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New? Directors at NYC’s New Films Fest

New? Directors at NYC's New Films Fest

New? Directors at NYC's New Films Fest

by Anthony Kaufman

This year’s New Directors/New Films series, opening tonight and now in
its 27th year, boasts a widely diverse line-up of 32 films from 16
countries, with U.S. features holding the number one position with 6
entries. The Museum of Modern Art’s Laurence Kardish, and point man for
the festival, says that the purpose of ND/NF is “to bring to the
attention of New York audiences filmmakers who are for the most part
still unknown in this city and to provide a premiere for the work.” As
its true that many of the films are having their first public screenings
here in the Big Apple, many of the films are not that new to festival-
goers elsewhere. Still, like years past, there are always a few
undiscovered gems to be had at ND/NF.

The American films in the series consist of a trio of well known
Sundance buzz films, all with distribution: the mathematical paranoid
thriller “Pi” (Live) directed by Darren Aronofsky; everyone’s favorite
talent to hate, Vincent Gallo with his masturbatory and brilliant
Buffalo 66” (Lions Gate); and the Audience Award winner at Sundance,
Smoke Signals” (Miramax) (which recently removed its possessive
“Sherman Alexie’s” from its title). Also screening is one of the few
documentaries in the festival, “Moment of Impact” which gave its
director Julia Loktev a Best Director award from Park City. Bringing up
the count to 5 out of the 6 films having played previously at this
year’s Sundance festival is the experimental film, “Goshogaoka” created
by renowned American photographer and visual artist Sharon Lockhart,
which played at Sundance’s mostly overlooked Frontier Section.

Kardish defends the programming similarity by stating, “It just so
happened that a number of the films we selected were shown at Sundance.
So they didn’t come from Sundance.” Still, the ratio seems rather high,
which leads one to believe that Sundance’s Geoffrey Gilmore and Kardish
coincidentally have very similar tastes in American films. “American
entries surpassed all others by hundreds and hundreds,” says Kardish,
“The number of independent American films is staggering.” Because of
this fact, it does seem a shame that no “newer” directors were found.

But doing the math, that leaves us with one American film: David
Williams’ brooding and moving second feature, “Thirteen.” With modest
production values and about as little commercial viability as a film
could have, Williams’s direction is so soft-handed and literary, he is
truly one of the discoveries to be found at New Directors. Still,
“Thirteen”, a story about an enigmatic black girl with a love for cars,
has a fairly good festival track record, having played at Toronto and
winning a Jury Award at last year’s Berlin Festival. With characters
that are so true-to-life and a suburban Virginia milieu that is so
vivid, one thinks of the film as part poetry and part documentary.

Continuing in this style are two former documentary filmmakers who have
turned their objective eyes to fiction, each creating powerfully
sensitive portraits of people in their society. Turkish director,
Dervis Zaim’s “Somersault in a Coffin” is the verite study of a homeless
man in Istanbul who steals cars to keep warm. Slow, sometimes funny,
and poignant, Zaim’s first narrative feature includes some touching
moments, including our sympathetic hero’s quest to steal a royal blue
peacock. The other exceptional film is Dominique Cabrera’s “The Other
Shore”, a tale of two men (an Algerian-born Frenchman and a French-born
Algerian) caught in between the two countries. With convincing
performances and a deep-felt understanding for the subject (Cabrera
herself is one of many Algerians self-exiled to France), “The Other
Shore” as well as “Somersault in a Coffin” (both without distribution to
date) are strong candidates for an arthouse release. (And with a rep
from Miramax rumored to be in attendance at yesterday’s screening,
“The Other Shore” may still have a chance.)

Perhaps the most talented “new director” emerging from this year’s
festival is a native Frenchmen, Francois Ozon. So talented is the
direction that “See the Sea“, a 60 minute narrative, is being
distributed by Zeitgeist Films, along with his short film, “A Summer
“, to allow for a required 90 minute theatrical exhibition. “See
the Sea”, a story about a woman with her baby daughter, who takes in a
drifter into their summer house, has the suspense of a Chabrol film
combined with a sensuality, perversity, and brutality that is truly
memorable. “A Summer Dress” counters the intensity of the former.
Lighthearted and humorous, it is a charming, little story about a young
gay man’s first heterosexual encounter. Ozon is a director to watch,
with a full-length feature called “Sitcom” debuting at this year’s
Cannes Film Festival.

While Ozon is just a few years out of Parisian film school, on the
opposite end of the spectrum is Iranian director, Dariush Mehrjui, who
has been a member of the Iranian film industry since the late 1960’s.
Hardly a “new” director, Mehrjui portrays with sophistication and
complexity the story of a modern, affluent couple in Tehran battling
with tradition. Kardish defends the inclusion of the seasoned Iranian
filmmaker in New Directors: “But he is still an unknown name in New York
City. It’s pushing the envelope somewhat, but we think he is still new
to New York, even though he’s not new to anyone who knows anything about
Iranian cinema, or was around in the late 60’s when his films began to

With so many films to choose from and so many cinemas from around the
world, the folks at MOMA and Lincoln Center have a difficult task. When
asked why the large number of entries this year (approaching the 1,000
mark, nearly 200 more than last year), Kardish wryly answered, “The
availability of videocassettes.” After some prodding he explained
further, “There seems to be more and more films made every year. It
seems that makers are able to find the means to make films more easily
than they did a few years ago.” This year’s ND/NF does, however,
highlight some interesting international lacks. Kardish laments the
fact that, “We use to have a lot more films from Sub-Sahara Africa. We
don’t have any this year. We use to find a lot more films from Eastern
Europe. At the moment, we don’t have any,” Kardish explains, “Not that
they’re not being made, but they did not compel us in the same way as
the other films in the program did.”

Other strong foreign entries include: Manuel Poirier’s “Western” which
won the 1997 Jury Prize at Cannes and will be released by New Yorker
Films on July 24; Carine Adler’s “Under the Skin” (Arrow Releasing, May
22); and one of the better films on the subject of Sarajevo’s
devastating war and the men, women, children, and dogs who lived through
it, Ademir Kenovic’s brutal, sometimes sentimental, “The Perfect
“. This year’s program is no doubt a strong one. And although it
would always be nice to find a few more new, “New Directors”, there is
little to complain about the quality of this year’s ND/NF program.

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