Mar 14, 2017
The World Viewed: New Directors on Their New Films, Part I
[This is the first part of a two-part collection of statements from filmmakers represented in the series New Directors/New Films. Read Part II here.]
There are few filmmakers with eyes as generous as those of Anocha Suwichakornpong. The great Thai filmmaker absorbs the world within her camera’s orbit, leading to films that are pleasurably discursive in their storytelling and consistently curious about each person being viewed. Her remarkable second feature, By the Time It Gets Dark, takes as its starting point a forest-bound encounter between a young filmmaker (played by Visra Vichit-Vadakan) and the subject of her next work—an older female writer (Rassami Paoluengtong) who bore witness to a 1976 massacre by police of university students protesting the return of an exiled Thai former dictator, and who has committed to describing her experiences for the other woman’s camera. The past comes to life before, during, and after her stories, with characters embodied by several different performers as real and imagined history blend together and dissolve apart. Suwichakornpong renders the past as something breathing and actual, whose traces can be seen and learned from wherever one chooses to look.
By the Time It Gets Dark will open for a theatrical run at the Film Society of Lincoln Center on April 14th. Prior to that, the film will shine as one of several jewels at this year’s edition of New Directors/New Films, a 46-year-old annual showcase held in partnership between Lincoln Center and MoMA (with all films screening at both venues), this year running March 15-26. The term “new director” is applied in broad fashion; while the selection indeed contains a number of first and second features, one can typically also find veteran directors’ latest works making their overdue New York debuts, along with a wide variety of adventurous shorts. At its best, the festival presents not just new voices, but new visions.
A notable aspect of this year’s very strong lineup is its international reach. A startlingly high number of countries will appear onscreen throughout the course of the series, including many filmed by directors working outside of their homelands. Six filmmakers represented in this year’s edition of New Directors/New Films with works screening between Wednesday and Friday speak below about their films; an additional group of filmmakers whose first screenings come afterwards will appear in the second half of this piece, to be published later this week. The value of remaining conscious of the problems facing one and one’s fellows should, in these days, speak for itself.
Indian filmmaker Ashim Ahluwalia’s beautiful short Events in a Cloud Chamber creates a dialogue with history by remaking a lost 1969 film of the same name realized on 16mm by the artist Akbar Padamsee, who also appears through archival footage and audio fragments of interviews. Ahluwalia says, “Padamsee tried to make something different nearly fifty years ago, at a time when the world wasn’t ready for it, and accidentally and almost single-handedly invented abstract film art in India. We remade his film Events in a Cloud Chamber mostly from his memory, a process which posed a problem since he’s almost 89 years old today and most of his stories are confusing or hazy. Our work gave occasion to contemplate what it means to be an aging artist. I’ve always liked the eeriness of ghost stories, and in a way, my Events in a Cloud Chamber is one. It discusses not only the disappearance of an artwork and the thwarting of an experimental film movement, but also ideas about mortality. My film isn’t purely a remake of Padamsee’s radical and unique lost film. It invokes vanished art, death, and the phantoms we leave behind.”
The structuralist-absurdist Italian filmmaker Yuri Ancarani was previously present at ND/NF with his soccer stadium-set short San Siro (2014); his first feature-length film, The Challenge, takes a deadpan approach to depicting the routines of sheikhs in Qatar engaged competitively with one another in amateur falconry. Ancarani says, “All of my films are representations of rituals—rituals in work, rituals in daily life. Ritual is repetition. After making a series of short films focused on the world of extreme and limitless work, I entered feature-length filmmaking with a film about non-work. The Challenge keeps the structure of my previous films while presenting the weight of a life without work, one in which having only leisure time can lead to boredom. I was curious to know more about Qatar, which until recent times was an unknown impoverished nation, but which today is at the global economy’s center. The Challenge is a film about traditions transformed and exaggerated by wealth. Here, everyday rituals come to seem manically interesting. Human actions start without ending or leading anywhere. The only one who concludes his task—the hunt—is the falcon because he is hungry.”
Portuguese director Ico Costa’s short Nyo Vweta Nafta (Gitonga for “Looking for Nafta”) is a delicate and vibrant 16mm-shot gathering of episodes in the life of a small city in Mozambique. Costa says, “I went to Mozambique alone, with no script, no story, no synopsis, no characters, nothing. Or rather, I did have something—I had lost the trace of a dear friend called Nafta, and I knew that I wanted to look for her, no matter what. I was in Inhambane (a small city devastated by a tornado just last month), walking on the streets, in the countryside, by the beach, meeting all kinds of people who were mainly teenagers and young adults, and listening to their stories. Everybody was always talking about girls and about their desire of getting the hell out of there someday, of going to South Africa to get rich (even though this was a big illusion). The film built itself up from these little episodes, and from these characters that were so real. Nyo Vweta Nafta is different from all of my other films. It’s shot in two different dialects, it has lots of characters and dialogue, it’s often funny and unexpected. And what I like the most about it is that, from production through editing, the film was made in a way whose freedom you can feel.”
New York-born director Eliza Hittman’s second feature Beach Rats—the Centerpiece selection for this year’s edition of ND/NF—studies the self-fashionings of a Brooklyn-based muscular teen (played by Harris Dickinson) as he uncovers his sexuality. Hittman says, “I grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn in the 1980s with a family that treated conversations about sexuality as taboo. Experiences with homophobia haunted my youth and eventually inspired me to tell a story about a character wrestling with sexual desire in an environment that offers no clear way out. Beach Rats is a masculine companion to my more female-centered previous film, It Felt Like Love (2013). Both films explore sexuality without themselves being sexy; both are sexually explicit and stripped of visual pleasure. Brooklyn itself continues to inspire me with its pockets caught between past and present, isolated by class, despite all the change that’s happened in the borough over the past fifteen years. My next film—entitled A—is about a teenage girl in rural Pennsylvania whose life goes to hell when she loses her reproductive rights. She journeys to New York to find freedom; I hope to shoot next year.”
Greek filmmaker Loukianos Moshonas’s docufictional short Manodopera (“Workforce”) focuses on a kinship with an Albanian worker named Andi (Altino Katro) and a young man (the filmmaker), both of whom dream of a better future. Moshonas says, “Manodopera at first was a desire to film drunken conversations of upper-class acquaintances. At the time, I was renovating my flat along with Andi, and it seemed more than necessary to try and build a parallel. I met Andi when I moved in (he’s a neighbor in my building), and we bonded through the renovation process. I saw that he was a dandy proletarian and tried to capture what we were going through. My previous work grew out of a desire to film speech as action, or a risk someone has to take. Manodopera prolongs this while attempting to bring in speechless relationships of smashing and building actions that emphasize class relations. Since then, I’ve been developing two sides within a feature film: a twisted, class-related melodrama of endless demolition, and a depiction of renovation work (moving between reality and fantasy) in an Athens flat.”
Nepalese director Deepak Rauniyar’s second feature White Sun follows a young man (played by Dayahang Rai) who returns to his birth village for his father’s funeral after a decade-long absence and tries to reconcile his political beliefs with those of his family members as a new national Constitution comes into being. Rauniyar says, “I was seventeen years old when the Maoist-led war started. Twenty-two years afterwards, Nepal is still going through a political process as a result of that war. The peace process begun in 2006 has been held up, incomplete, with thousands of families still unaware of what has happened to their loved ones and villages meanwhile emptying, like the village in White Sun as well the one in which my parents live. The dead body at the beginning of White Sun makes a metaphor for the old constitution and the King’s regime, which was overthrown a decade into the war; just as Nepal has since struggled to establish a new government and constitution, the film’s characters struggle to get the old man’s corpse out of the house, choosing not to take any easier paths because of their devotion to old beliefs. I believe in the power of film as an art form that can help people understand each others’ predicaments. Within our bitter present moment, I chose to search for signs of life and a new beginning.”
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