and that is just the tip of the talent it has embraced. It’s a proving ground — and one with a proven track record.

ND/NF runs March 15 – 26. Ahead, check out the 9 titles we are most excited to check out at this year’s event.

“Patti Cake$”

Writer-director Geremy Jasper’s debut is the story of a young Jersey woman who aspires to become a rapper in a competitive field. With a premise that calls to mind everything from “8 Mile” to “Hustle and Flow,” there’s no question this tale of a tough young outsider with big dreams aims to be a crowdpleaser. Jasper, who has previously directed music videos for Florence + the Machine, has been building to his feature-length debut for a number of years — and he’s arrived there with the support of the filmmaking collective Court 13, best known for producing the Sundance breakout “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” The film arrived at Sundance with the maximum of buzz, which translated into a massive buy from Fox Searchlight, who will release the film later this year. -Eric Kohn

“Beach Rats”

“Beach Rats”

Sundance

Brooklyn-born filmmaker Eliza Hittman established herself as one to watch on her first trip to Sundance in 2013 with “It Felt Like Love,” a delicate exploration of a young girl’s grappling with her burgeoning sexuality, or lack thereof. In her sophomore feature, she applies the same nuanced intimacy to a teenage boy’s bodily yearnings. Frankie, played by dynamic newcomer Harris Dickinson, distracts himself from a miserable summer by causing trouble with his friends and flirting with older men online. Just when he begins meeting up with guys at a nearby cruising beach, he develops feelings for a young woman as well. His conflicting desires propel the film toward a dark and dangerous conclusion. -Jude Dry

“Person to Person”

Dustin Guy Defa has steadily found his footing in the American film scene with a number of idiosyncratic comedic shorts, including “Lydia Hoffman, Lydia Hoffman” and “Person to Person,” which now provides the template for his feature-length debut. (The lanky Defa also frequently surfaces as an actor in films ranging from “Summer of Blood” to “Swim Little Fish Swim.”) Defa’s films are always surprising for the way they shift tones with ease. All of that makes “Person to Person,” which co-stars Michael Cera and Abbi Jacobson, worth checking out. The film focuses on an obsessive record collector, his love-stricken roommate, and a bizarre murder mystery — exactly the kind of unpredictable hodgepodge that makes Defa such an alluring storyteller. -EK

“Lady MacBeth”

“Lady Macbeth”

From our review: With no score and zero levity, “Lady Macbeth” maintains a constant atmospheric dread. Oldroyd crafts a masterful sense of uncertainty about how far Katherine will go to preserve her dominance. Facing societal pressures that would drive anyone crazy, she acts out within reason, but the specifics of her drive make it hard for anyone to join her revolt. In the horrific finale, a series of harrowing showdowns make it impossible to determine the moral compass of the story as it spins wildly between various characters. By the end, “Lady Macbeth” has less to say about the perils of being a woman in oppressive times than mania necessary for challenging them. -EK

“Menashe”

Produced by indie regular Alex Lipschultz (“Computer Chess”), this narrative debut from documentarian Joshua Z. Weinstein takes place within the confines of an ultra-Orthodox community in Brooklyn, and unfolds exclusively in Yiddish with a cast of real Hasidic Jews. The story focuses on a widower battling arcane Jewish laws prohibiting him from retaining custody of his son, the sort of emotional premise that this insular setting has the potential to imbue with fresh meaning. By representing a world widely misunderstood by secular society, Weinstein may be able to universalize its struggles. -EK

“My Happy Family”

"My Happy Family"

“My Happy Family”

Courtesy of Sundance Institute | Tudor Panduru.

From our review: “My Happy Family” was shot by Romanian cinematographer Tudor Vladimir Panduru (who also did Cristian Mungiu’s “Graduation”), and recalls many of the strengths found in recent Romanian cinema, which often peers into the hectic personal dramas of characters who are smothered by social expectations. The story is laced with lovely melodies and traditional songs that play off Manana’s internal desperation; the camera roams freely around her in crowded scenes that show just how much the groupthink alienates her from her own needs. One brilliant tracking shot finds her walking away from gossiping women and straight into a roomful of men singing a religious tune, making it clear that there’s no safe place where she can simply be herself. -EK

“Boundaries”

Chloé Robichaud’s second feature follows three very different women as they attempt to marry their political careers with their personal lives. Set in the fictional country of Besco — Canada adjacent, filled to the brim with enticing natural resources — the film traces the interconnected storylines of a trio of characters who often butt up against each other during a increasingly fraught negotiations, including Besco’s president (Macha Grenon), a Canadian rep (Natalie Dummar) and an American meditator (Emily Van Camp). The political drama would be enough to drive the film, but Robichaud also offers up commentary on “having it all,” balancing the personal and professional, and even dealing with some old-fashioned mansplaining. Robichaud’s feature debut, “Sarah Prefers to Run,” bowed at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard section, and her enviable resume includes a bevy of shorts and even an inventive web series. Whatever she’s making and wherever it’s playing, we want to see it. -Kate Erbland

“Quest”

From our review: “You don’t know how we live,” mutters Christine’a Rainey (aka “Ma Quest”). She’s talking at the television, where a then-campaigning Donald Trump is blustering out his “What do you have to lose?” speech. Certainly no one is more deserving of her ire, but there are many people in this country, including those who consider themselves sympathetic to the working poor, who also have no idea how the Rainey family lives. Enter “Quest,” a sweeping and intimate documentary about the struggles of an average American family. Not that the Raineys are average, but with 14.5 percent of Americans living below the poverty line, they represent a large swath of this country that goes largely unseen. For his debut feature, Jonathan Olshefski spent nine years befriending and filming the Raineys, taking his time to produce a meditative portrait of what everyday life is like for so many people. -JD

“Strong Island”

“Strong Island”

24 years ago, filmmaker Yance Ford’s brother William was shot and killed by a 19 year old white mechanic over a dispute involving a car repair. Claiming self-defense against Ford’s unarmed brother, the man was set free. The film is not only an investigation into the shooting, along with the racism and injustice of how William became a prime suspect in his own death, but a journey into the pain the filmmaker and his family have lived with for decades. Ford has spent years figuring out how best to tell this story and create a cinematic language that brings the audience inside his family’s grief, anger and confusion. Along the way, the project has been intensely nurtured and supported by doc community, including Danny Glover, Laura Poitras, the Danish team behind Josh Oppenheimer’s masterpieces (“Act of Killing” and “Look of Silence”), the Sundance Institute, Chicken & Egg and many others in the doc community. -Chris O’Falt

The New Directors/New Films selection committee is made up of members from both presenting organizations. The 2017 feature committee was comprised of Rajendra Roy (Co-Chair, MoMA), Dennis Lim (Co-Chair, FSLC), Florence Almozini (FSLC), Sophie Cavoulacos (MoMA), La Frances Hui (MoMA), and Dan Sullivan (FSLC), and the shorts were programmed by Izzy Lee (MoMA) and Tyler Wilson (FSLC). Josh Siegel (MoMA) and Rachael Rakes (FSLC) served as program advisors.

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