Michal Marczak – “All These Sleepless Nights”
It feels like only a matter of time before Polish director, cinematographer, and documentary filmmaker Michal Marczak is one of those international talents who becomes a household name. At least for cinephiles. Making his name as a cinematographer abroad, Marczak’s sophomore documentary feature “Fuck For Forest” — about a non-governmental hippie organization that hold public orgies and sell web access to home-made porn to raise money for the environment — made waves in 2013 when it premiered at SXSW internationally and Rotterdam IFF for Europe. Expressive and vivid, Marczak has upped his game with “All These Sleepless Nights,” an equally lyrical and dreamy documentary. The difference is if someone told you “All These Sleepless Nights” was a narrative feature and coming-of-age tale of two best friends in Poland grappling with girls, culture, friendship, and the struggles of ealy adulthood, you’d believe it. ‘Sleepless Nights’ definitely challenges and blurs the notion of what’s a nonfiction doc. Pitched somewhere between the pillowy infatuations of a Sofia Coppola film and the romantic nostalgic leanings of a rave shot by Harmony Korine circa “Spring Breakers,” Marczak’s film is gorgeous and super distinct. Oh and don’t forget that Emmanuel Lubezki-like ultra-fluid cinematography which makes the entire doc feel like one continuous halcyon memory. Don’t be surprised when hip studios and producers come knocking on his door, like, tomorrow.
Meera Menon – “Equity”
The truism that more women behind the camera leads to more women in front is certainly proven by “Equity,” the sophomore feature from Meera Menon, former editor with “Larry King Now.” Tackling a story of intrigue and power plays at the highest levels of high finance, Menon’s film is a unique corrective to the relative sausage fests of “The Big Short,” say or “Margin Call” in that all its central characters are women (Anna Gunn from “Breaking Bad” in a potential big-screen breakout, and Sarah Megan Thomas and Alysia Reiner). But while the gender of the participants (the writer and producers are also female) provides perspective, it’s not the main order of the film, which is essentially a corporate thriller and “a juicy morality play” that “takes us inside modern Wall Street in a unique and gripping manner” according to Jordan Hoffman in his 4-star Guardian review.
Nicholas Pesce & Kika Magalhaes – “The Eyes Of My Mother”
The last couple of Sundances have given us a pair of the best, most distinctive horror movies of their respective years thanks to “The Babadook” and “The Witch.” And 2016 didn’t disappoint, thanks to the NEXT screening of “The Eyes Of My Mother,” which our man Noel Murray described as “like the art-film version of an old EC Comics horror story.” Director Nicolas Pesce came up through music videos before falling in with the Borderline Films crew (Antonio Campos, Sean Durkin, and Josh Mond), who executive produce this film through their new label, and he looks to be just as big a talent as them, with a movie Noel Murray called “artfully textured, visually gorgeous and thoroughly gripping,” bearing comparison to Kim Ki-Duk and Takashi Miike. He could bring his star with him too: his Portuguese-born leading lady Kika Magalhaes has gotten a lot of attention at the festival for her performance as well.
Nate Parker – “The Birth Of A Nation”
A few years back, off the back of his performances in “Red Hook Summer” and “Arbitrage,” we included Nate Parker on this list, and he’s gone on to impress in films like “Beyond The Lights.” But we couldn’t not have him this year as well, in part because he’s now working as a filmmaker as well as an actor, and in part because, well, Parker owned Sundance this year. His debut feature film, “The Birth Of A Nation,” a biopic of Nat Turner, was the sensation of the festival, premiering to a standing ovation, rave reviews, and a fierce bidding war, one that ended with the film selling to Fox Searchlight for the biggest sum for any film at any festival ever. Russ Fischer’s review called it a “wildly forceful directorial debut,” “an articulate howl of anguish and rage” with “urgent, even spectacular shots and sequences that convey fierce passion, belief and faith.” This year’s awards race is likely to be just the start for Parker, who could turn out to be bigger behind the camera than he was in front of it.
Matthew Ross – “Frank & Lola”
Michael Shannon is in almost literally a dozen movies this year, but we wonder if he’ll get a better showcase across the rest of 2016 as he does in Sundance movie “Frank & Lola,” and the man responsible, Matthew Ross, should get a ton of attention as a result. A former film journalist (he was an editor at Indiewire a decade or so back), he made a number of acclaimed shorts including “Lola” and “Inspired by Bret Easton Ellis,” but makes a striking debut with this feature, in which Shannon plays a chef in a relationship with a mercurial woman (Imogen Poots). It’s “a seductive, romanttic noir turned psychosexual drama,” per our review by Rodrigo Perez, with “assured” filmmaking. The first half is stronger than its second, perhaps, but Ross is “a major talent worth watching. He’s got an eye, a strong p.o.v, and the movie has many perceptive observations about the self-destructive perils of possessiveness, ownership and holding on too tight.” There’s some excellent work from his DP Eric Koretz (“Dragonslayer,” “Comet”) too.
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