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New Directors/New Films 2009

Find out about some of the weird, the wild, and the (mostly) American indies unspooling at this year's edition of the venerable, always interesting, and sometimes prescient festival, which starts on Wednesday, March 25.

For thirty-eight years, the New Directors/New Films film series, a collaboration between The Museum of Modern Art and The Film Society of Lincoln Center, has been known for highlighting and handpicking a selection of films and directors to watch out for. Need proof? This year, ND/NF is celebrating some of their more illustrious alumni with their Critic’s Choice matinees, featuring past premieres that went on to win Best New Director from the New York Critics' Circle, a list that includes Frozen River, Half Nelson, In the Company of Men, and Metropolitan.
This year’s slate takes you around the world in a slate of 25 features and six shorts, from Cherien Dabis’ opening night pick Amreeka to Sophie Barthes’ absurdist Sundance hit Cold Souls (which stars Paul Giamatti as "Paul Giamatti") to Brazilian director Marco Bechis’ eco-docudrama Birdwatchers. Tribeca took an early glance at some of the Festival’s youth-oriented films from the American indie underground and abroad. What did we learn? Well, being young is about experiencing things for the first time; whether that depth of feeling portrayed in these films was heartbreak or exuberance, we were glad to know that the kids remain alright. Read on for our take.


The Good


We Live

We Live in Public

Josh Harris
was a frighteningly prescient nineties Internet pioneer whose online tv channel,, predated our dependence on YouTube and Hulu by over a decade. Except Harris saw himself as more than just another millionaire entrepreneur—he wanted to be Andy Warhol. So he built his late-'90s vision of The Factory: an underground bunker populated by art and technology stars, furnished with bunk beds, communal showers, and a shooting range, all under constant surveillance. In this documentary, which won the jury prize for best doc at Sundance this year, director Ondi Timoner (DIG!, streaming on Hulu, which was a New Directors pick in 2004) takes us back to the first Internet boom, when art, technology, money, and society collided. What's notable is the nuance that she allows in the telling of Harris’s story. We’re never forced to decide if he’s a visionary or a crackpot, and her movie benefits from allowing him to be a little bit of both.


Treeless Mountain

Treeless Mountain

Korean-American director So Yong Kim (In Between Days) tells the story of a single mom of in Seoul who takes her young daughters Jin and Bin to live in the provinces while she tries to reconcile with her husband. The girls are left with “Big Aunt,” a grim, alcoholic woman who can barely take care of herself. Treeless Mountain is shot strictly from the point of view of the film’s two leads, who are both under six years old, and their bewilderment and frustration about what’s happening in their own lives makes for one of the most brutal films about childhood that we've seen in a long time. Cinematographer Anne Misawa counters the downer subject matter with a lushness that echoes the ultimate sense of hope in the movie.

Fun Fact: Kim and her husband, Bradley Rust Gray, collaborate closely together on their films, which also include In Between Days and Salt. Gray's The Exploding Girl makes its North American Premiere at this year's Tribeca Film Festival.



Unmade Beds

New Directors alum Alex Dos Santos (Glue) chronicles the lives, loves, and semi-employment of a group of East London squatters. The cast, which is as good looking as it is talented, includes Axl (Spanish actor Fernando Tielve, who played the young boy in The Devil’s Backbone), a sleepy-eyed 20-year-old from Madrid in search of his father, and Vera (played by Déborah François from Cannes Palme d’Or winner L’Enfant), a Belgian girl who’s dealing with a breakup by hooking up with a guy whose name she doesn’t even know. In their considerable downtime, there are bands to see and DJ sets to dance to and bedrooms to decorate with Polaroids. Dos Santos’ post-European Union vision reflects an exhilarating, multiethnic city—a nice change from the Working Title vision of London we’ve grown accustomed to—but the ease of subsistence in one of the world’s most expensive places with minimal money (even in a squat!) doesn’t ring very true. But even if it’s a fantasy world, it’s a terribly attractive one to spend some time in.


The Intriguing


Stay the Same

Stay the Same Never Change

Video artist Laurel Nakadate takes a cast of nonprofessionals—many of them teenage girls found on MySpace or in newspaper ads—and films them talking to their teddy bears and calling tornado victims in their own Kansas City homes, all set to a lo-fi indie rock soundtrack composed by Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. Nakadate, who rejects all but the slightest of story arcs, seems to be making a point about how isolating the teen girl experience, dominated by bland pop culture and daydreaming in bedrooms, can be. But in her attempt to get beyond the Disneyfication of girl culture to show us something more “real,” the effect feels weird for the sake of being weird and, ultimately, patronizing to Middle American adolescents; more Harmony Korine circa Gummo than Miranda July’s Me and You and Everyone We Know.


Skip It



Harmony and Me

Justin Rice
plays the titular Harmony, a twenty-something hipster living in Austin, Texas. The “me” in question is unclear. It might be his ex, Jessica, a charisma-free woman who has moved on from their recent breakup much more successfully than he has, or it might be any one of Harmony’s gaggle of slacker friends who spout off bad advice on matters of the heart. Ultimately it doesn’t matter, because the film is so excruciatingly mean-spirited, it’s difficult to care about any of the characters.

With lead roles in films like Andrew Bujalski's Mutual Appreciation and Joe Swanberg's Alexander the Last, Rice—who is also the singer in the poppy Brooklyn band Bishop Allen—has become a poster boy for the so-called “mumblecore” genre of films that champion improvisation, nonprofessional actors, and ultra low budgets. As befitting a poster boy, every one of these films featuring Rice include meandering interludes of him singing in his wispy, whiny voice, and Harmony is no exception. Director Bob Byington shows some potential for a fresh take on corporate drudgery in the scenes shot at the tech company where Harmony is employed. Too bad he ends up giving more screen time to Rice singing Jonathan Richman's "Government Center" over and over again.


New Directors/New Films runs from March 25 to April 5 at The Museum of Modern Art and The Film Society of Lincoln Center. Click here to purchase tickets.



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