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New American Realism, Part II: “Ballast’ and Beyond

New American Realism, Part II: "Ballast' and Beyond

A palpable sense of place, a sensitive attention to character and detail, and non-professional actors that burnish the screen brighter than any starlet–these are just some of the hallmarks of the American humanist film movement that has been recharged in recent years by a number of indie filmmakers. But what is their fate in the 21st century marketplace? In this indieWIRE article, I look at the unique situation that Sundance double-winner “Ballast” finds itself in. Picked up by IFC’s First Take program, the film has the chance to break out, a la the company’s recent success “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” or go the way of so many excellent American indies that have been released by the company (“The Last Winter,” “Day Night Day Night”): living a modest life on the small V.O.D. and DVD screen.

While my recent Voice article (The New American Realism ) centered specifically on the filmmakers who have worked with Paul Mezey (from Fleck and Boden to Jim McKay and Joshua Marston) — if word count permitted, I would have liked to add a number of other films and filmmakers outside of this immediate circle, including “Ballast” director Lance Hammer, whose committment to art shows through in both his film and his words.

There’s also Rahmin Bahrani, director of “Man Push Cart” and “Chop Shop” (which opens at the Film Forum in two weeks), who deserves mention for his neorealist New York-set gems. I spoke to Bahrani recently and learned that he’s already in post on a new film, produced by Ted Hope and Anne Carey, set in North Carolina called “Goodbye Solo.” Even if “Man Push Cart” made under $40,000 at the box office, at this rate, Bahrani need not complain, as he’s continuing to make these same intimate movies every couple of years with the support of major indie producers. (Indeed, “Chop Shop” has some of the same backers as, you’ll never guess, “Little Miss Sunshine.”) Also watch out for actor Tom McCarthy’s follow-up to the “Station Agent,” called “The Visitor,” another delicate and beatifully realized New York-set drama that focuses on character and relationships over plot points and neat resolutions. And I haven’t seen Lee Isaac Chung’s “Munyurangabo,” but I have the sense from the critical response that he, too, demands an uncompromising reality and emotional truth in his work.

And I’m sure there are others. Maybe American independent film isn’t dead, after all.

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