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New Directors/New Films Highlights Festival Favorites, Including Sundance Debut ‘The Fits’

New Directors/New Films Highlights Festival Favorites, Including Sundance Debut 'The Fits'

Sundance, Cannes, Venice, Locarno, and Fantastic Fest titles lead the first wave of official selections for the 2016 edition of New Directors/New Films, presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art. Now in its 45th year, the festival has in recent years brought well-deserved attention to innovative works by the likes of Shane Carruth, Marielle Heller, Jennifer Kent, Joshua Oppenheimer, Sarah Polley, Dee Rees, and Justin Simien, among others.

READ MORE: “Sundance Programmers Unveil, Discuss 2016 Competition, NEXT Lineups (EXCLUSIVE)” 

The eight initial selections—with the rest of the festival’s slate to be announced in February—include the late Polish director Marcin Wrona’s “Demon,” which won Best Horror Feature at Fantastic Fest and was picked up by The Orchard after its TIFF debut. (Wrona, just 42, died one week after the world premiere.) Also on offer are Locarno prizewinners “Lost and Beautiful” (Pietro Marcello) and “Thithi” (Raam Reddy), Kino Lorber title “Neon Bull” (Gabriel Mascaro), and Sundance NEXT selection “The Fits,” from first-timer Anna Rose Holmer, which was snapped up before its world premiere by Oscilloscope.

The New Directors/New Films selection committee is comprised of the Film Society’s Dennis Lim, Florence Almozini, Marian Masone, and Gavin Smith, and MoMA’s Rajendra Roy, Joshua Siegel, and Sophie Cavoulacos. Read the list of 2016 New Directors/New Films official selections, with synopses, below.

“Behemoth” / Beixi moshuo

Zhao Liang, China/France, 2015, 91m

Mandarin with English subtitles

Political documentarian Zhao Liang draws inspiration from
The Divine Comedy for this simultaneously intoxicating and terrifying glimpse
at the ravages wrought upon Inner Mongolia by its coal and iron industries. A
poetic voiceover speaks of the insatiability of desire on top of stunning
images of landscapes (and their decimation), machines (and their spectacular
functions), and people (and the toll of their labor). Interspersed are sublime
tableaux of a prone nude body—asleep? just born? dead?—posed against a
refracted horizon. A wholly absorbing guided tour of exploding hillsides, dank
mine shafts, cacophonous factories, and vacant cities, Behemoth builds upon
Zhao’s previous exposés (2009’s Petition, 2007’s Crime and Punishment) by
combining his muckraking streak with a painterly vision of a social and
ecological nightmare otherwise unfolding out of sight, out of mind. Winner of
the environmental Green Drop Award at the Venice Film Festival. North American


Marcin Wrona, Poland/Israel, 2015, 94m

English, Polish, and Yiddish with English subtitles

Newly arrived from England to marry his fiancée Zaneta,
Peter has been given a gift of her family’s ramshackle country house in rural
Poland. It’s a total fixer-upper, and while inspecting the premises on the eve
of the wedding, he falls into a pile of human remains. The ceremony proceeds,
but strange things begin to happen… During the wild reception, Peter begins
to come undone, and a dybbuk, that iconic ancient figure from Jewish folklore,
takes a toehold in this present-day celebration—for a very particular reason,
as it turns out. The final work by Marcin Wrona, who died just as Demon was set
to premiere in Poland, is an eerie, richly atmospheric film—part absurdist
comedy, part love story—that scares, amuses, and charms in equal measure.
Winner of Best Horror Feature at Fantastic Fest. An Orchard release.

“The Fits”

Anna Rose Holmer, USA, 2015, 72m

The transition from girlhood to young womanhood is one
that’s nearly invisible in cinema. Enter Anna Rose Holmer, whose complex and
absorbing narrative feature debut elegantly depicts a captivating 11-year old’s
journey of discovery. Toni (played by the majestically named Royalty Hightower)
is a budding boxer drawn to a group of dancers training at the same rec center
in Cincinnati. She begins aligning herself with one of the two troupes, the
Lionesses, becoming immersed in their world, which Holmer conveys with a
hypnotic sense of rhythm and a rare gift for rendering physicality—evident most
of all when a mysterious, convulsive condition begins to afflict a number of
girls. Set entirely within the intimate confines of a few familiar settings
(public school, the gym), and pulsating with bodies in motion, The Fits
encourages us to recall the confused magic of entering the second decade of
life. An Oscilloscope release.

“Lost and Beautiful” / Bella e perduta

Pietro Marcello, Italy/France, 2015, 87m

Italian with English subtitles

Pietro Marcello continues his intrepid work along the
borderline of fiction and documentary with this beautiful and beguiling film,
by turns neorealist and fabulist, worthy of Pasolini in its matter-of-fact
lyricism and political conviction. Shot on expired 16mm film stock and freely
incorporating archival footage and folkloric tropes, it begins as a portrait of
the shepherd Tommaso, a local hero in the Campania region of southern Italy,
who volunteered to look after the abandoned Bourbon palace of Carditello
despite the state’s apathy and threats from the Mafia. Tommaso suffers a fatal
heart attack in the course of shooting, and Marcello’s bold and generous
response is to grant his subject’s dying wish: for a Pulcinella straight out of
the commedia dell’arte to appear on the scene and rescue a buffalo calf from
the palace. With Lost and Beautiful, a documentary that soars into the realm of
myth, Marcello has crafted a uniquely multifaceted and enormously moving work
of political cine-poetry. Winner of two awards at the Locarno Film Festival.
U.S. Premiere

“Mountain” / Ha’har

Yaelle Kayam, Denmark/Israel, 2015, 83m

Hebrew with English subtitles

Atop Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives, Zvia, a Jewish Orthodox
woman, lives surrounded by an ancient cemetery with her four children and
husband, a Yeshiva teacher who pays scant attention to her. Yaelle Kayam’s
feature debut moves beyond the symbolic landscape of a woman’s isolation to
offer a subtle and finely paced entryway into the character’s surprising inner
life. On a nighttime walk through the tombstones, Zvia encounters a group of
prostitutes and their handlers and gradually becomes an unlikely bystander to
their after-hours activities, trading home-cooked meals for companionship—an
usual sort, perhaps, but one that upends her existence as a mother and wife.
Shani Klein’s arresting lead performance challenges clichés of female
subjectivity in the filmmaker’s own society, culminating in Zvia’s dramatic
attempt to bring change to her life; throughout, keenly observed frames, by
turn luminous and moody, asserts the heroine’s volition with intention and

“Neon Bull” / Boi neon

Gabriel Mascaro, Brazil/Uruguay/Netherlands, 2015, 101m

Portuguese with English subtitles

A rodeo movie unlike any other, Gabriel Mascaro’s Venice and
Toronto prize-winning follow-up to his 2014 fiction debut August Winds tracks
handsome cowboy Iremar (Juliano Cazarré) as he travels around to work at
vaquejada rodeos, a Brazilian variation on the sport in which two men on
horseback attempt to bring a bull down by its tail. Iremar dreams of becoming a
fashion designer, creating flamboyant outfits for his co-worker, single mother
Galega (Maeve Jinkings). Along with Galega’s daughter Cacá and a bullpen worker
named Zé, these complex characters, drawn with tremendous compassion and not an
ounce of condescension, make up an unorthodox family, on the move across the
northeast Brazilian countryside. Sensitive to matters of gender and class, and
culminating in one of the most audacious and memorable sex scenes in recent
memory, Neon Bull is a quietly affirming exploration of desire and labor, a
humane and sensual study of bodies at work and at play. A Kino Lorber release.


Raam Reddy, India/USA/Canada, 2015, 132m

Kannada and Hindi with English subtitles

Raam Reddy’s bold, vibrant first feature is closer to Émile
Zola than it is to Bollywood. Filmed in India’s southern Karnataka state with
mostly nonprofessional actors, the sprawling narrative follows three
generations of sons following the death of the family’s patriarch, their
101-year-old grandfather known as “Century Gowda.” The men’s respective
vices—ranging from greed to womanizing to cut-and-dry escapism—bring
deliciously comedic misadventures to their village in the days leading up to
the thithi, a funeral celebration traditionally held 11 days after a death.
This incisive portrait of a community in a time of radical change (while some
are looking after their sheep, others are lost in their cell phones) yields
exemplary humanist comedy. Winner of two awards at the Locarno Film Festival,
the film equally affirms the advent of a new realism within Indian cinema, as
well as an engaging new voice in contemporary world cinema.

“The Wakhan Front” / Ni le ciel ni la terre

Clément Cogitore, France/Belgium, 2015, 100m

French and Persian with English subtitles

The ingenious conceit of The Wakhan Front, a critical
success at Cannes, is to transform the Afghan battlefield—dust and boredom and
jolts of explosive violence—into the backdrop for a metaphysical thriller.
Jérémie Renier stars as a French army commander who begins to lose the loyalty
of his company, as well as his sanity, when soldiers start mysteriously
disappearing one by one. Rarely is the madness of war conveyed on screen with
such simmering tension and existential fear. Rarely, too, is the ignorance and
mistrust between cultures—are the shepherd villagers innocent civilians or
Taliban spies?—limned with such poetic insight. U.S. Premiere

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