The 36th Annual New Directors/New Films 2007
March 21-April 1
By Blackfilm.com Special Correspondent
Leslie (Hoban) Blake
In an era when videos posted directly on You Tube can instantly be seen by millions, it’s a wonder that anyone actually bothers to shoot films anymore. Yet the art of filmmaking remains an International creative itch that’s currently being scratched at the 36th edition of New Directors/New Films 2007, co-sponsored by the Film Department at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Lincoln Center Film Society.
Pedro Almodovar, Wong-Kar Wai and Spike Lee are just a few of the notable directors previously discovered via the ND/NF, raising high the cinematic bar. Previous ND/NF films embraced by the public include Real Women Have Curves, Infernal Affairs, Half Nelson, Junebug, Camp, Quinceanera, Man Push Cart, Old Joy plus such docs as Daughter from Danang, Our Brand is Crisis and Murderball
This year’s roster of 26 features (including 3 documentaries) and 5 shorts represents directorial aspirants from more than two dozen countries, including Algeria, Brazil, Russia, Switzerland, France, Belgium and Denmark as well as the U.K. and the U.S. They offer glimpses of the world’s collective zeitgeist through such recurring themes as immigration, family, terrorism, revenge, childhood and creativity itself.
Stories about the immigrant experience can be whimsical like John Carney’s Once (Ireland), a mini-musical about an Irish street musician and a Czech woman now living in Dublin. One of only a handful of ND/NF films to be blessed with a distributor, this 2007 Sundance favorite, will be released in June. The characters in Once sing a lot as they teeter on the brink of romance, but the desire to leave one’s homeland is usually an act of desperation, fueled by the hope for a better life - definitely not the stuff of musicals, mini- or other.
In Marco Simon Puccioni’s sophomore film, Shelter (Italy) a young Moroccan hides in the trunk of a car to cross the border into Italy, thereby upsetting the lives of the family who takes him in. The two young Mexican protagonists of Christopher Zalla’s Sundance Audience Award winning debut film, Padre Nuestro (U.S), hop a truck bringing illegals to New York to work. One is searching for his father who emigrated many years earlier and when the other steals his papers and cash (and thus his identity), dire consequences ensue.
Both films show how illegal aliens may often be forced into becoming con-artists to survive and Padre Nuestro also weaves the search for family into the immigrant story. That particular search is also central to several other ND/NF entries.
Lionel Baier’s Stealth (Switzerland), presents the semi-autobiographical Lionel, a happy go lucky gay guy who seems to have everything until he discovers he may also have roots in Poland and sets out to find them. Hermilia, the heroine of Karim Aninouz’s second film, Love for Sale (Brazil/France/Germany) knows where her family is. Forced to leave Sao Paulo with her young child and return to her poor Brazilian hometown, she comes up with an ingenious, if dicey, solution to her fiduciary crisis.
Another second film, Ying Liang’s The Other Half, features another female protagonist. Xiaofen is caught between a rock, a hard place and tons of industrial waste. Her mother is a mahjongg junkie and her boyfriend never comes home except to throw up after all night benders. Walking a convoluted line between comedy and tragedy, The Other Half reveals problems in the new China, especially the low status of women and rampant alcoholism.
Blending the themes of immigration and family, Congorama (Canada/Belgium/France) offers a slight if very canny take on the old adage, “it’s a wise child who knows his own father.” Philippe Falardeau’s sophomore film boasts award winning French everyman, Olivier Gourmet (Rosetta, The Son) as the head of a truly International Belgian family – granddad’s a famous novelist/poet, wifie is Congolese and their very dark-skinned son’s paternity is in doubt. Suddenly, Gourmet discovers he himself is actually the illegitimate son of someone in Canada and life becomes a series of answers to questions he never asked.
Children as orphaned victims of war, are the subject of War Dance, a documentary shot in Patongo, Northern Uganda’s largest refugee camp. Chronicled by filmmaking husband and wife team, Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine, the living conditions are beyond primitive although the film has a glossy beauty often at odds with its subject. The Annual Music Competition in the capital of Kampala offers the boys and girls a creative escape from their primal hardships, at the same time providing the film with a Rocky-like framework. War Dance joins Once and Love for Sale as ND/NF films with upcoming release dates.
The creative process – of more or less adult writers this time - also figures in a pair of ND/NF films with varying degrees of success. First time helmer Joachim Trier has come up with an impressive and charming debut about two Danish boyhood chums who dream of becoming famous novelists together. Energetic and original, the film often recalls the early New Wave sensibility of such Godard films as Masculine Feminine or Truffaut’s Jules et Jim. Both Erik and Phillip send out their manuscripts on the same day with vastly differing results. The success of one and the mental breakdown of the other is tempered with peppy v/o commentary and various serio/comic interludes, most notably, the stalking of Denmark’s most reclusive writer – think a handsomer J.D. Salinger of the far North.
The Inner Life of Martin Frost, the ND/NF’s Opening Night film is the third by novelist-filmmaker Paul Auster but alas, this third time is definitely not lucky for Mr. A. His attempt to bring an episode from his novel: The Book of Illusion - illustrating the creative process of a writer - to the screen suffers more or less the same fate as several other failed films on this ever-tantalizing but rarely satisfying cinematic subject. Check out: Lady in the Water, Secret Window and Barton Fink. Auster’s own voice-over introduces novelist Martin Frost (David Thewlis), who suffers a kind of post-partum depression after finishing his last novel. Ensconced in a country house, he’s visited by a French accented muse (Irene Jacob) and a philosophical plumber (Michael Imperioli), both of whom may or may not be figments of his imagination. Auster’s singer/songwriter daughter Sophie also plays a role. The whimsy is leaden although the scenery (Portugal standing in for Northern California) is gorgeous.
Red Road (Scotland), also skedded for release, is the first of a trilogy conceived by the Third Party Concept, comprised of Dogme directors Lars Von Trier, Lone Sherfig and Anders Thomas Jensen. Each film, featuring a first time director and producer(s), must use pre-conceived characters played by the same group of actors. Director Andrea Arnold’s intriguing film follows the static life of a female CCTV operator in Glasgow, watching over the lives of a community seemingly unaware of her constant ‘big sister’-like scrutiny. When her gaze falls on the man responsible for her own tragedy, she embarks on a revenge plot. The idea of living under constant surveillance, government or otherwise, is also central to The Lives of Others and Cache as well as two other debut films of note at this year’s ND/NF.
Both Julia Loktev’s Day Night Day Night (USA) about a female suicide bomber in New York (nominated for the IFC Spirit Best First Feature Award, opening May 9th) and Rodrigo Moreno’s El Custodio (Argentina) about a low level government bodyguard in Buenos Aires, unspool slowly and meticulously as they follow their almost taciturn protagonists performing the minutiae of their ‘jobs’. Each film puts its lead character under a microscope, telling us almost nothing except for what the camera sees, thereby forcing the audience to search for clues in the framing techniques or the external sound patterns.