By Brian Brooks | Indiewire February 23, 2006 at 5:1AM
Ryan Fleck's "Half Nelson" and Philippine director Auraeus Solit's "The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros" will open the 35th New Directors/New Films series, presented jointly by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art's Film and Media department. The two Sundance '06 titles are part of a slate of 25 features and five shorts from around the world that will screen at the Walter Reade Theater in Lincoln Center and at the Titus Theater at MoMA.
"Half Nelson" stars Ryan Gosling as a popular history teacher in an inner city high school in New York who remains committed to his job despite spending most of his free time doing drugs. He embarks on a friendship with a student who also must wrestle with her own demons. The film is based on his short "Gowanus, Brooklyn," which screened at ND/NF in 2004. "Maximo Oliveros," which recently won the Berlinale's Teddy Award honoring the fest's best gay film, is the story of a 12-year-old boy living with his criminal family. The boy brings a sense of warmth to the motherless household, and is accepted by his otherwise ruffian family. Familial harmony, though, is threatened as the boy embarks on a friendship with a policeman he becomes smitten with, causing him to question his loyalty to the family.
In addition to spotlighting films, ND/NF will host a documentary retrospective of titles that premiered at the festival in the past twenty years. Among the films screening will be Stephanie Black's "H-2 Worker," a look at the thousands of foreign migrant workers brought in to harvest Florida's sugar cane and the Oscar-nominated "Streetwise," Martin Bell's portrait of runaway teens. Also screening is Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's look at a controversial Arkansas murder trial, "The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills."
"Some years at New Directors our roster is full of explosive, exuberant works, but what impresses me about the films this year is how many seem to be about a kind of quiet strength shown by characters in situations that often seem extremely difficult if not impossible to bear," said Richard Pena, the Film Society's program director on behalf of the selection committee in a statement. "Whether it is the amazing streetwise savvy of a young Filipino living in an outlaw household or two Danish neighbors figuring out how to support each other in their respective emotional crises, these are films about characters who figure out how to make it through."
In more than three decades, ND/NF has introduced American audiences to major figures including Pedro Almodovar, Hector Babenco, Terence Davies, Atom Egoyan, Wong Kar-wai, Spike Lee, Richard Linklater, John Sayles, Steven Spielberg and Wim Wenders among others. This year's event takes place March 22 - April 2.
The following is a full line-up for the New Directors/New Films series with information provided by the event:
Ryan Fleck, USA, 2006; 106 min. - A THINKFilm release.
A committed and popular history teacher and sports coach at a public New York City junior high school, Dan's totally engaged at school but his private life is a mess, as he spends most of his tome off in a drug haze. So far he's managed to keep his two lives separate until Drey, one of his students, discovers him in a compromising situation. Now the two embark on a turbulent journey through the chaos and temptations of their worlds. Director Ryan Fleck has fleshed out the characters from his short film "Gowanus, Brooklyn" (ND/NF 2004) and created a full-bodied drama that explores personal demons and the friendships that can help us change our lives. Ryan Gosling plays Dan with an idealistic intensity and Shareeka Epps - who originated the role of Drey - packs an emotional wallop as a teenager who struggles to make sense of her world.
"The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros"
Auraeus Solito, Philippines, 2006; 100 min.
A remarkable feature film debut, Maximo Oliveros is the irresistibly endearing tale of a 12 year- old Filipino named Maxi who lives with his outlaw father and thuggish older brothers in the teeming slums that ring Manila. A neighborhood favorite despite his flirty walk and elaborate hair accessories, Maxi cooks, sews, shops and brings a note of welcome warmth to the motherless all-male household. One night he gets saved from a beating by Victor, a kind rookie cop, and a very special friendship blooms. Smitten with the handsome law enforcer, Maxi is torn between his loyalty to his brutal yet loving family and his attraction to the young cop. Infused with warmth, humor and wisdom, the film is a layered portrait of a different kind of community. Nathan Lopez as Maxi and JR Valentin as Victor make an unforgettably odd couple.
"October 17, 1961"
Alain Tasma, France, 2005; 106 min.
Over four decades later, the shadows of French colonialism in Algeria continue to haunt not only French historical memory but recently its cinema as well. Director Alain Tasma, a former assistant to Truffaut, Godard and Barbet Schroeder making his feature film debut, meticulously re-creates a pivotal moment in the Algerian struggle that has surprisingly remained practically unknown by the French public until recently. As the fighting in Algeria was winding down, Algerians living in France became the targets of violence while the Algerians and their supporters responded by killing policemen. The FLN--the main Algerian political group--called for a peaceful demonstration, and thousands of Algerians took to the Paris streets, setting the stage for a tragic confrontation. Tasma gives voice to both the Algerians and the French authorities, carefully detailing the factions, the internal divisions and the eventual cover-up of a night whose resonance can still be felt in France and beyond.
"Look Both Ways"
Sarah Watt, Australia, 2005; 100 min. A Kino International release.
Sarah Watt, an Australian writer, director and producer of prize winning animations, brings her particular offbeat sensibility to her feature film debut, an unconventional and complex story of intersecting lives. For anxiety ridden and disaster prone Meryl (Justine Clarke) life is daunting. Her vivid imagination invokes scary events that we see as vivid hand drawn animation imagery. Still numb after her father's funeral, Meryl witnesses a real accident, an event that links her fate to other troubled souls, particularly Nick (William McInnis), a reporter dealing with a health crisis and Andy (Anthony Hayes), a divorced father coping with his girlfriend's unwanted pregnancy. Slightly bizarre and intense yet inexplicably buoyant, this astute examination of personal mortality in contemporary times may signal a new New Wave in Australian cinema.
Javier Andrade, Ecuador, 2005; 9 min.
A story of a young girl dealing with two rites of passage as she turns fifteen - one celebratory; the other, life changing.
Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon and Bruno Romy, Belgium, 2005; 84 min.
Not since Rene Clair and Jacques Tati have gags been so expertly constructed or characters looked more mournful than in Iceberg, a tasty concoction with equal measures of poetic fantasy and slapstick comedy. In a tranquil seaside town in lower Normandy, life goes through its predictable paces. Fiona, our sad sack heroine, lives with her husband and kids and manages a local restaurant. One day, as she is closing up, she accidentally gets locked in a cold storage chamber from which she emerges a woman transformed and one violently obsessed with all things frozen. Before long, she meets a deaf sailor and embarks on a new adventure aboard a skiff named 'Le Titanique" and then...The three venturesome filmmakers--Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon and Bruno Romy--are true cinematic magicians and gifted clowns as well.
Peter Volkart, Switzerland, 2005; 18 min.
This hilarious "mockumentary" explores one young physicist's bizarre experiments and secret expeditions to unknown parts of the world.
Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, USA, 2006; 90 min.
This double prize winner from the Sundance Film Festival is a spirited and well-wrought contemporary comedy-drama that entertains as it performs a reality check on a close-knit community. Magdalena is obsessed with preparations for her all-important fifteenth birthday celebration in Echo Park, LA's traditional Mexican neighborhood, until she finds she's pregnant and her father sends her packing. She lands at the home of her uncle, who's also taken in her cousin who has been thrown out of his house. Meanwhile, gentrification is disturbing the status quo of life in the old neighborhood, and crucial events tear at the fabric of traditional family life. "Quinceanera" is an unsentimental and genuinely unpretentious tale of growing up and taking charge of one's future in a rapidly changing reality.
Ian Gamazon and Neill dela Llana. Philippines/USA, 2005; 80 min.
In the city of Cavite, Philippines, people will do just about anything to survive. This is a bitter discovery for Adam, a young Filipino-American called back to his native country for his father's funeral. But on arrival at the airport the purpose of his visit is dramatically altered by an anonymous phone call that will change the course of his life. He's told that his mother and sister are in the clutches of a terrorist group and will be murdered unless he cooperates. This first-person verite nightmare is an edge of the seat thriller, with Adam and his terrorist caller engaged in a battle of will and wits against the backdrop of a country rarely represented in such rich detail. "Cavite" is Bare-bones filmmaking at its finest, and a tribute to inventiveness.
Kanwal Sethi, Germany, 2005; 7 min.
Every day, in the town of Bet Omar in the West Bank, residents must negotiate a most unusual checkpoint.
Amat Escalante, Mexico/France, 2005; 90 min.
Diego and Blanca live out a mundane existence. Their jobs are menial and life at home consists of eating, watching television, or having sex in various parts of the house. While the sex is plentiful (Diego may come home and find Blanca naked on the floor, waiting for him), it seems to hold the same allure for him as watching TV. When Diego's grown daughter from a previous marriage shows up in need of his help Blanca's jealous streak erupts. Suddenly, Diego can go nowhere and do nothing without her suspicion being aroused. A minimalist first feature that explores an arid relationship and its consequences, "Sangre"'s low-key approach builds to a horrific climax that takes us by surprise. Actors Cirilo Recio and Laura Saldana, as the couple that can only communicate through their flesh, take us to the limits of a ritualized passion.
"The Last Farm"
Runar Runarsson. 2005, Iceland; 13 min.
A perfectly constructed tale of the last day on the last farm in an isolated part of Iceland.
"Man Push Cart"
Ramin Bahrani, USA, 2005; 87 min. - A Filmsphilos release.
In the indigo of a Manhattan dawn, a man, Ahmad, wheels, pushes and coaxes a vending cart across town to Madison Avenue where he sells coffee and donuts. He has his customers, some regular, some not, but he is alone, and his life is one of solitary work on a particularly social corner of New York City. One day he meets a successful and outgoing businessman from Pakistan, who, much to Ahmad's discomfort, recognizes him as a former pop star back home. Written and directed by North Carolinian Ramin Bahrani, who made his first film Strangers in Iran, and starring first-time actor Ahmad Razvi as a man fleeing his past among the urban multitudes, "Man Push Cart" captures the siren beauty of midtown and the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic complexity of life in a city that suddenly reneges on its comforting promise of anonymity.
Pernille Fischer Christensen, Denmark, 2006; 104 min.
This unconventional love story about two neighbors' offbeat search for love and lust -and their panic when they find both - is also a serious look at the nature of contemporary relationships and gender roles. Using the enticing conventions of soap opera, newcomer Fischer Christensen deftly directs Kim Fupz Aakeson's script as a new kind of romance. Ill tempered Charlotte has just split from her husband and finds herself living above the promiscuous Ulrik (aka Veronica) who awaits a sex-change operation - and he has his own family problems to contend with. All the while a friendly narrator keeps us updated on the latest wrinkles in our characters' lives and their quest for a happy ending. The raw physicality of Trine Dyrholm's fearless performance as Charlotte is beautifully contrasted with David Dencik's reserved, yet determined Ulrik/Veronica.
"Eleven Men Out"
Robert I. Douglas, Iceland/Finland/United Kingdom, 2005; 90 min.
Ottar Thor is a champion soccer star, handsome and arrogant, who after winning a game casually tells a journalist he's gay. Imagine the surprise this is to his wife, a former Miss Iceland, his teenage son, already sullen and troubled, and his father, Thor's macho coach. A breezy and feisty dramatic comedy directed by Robert I. Douglas, this is a story about a man who, much to the chagrin of his family, exchanges one sort of domesticity for another. After choosing a same sex partner, he is kicked off the championship team where players are presumably straight. But once a player, always a player, and Ottar is offered a spot on a team in a basement soccer league that gay sportsmen from all over Iceland soon insist on joining. The ensemble cast is pitch perfect, as is the tone in this lively account of the surprising accommodations people are capable of making.
"John & Jane Toll-Free"
Ashim Ahluwalia, India, 2005; 86 min. - An HBO Documentary Films presentation.
A vast fluorescent-lit room in an anonymous compound in India - Welcome to the world of overseas call centers. Indian by day, American by night - so they can accommodate US business hours - the young men and women profiled here struggle to have their share of the American Dream as they sell products and troubleshoot for consumers. These 1-800 callers learn to identify completely with their American aliases - meet Glen, Sydney and Naomi - and to reject their traditional values (until they return to their Indian homes and to mothers urging them to eat). Ashim Ahluwalia's revealing documentary plays like science fiction and shows the consequence of globalization to be the outsourcing of souls as well as of goods. Cultural imperialism has never looked scarier or more complete in this ferocious, funny and ingeniously constructed film.
Kelly Reichardt, USA, 2006; 76 min.
Can an old friendship rekindle its spark? Kelly Reichardt's luminous new film explores this theme with subtlety and insight. Mark (Will Oldham) and Kurt (Daniel London) whose lives have gone in different directions, reunite for one carefree weekend camping trip to the Oregon mountains. Kurt is still a free spirit, seemingly unattached. Mark has a partner and a baby on the way. But these pals are in a ruminative mood, trying to get hold of a common memory. As the terrain changes from urban to wilderness, so they do, registering a range of emotions that define and redefine their relationship. Reichardt's second film after her well received "River of Grass" is a Whitmanesque exploration of nature, human and elemental, and the idea that old joy can have new connotations. The musical score by Yo La Tengo is just right for the structure and mood of this affecting study of male bonding.
"The Wraith Of Cobble Hill"
Adam Parrish King, USA, 2005; 15 min.
Young Felix gets an object lesson in responsibility as he grows up fast in this lovely animated fable.
Matias Bize, Chile/Germany, 2005; 85 min.
A man and a woman meet and immediately fall into bed. They are intimate strangers, so unknown to each other that they introduce themselves only after they've made love. Thus begins an emotional pas de deux that takes place over the course of an entire night. As they get to know one another, they tell truths and lies, explore loyalty and betrayal, come together and withdraw, all within the confines of a seedy motel room. Matias Bize directs this close encounter as an erotic chamber piece, and also a study in voyeurism - just try looking away. His choice of a cold setting for steamy romance affirms the complex nature of mutual attraction. As brand-new lovers who test the boundaries of trust, actors Blanca Lewin and Gonzalo Valenzuela bare their souls and their bodies in two masterfully uninhibited performances. They spend their time literally and figuratively naked, leaving us nowhere to go but into their deepest desires and fears.
Mohammad Rasoulof, Iran, 2005; 90 min. - A Kino International release.
In a deserted stretch of sea sits an enormous, rusting oil tanker, an "iron island" on which dozens of families, some with their livestock, have taken up residence. The ship is their home, their school, their mosque; some of the youngest residents have never lived anywhere else. Presiding over this behemoth is the enigmatic Captain Nemat (well played by veteran actor Ali Nasirian), a stern but kindly, paternalist yet absolute ruler who doesn't hesitate to resort to cruelty if it suits his purposes. Supplies are bought by selling off the barrels of oil still stored in the ship's hull, or stripping parts of the ship itself for scrap. Yet despite Nemat's best efforts, all his hard work can't negate a simple fact: the ship is sinking, and some kind of plan has to be devised to move somewhere. Writer/director Mohammad Rasoulof's immensely suggestive tale is at its heart a tale of survival, a look at a group of people learning to live in even the most unlikely of circumstances--and refusing to give up.
Perry Odgen, Ireland, 2005; 87 min.
Every country has its own itinerant population, those who live in a society, but are not really of it. Photographer Perry Odgen's feature film debut is a moving portrayal of the "Travellers" of Ireland. This is not a documentary, but a hybrid that brilliantly plays with the fine line that exists between the two in a work that has, simply put, a core truthfulness to it. Using nonprofessional actors from among the Irish Traveler community, Ogden explores their lives through the eyes of ten-year-old Winnie, who lives with her family on the industrialized outskirts of Dublin. Their home is a ramshackle trailer, and Winnie's mother spends much of her time jockeying between the possibility of buying a better mobile home or moving into a house that social services is trying to foist on her. Winnie has her own troubles at school and has to deal with a bureaucracy that doesn't know how to deal with her. Ogden collaborated with his cast to create the characters and the narrative that give cinematic life to the Travelers' own stories.
"First on the Moon"
Aleksei Fedorchenko, Russia, 2005; 75 min.
Think it was Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin? Well, think again, because as Aleksei Fedorchenko's unsettling new film reveals, a Soviet cosmopilot, Ivan Kharlamov, actually went there and back in 1938, piloting his experimental (and highly secretive) craft back to Chile, from which he undertook an arduous journey across the Pacific, through China and Mongolia and finally into Mother Russia itself. Due to the sensitive nature of his mission, Kharlamov disguised his true identity under a series of aliases, including Prince Alexander Nevsky--the hero of a then-popular Soviet film--while all the while his exploits were themselves being filmed by the NKVD. Beyond being a kind of record of a sort of historical event, Fedorchenko's film is a touching expression of an unfettered utopian spirit--a sense of the limitless possibilities of human ingenuity and imagination--that characterized many people's vision of the Soviet experiment before its grim realities settled in.
Elbert van Strien, The Netherlands, 2005; 30 min.
Sometimes stopping the world doesn't make it any more manageable.
Fausto Paravidino, Italy, 2005; 104 min.
The hills of Piemonte aren't precisely the rolling plains of the Lone Star state, yet the twenty-somethings who populate Fausto Paravidino's impressive debut feature would feel right at home in "The Last Picture Show." Underemployed, looking for a new thrill or just a way to get out, they gather on Saturdays, flirting and drinking and occasionally threatening each other, but mainly getting whatever solace they can from feeling they're not alone. Yet cracks in the group are starting to emerge, especially when one of their number, the handsome slacker Gianluca, begins cheating on his longtime girlfriend Cinzia with a married schoolteacher, Maria (Valeria Golino, in an immensely heartfelt performance). Assembling a cast of some of the most talented young actors in Italian cinema today, Paravidino--who also appears in the film--creates in "Texas" a revealing portrait of a generation's troubled passage to an adulthood that seems to offer only limited horizons.
"Into Great Silence"
Philip Groening, Germany, 2005; 162 min.
As a novice filmmaker, Philip Groening asked the Carthusian monks of the Grand Chartreuse, a monastery in the French Alps, to be allowed to make a documentary about them. They said they would get back to him. Sixteen years and three dramatic features later they telephoned Groening. They were ready, and Groening was invited, without crew and artificial lighting, to record their daily lives, prayers, rituals and rare outdoor excursions. "Into Great Silence" is a delicate chronicle, impressionistic, meditative and beautiful, of a year in and around the monastery where gardening, cooking, barbering, tailoring and other monastic activities reveal the monks' silent communion with God. A tranquil contemplation about the possibility of transcendence for all.
"Twelve and Holding"
Michael Cuesta, 2005, USA; 90 min. - An IFC Films release.
Michael Cuesta (L.I.E., ND/NF '01) offers a powerful look into an adolescent world in which his characters' still-growing bodies disguise the complexity of the emotional lives raging within them. Jacob and Rudy Carges are 12-year old twin brothers (both played by Conor Donovan, an exceptional young actor) who couldn't be more different--Rudy is athletic and outgoing, while Jacob hides behind a hockey mask. Daughter of a detached psychotherapist mother, Malee develops a heart-breaking emotional attachment to one of her mother's patients. And overweight Leonard decides it's time for his equally overweight mother to start slimming--by any means necessary. Avoiding sensationalism or grand guignol theatrics, Cuesta never lets us lose sight of the youth of his subjects--they're in the end just kids, just trying to make their way in the world while discovering their ability to affect that world and the lives of those around them.
Gela Babluani, France, 2005; 93 min.
An extraordinarily assured debut feature, "13 Tzameti" was warmly received at both Venice and Sundance, where it won the top prize in the International Dramatic Competition. Owed money, and lacking any real sense of direction in life, Sebastien (Georges Babluani, brother of director Gela) decides to take the place of a dead man on a mysterious mission. Sebastien doesn't know what the man did, but he does know that it was awfully lucrative. Thus begins Sebastien's journey towards a contemporary vision of hell, a world in which anything, even one's life, is simply another commodity to be bought, sold, or wagered on. With several extraordinary scenes definitely not for the faint-hearted, "13 Tzameti" is less shocking for what it shows than for its portrait of a bleak, completely amoral world it so convincingly captures. Son of a major Georgian director, Gela Babluani, now based in France, is certainly a talent to watch.
"Things That Hang From Trees"
Ido Mizrahy, USA, 2006; 98 min.
24 year-old Ido Mizrahy's haunting debut film, based on Aaron Louis Tordini's novella, is set in 1969 in America's oldest city, St Augustine, Florida, in a neighborhood that has seen better days. But since this insular community is imaginatively situated in Southern Gothic territory somewhere between hope and desire, those days could be anywhere a live oak tree sends out its branches to engulf or devour. Tommy (the extraordinary Cooper Musgrove) is an unusual boy, somewhat inured to misfortune, whose family is downright peculiar. His dreamy mother, marvelously played by Deborah Kara Unger, tries to care for her son but is often seen sitting as a mannequin in her own store window; Tom Sr. (Ray McKinnon), the absent father, is a wild cowboy who could have been invented by Sam Shepard. The townspeople are a bunch of oddballs and bullies, and Tommy has to navigate the terrain in his own ingenious way.
"My Country, My Country"
Laura Poitras, USA, 2005; 90 min.
Working alone in Iraq over eight months, filmmaker Laura Poitras creates an extraordinarily intimate portrait of Iraqis living under U.S. occupation. Her principal focus is Dr. Riyadh, an Iraqi medical doctor, father of six, and Sunni political candidate. An outspoken critic of the occupation, Riyadh is equally passionate about the need to establish democracy in Iraq; despite the misgivings of members of his family and his community, he argues that Sunni participation in the elections is essential. Yet all around him, Dr. Riyadh sees only chaos, as his waiting room fills each day with ordinary Iraqis showing the physical and mental effects of the ever increasing violence that's engulfing their country. The remarkable access that Poitras was able to gain into the Sunni community is matched by her great skill as a filmmaker; never forcing an issue nor making cheap political points, Poitras carefully assembles the images and sounds collected during her stay into a powerful mosaic of daily life in Iraq that the mainstream media never comes close to capturing.
"Wild Tigers I Have Known"
Cam Archer, USA, 2006; 93 min.
Cam Archer's explosive debut feature (executive produced by Gus Van Sant and Scott Rudin) may be the millennium's first example of a neo-American Underground film, ferocious, passionate, somewhat taboo in its subject, and likely to divide contemporary audiences. A young boy, Logan, a loner, develops a crush on an older one, Rodeo, but must compete with the attention Rodeo gives his girlfriend. After school Logan spends time in suggestive conversations on the phone, taking walks in the forest (where mountain lions roam) and just hanging out with his only friend who, like Logan, knows that he's different. Made with a ragged inventiveness on a miniscule budget, "Wild Tigers" is at once a fearless and original portrait of adolescent foolishness and ache.
"Toi Et Moi"
Julie Lopes-Curval, France, 2005; 94 min.
Ah, the complications of romance! Sisters Ariane and Lena both have beaus, but new men are piquing their interest. Lena's in love with Francois, but has now met Mark, who tries his best to sweep her off her feet. Ariane's been dating Farid for two years, but he won't commit, and she finds the charms of a Spanish construction worker hard to resist. All these predicaments mirror the dilemmas of the characters in the "photo-novels" that Ariane creates for a popular magazine. While Lena's serious and confused, Ariane's the loopy one, walking into doors and playing out her desires, as well as her sister's, in her writing. Director Julie Lopes-Curval creates a delightful narrative of close encounters and near misses in a charming romance with a playful style that perfectly suits the photo-novel genre. Winning performances by Marion Cotillard and Julie Depardieu as the siblings yearning for just the right match grace this witty film in which fantasy and reality commingle.
Stacey Steers, USA, 2006; 10 min.
Meticulous handmade collages explore a woman's fantastical journey through memories.