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9 Indie Films That Deserve More Attention This Year

Rooftop Films were backers of Lena Dunham, Behn Zeitlin and Ana Lily Amirpour before anybody had heard of them. Here’s who they think is next.

"The Challenge"

“The Challenge”

Kino Lorber

For the twenty-first summer in a row, Rooftop Films will be screening some of the best in independent and documentary film in unique outdoor setting all across the  New York City. In that time, they have been the first to identify some of the best filmmaking talent in the world, and through their Filmmakers Fund they’ve backed these filmmakers breakout projects.

Past grantees have included Ana Lily Amirpour’s “The Bad Batch,” David Lowery’s “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” Benh Zeitlin’s “Glory at Sea,” Lucy Walker’s “The Tsunami” and many more.

Rooftop digs up gems and shorts that haven’t been getting a ton of word of mouth and shares them – along with popular festival titles like “The Big Sick”–  with their dedicated and artistically curious audience who have come to trust their curation.

IndieWire recently checked in with Rooftop program director Dan Nuxoll to find out what films and filmmakers we should have on our radar for 2017.

What film has fallen through the festival cracks this year?

Certainly “The Genius and the Opera Singer” hasn’t yet gotten nearly the love it deserves, but I hope that changes soon. It’s a powerful dark comic documentary that certainly goes to some emotionally difficult places, but watching it is an undeniably unique experience. We showed it this past Saturday and the audience reaction was even more positive than I anticipated. The crowd loved it, despite some heavy moments. It’s a very well-crafted and expertly-edited film and it’s much more entertaining than one might expect. It’s Vanessa Stockley’s first film and it’s a revelation.

I’m also a big fan of Jeff Unay’s “The Cage Fighter,” which is a beautifully shot and very intimate and personal film that premiered at San Francisco a couple of months ago – it’s a gorgeous doc. Plus Morten Traavik and Ugis Olte’s “Liberation Day” is a boisterous and fascinating film about Laibach, who are a very strange strange but wonderful cult Slovenian band who have a very fascist aesthetic and who somehow convince the North Korean government to allow them to perform there. It’s a very enjoyable provocation.

The Cage Fighter

“The Cage Fighter”

IFC Films

You were the first one to tip me off to Ana Lily Amirpour and Jonas Carpignano. What up and coming filmmaker should we paying to, but we aren’t?

Dave McCary. His film Brigsby Bear premiered at Sundance and got very strong reviews but I don’t think it has yet gotten nearly the attention it deserves. McCary and star Kyle Mooney had a successful sketch comedy group and later joined SNL, so going into the premiere I assumed the film would be funny, but I will admit I didn’t have particularly high expectations otherwise. But I definitely underestimate them–it’s strikingly well executed and the comic and emotional components of the film are expertly balanced.

And beyond that, McCary has a unique touch that you rarely see in comedy films–an ability to dance around the character arcs and emotional trajectory of the characters without ever slipping into maudlin sentimentality and never losing the absurd comic energy. Whenever it seems that the film is about to head someplace conventional, McCary injects a perfectly timed comic turnabout that propels the film forward, but never quite in the direction you expect.

There have been a lot of really good dark indie comedies this year, but “Brigsby” is as funny as any of them while also being full of light and warmth and emotional generosity. It’s a special film and I hope that enough people see it so that it becomes a classic and not just a cult classic.

What’s one film in your lineup that does something new and exciting with the medium?

I was blown away by Amman Abbassi’s “Dayveon.” There have been a lot of independent coming of age films over the years, but few of them manage to balance realism and lyrical artistry quite as wonderfully as this debut feature. Capturing the warmth of an Arkansas summer and the emotional confusion of a thirteen year old struggling after the murder of his older brother, Abbassi establishes himself as a sensitive filmmaker with the ability to evoke a delicate subjective experience.

Devin Blackmon in DAYVEON_Photo credit Dustin Lane

“Dayveon”

Dustin Lane

And on the doc side?

I knew the filmmaker Maple Rasza back in college but hadn’t caught up with him in a while and a few months back a mutual friend tipped me off to his latest project, a really exceptional interactive film he has made with Milton Guillen called “The Maribor Uprising: A Live Participatory Film.” He and Milton shot footage from a series of massive protests in Slovenia following some incidents involving comically flagrant government corruption, and instead of turning it into a traditional documentary they created an interactive project in which Maple leads the audience through the footage. The audience can choose to follow different protestors, decide whether to follow the law or follow the less peaceful demonstrators, and much more. We have long been a champion of live cinema events, like those created by Brent and Sam Green, but this film is an interesting variation on the form. Plus it just happens to be a very timely project. I’m really excited for that show.

Also, Dmitri Kalashnikov’s “The Road Movie” is a very fun comic documentary composed entirely of wild footage captured by hundreds of Russian automobile dash cams. It’s a very weird way to experience the Russian road. I loved every minute of it.

What film introduced you to a world you didn’t know anything about?

We showed Yuri Ancarani’s stunning short film “il Capo” a few years back and ever since I have been excited to see what he would do with a feature film. Sure enough, his new documentary “The Challenge” did not disappoint. He somehow managed to convince secretive Qatari sheikhs to let him film their bizarre and decadent lives as they prepare for the massive falconry competitions they hold deep in the desert. The footage he captured is arresting, hilarious and profound. There is barely a word spoken in the entire film but you will never want to look away. I have never seen anything like it.

You always put shorts front and center at Rooftop and dig into the best international short films. I remember two years ago you talking about how there was an inordinate amount of great shorts coming out of Sweden, what you find this year?

Yeah, a lot of those great Swedish short filmmakers are now doing pretty well. Ruben Ostlund just won Cannes after all, and he was one of the talented Swedes I was talking about back then. And there are some truly wonderful new Swedish shorts this year as well – I am particularly fond of “I Will Always Love You Conny,” by Amanda Kernell. It’s a heartbreaking short.

But my favorite short of the year is a Swedish animation that we gave a grant to called “The Burden” by Niki LIndroth Von Behr. It won Gothenburg, and it’s part of a trend that I have noticed lately of a surge in very, very talented young female animators. Ten years ago an animated shorts program would be packed with films by men, and that is definitely not the case anymore. It’s exciting to see women animators from all over the world coming to the fore. We opened the summer with an animated film by a woman and we will end the summer with one, too, and that isn’t a coincidence.

Rooftop Films Summer Festival runs through August 19th. You can find more information here.

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