With the annual New Directors/New Films Festival starting this week in New York City, I wanted to offer my two cents on recommendations for the lucky folks who get to attend this beloved festival. I’ve never attended, but have always been impressed by its programming: films selected not based on premiere status, celebrity, or marketability, but on pure innovation from emerging artists. I wanna spotlight three terrific films in the program, each united with a common theme of family and tension.
Azazel Jacobs’ Momma’s Man probably stands tall as one of the most anticipated of the ND/NF crop. The film screened at both Sundance and Rotterdam to deserving acclaim, and ND/NF marks a sort of hometown premiere for this East Coast family drama. Quiet with tension and heartbreak, Jacobs’ film takes a forceful emotional grip on the viewer as we follow a family man trying to reconcile the unspoken love he has for his parents. If you read the synopsis and think, “not another dysfunctional family drama,” you’re mistaken. The strength of Momma’s Man is found not in the heightened outbursts (there are practically none) or the fatal twists of events (also none). The drama comes from what is seen and unseen, what has been done and never done until we fear it’s too late.
If Jacobs’ film is an artful glance at a man’s journey to connect with his parents, then Emily Hubley’s SXSW premiere, The Toe Tactic (also screening at ND/NF), is a similar story from the female perspective. Hubley has crafted a magical world split between live action and animation, where one woman tries to rediscover her close bond with her dead father. The journey is not too unlike Alice in Wonderland, except the rabbit hole is Manhattan and the score is by Yo La Tengo. Lee Isaac Chung’s festival circuit favorite Munyurangabo, meanwhile, is another soft-spoken and textured family saga. This time, the setting is Rwanda, where a young man sets off on a trek to avenge the murder of his father during the genocide. Chung’s steady pace and enveloping eye make the film a suspenseful yet touching look at the relationship between children and their parents. The politics are given a mature and realistic place in the narrative, since these characters were affected by death first and “genocide” second.
Some of these titles may be more autobiographical than others, but it shouldn’t distract from the staggering personal poetry we’re seeing in young American filmmakers today.