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New Directors/New Films
(March 26th - April 6th, 2008)

Click here for more information about the Film Programs at the festival


Frozen River
- *Opening Night Film* Directed by Courtney Hunt.

In a small New York town near the Quebec border, Ray (Melissa Leo), a mother of two who can’t afford her trailer home anymore, meets Lila (Misty Upham), a Native American from a local Mohawk reservation. Lila convinces her to smuggle illegal immigrants in the back of her trunk from across the frozen St.Lawrence River as a means to help her make enough money to save Ray’s trailer home. Meanwhile, Ray’s teenage son, T.J. (Charlie McDermott) stays at home with his younger brother, Ricky (James Reilly). Ray, initially, doesn’t quite get along with Lila and just wants her husband’s car back that she had stolen. It’s interesting to watch how the two of them become unlikely friends with one another. Writer/director Courtney Hunt gradually builds up the plot tension as Ray becomes involved full throttle in Lila’s smuggling scheme and gets more desperate for money. Hunt knows that in order to keep you immersed in the story, she needs to create believable characters. Ray might not be particularly likable based on her actions, but at least there’s more to her than meets the eye. Moreover, Melissa Leo sinks into the role of Ray with utter conviction and delivers a truly raw performance. The other strong character in the film is the snowy location itself which adds to the somewhat foreboding atmosphere much like in Fargo. Despite a third act that ties the plot a little too neatly with all of its contrivances, Frozen River still manages to be a mostly compelling drama. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Released by Sony Pictures Classics. Opens August 1st, 2008 at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

- Directed by Lance Hammer.

12-year-old James (JimMyron Ross) owes thugs $100, so he arrives at the home of Lawrence (Micheal J. Smith, Sr) and threatens him at gunpoint to fork over money. Lawrence had recently injured himself trying to commit suicide after discovering that his twin brother, Darius, died of a fatal drug overdose. Meanwhile, Marlee (Tarra Riggs), James’ mother, gets involved in all the altercations. The plot sounds like it could be compelling given its summary, but so many scenes lack dramatic tension and simply feel bland. Writer/director Lance Hammer expects the audience to infer the relationships between each character and their significance to the thin narrative. There’s clearly much more going on beneath the surface, but Hammer’s weak, unimaginative screenplay doesn’t allow you to care about what happens to any of the characters, which makes it difficult to become absorbed by what you’re watching. The pace moves at such a sluggish rate that it’s often sleep-inducing. On a positive note, Hammer does a decent job of using bleak, muted colors through cinematography that compliments the film’s overall melancholy tone. With a more imaginative script and stronger attention to character development, Ballast could have been much more engaging and poignant rather than often tedious and dull. Number of times I checked my watch: 8. Released by Alluvial Film Company. Opens October 1st, 2008 at the Film Forum

- Directed by Shira Geffen and Etgar Keret.

In Hebrew with subtitles. Batya (Sarah Adler) tries to figure out the origins of a mysterious little girl (Nikol Leidman) while an old woman, Malka (Zaharira Harifai), reconnects with her daughter (Ilanit Ben-Yaakov), a thespian, and interacts with her Filipino caretaker, Joy (Ma-nenita De Latorre). In another subplot, Keren (Noa Knoller) and Michael (Gera Sandler), newlyweds, spend their honeymoon in a small hotel overlooking the ocean where Michael flirts with a writer (Bruria Albeck) staying at the hotel. All these parallel subplots have a few tender, poignant and lyrical moments, but, for the most part they simply meander without enough focus. Screenwriter Shira Geffen includes plenty of characters that could have been more interesting with insight into the lives of the characters instead of pretentiously trying to add some symbolism and to connect everything together indirectly. The cinematography looks great with picturesque scenery—although, how difficult is it really to make the Mediterranean look beautiful? With its very brief running time of 78 minutes, Jellyfish is harmless, underwhelming and ultimately forgettable. Number of times I checked my watch: 6. Entertainment Value: Low. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by Zeitgeist Films. Opens April 4th, 2008 at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

Moving Midway
- Directed by Godfrey Cheshire.

This mildly fascinating documentary explores the history of the American plantation system while showing the process of moving the Midway plantation of director/film reviewer Godfrey Cheshire’s ancestors to another location within a suburban section of Raleigh, North Carolina. The plantation had been at the same plot of land since 1848. Cheshire clearly has done a lot of research about plantations and it shows through his use of archival footage and current interviews with such experts as Robert Hinton, a NYU professor of African studies. Hinton has proof that one of Cheshire’s white ancestors bore children with a slave. That sounds like pretty revelatory news, so the fascinated Hinton travels to Raleigh to meet Cheshire’s many relatives and to witness the moving of the Midway plantation. Admittedly, the film loses its focus and momentum throughout its meandering second half as Cheshire makes interesting points about the evolution of plantation, but fails to explore them fully enough. What about the important issue of urbanization? That opens a big can of worms that needs more analysis. The footage showing the actual moving of the house makes the pace turn sluggish and could have easily been trimmed down to a few minutes rather than what seems like 10 minutes. Typically, a well-made documentary should not only present intriguing information, yet it also assesses and synthesizes it into some form an interesting conclusion, which doesn’t really happen here. At a running time of 98 minutes, Moving Midway remains somewhat engaging and has many moments of intrigue, but it doesn’t present them with enough focus or analysis to be truly insightful or provocative. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Released by First Run Features. Opens September 12th, 2008 at the IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.


Directed by Lee Isaac Chung.

In Kinyarwanda with subtitles. Two young men, Munyurangabo (Jeff Rutagengwa) and his friend Sangwa (Eric Ndorunkundiye), travel by foot from the city of Kagali to Sangwa’s childhood home where his parents reside in a rural village. They both come from very different tribes—Munyurangabo from the Tutsi tribe and Sangwa from Hutu—-which had fought in a war years ago, the Rwanda genocide. Munyurangabo, who’s named after a Rwandan warrior, wants to avenge the death of his father, who was killed by a member of the Hutu tribe. At first, when you see him stealing a machete, you’re not quite sure what kind of purpose it serves until later on. You’re also wondering about how Munyurangabo became an orphan as well as other background information about him, but you discover that information about him very subtly and gently as the plot progresses slowly. His journey with Sangwa is also a spiritual journey where he begins to question his desire to kill the man who murdered his father. He also realizes that there’s a big difference between chopping town trees with the machete versus chopping a human being with it. Director/co-writer Lee Isaac Chung, in his feature film directorial debut, doesn’t hit the audience over the head with palpable tension or action scenes. Instead, he gradually builds the tension in a way that you can feel it bubbling beneath the surface of the thin plot. The same can be said for the tension between Munyurangabo and Sangwa because they’re different tribes. Given the handheld camerawork, a leisurely pace and the lack of a musical score, Chung achieves cinéma vérité, which helps to keep you immersed into the story as long as you’re a patient viewer who doesn’t mind silences and pauses. There’s one particularly moving and captivating scene that lasts a few minutes where a man recites a long poem with very thought-provoking lyrics that speaks volumes about the tensions and violence that have taken place in Rwanda. At a running time of 97 minutes, Munyurangabo manages to be a compelling, provocative and well-nuanced drama that’s also refreshingly unpretentious and quietly engrossing.
Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Film Movement.
Opens May 29th, 2009 at the Anthology Film Archives.

Trouble the Water
- Directed by Tia Lessin and Carl Deal.

This provocative and important documentary follows the experiences of Kim and Scott Roberts, a married couple who survived the catastrophes of Hurricane Katrina while living in the Ninth Ward district of New Orleans. The couple recorded some footage on the day before the hurricane and once the hurricane arrived, with all the floodwater rapidly rising. It’s equally infuriating and sad when a New Orleans woman, trapped in her attic, desperately calls a 911 operator only to be told that help cannot arrive at that time. If you thought the worst part was over when the storm ended and the flooding receded, think again. Every American should feel ashamed at how our government, particularly FEMA, handled the catastrophe with such slow and negligent response that it should be downright criminal. Co-directors Tia Lessin and Carl Deal wisely allow Kim and Scott Robert to recall what they went through in vivid detail. Words cannot adequately describe the powerful images from the aftermath of Katrina, though, which make the Ninth Ward district looked like it was devastated by war. The couple struggles to receive financial aid from FEMA that would help them to survive on the basic needs of food and shelter. It’s very inspiring and uplifting to watch how they both have grown as individuals from such a harrowing experience that turned their life upside down, particularly Kim who channels her anger and frustrations through singing rap music. From start to finish Trouble the Water manages to be a thoroughly engrossing and powerful film that must be seen by every American and, especially, by our incompetent government members who ought to be ashamed of themselves. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by Zeitgeist Films. Opens August 22nd, 2008 at the IFC Center and the Faison Firehouse Theatre.

Water Lilies
- Directed by Céline Sciamma.

In French with subtitles. Marie (Pauline Acquart), a shy 15-year-old, befriends Floriane (Adele Haenel), a promiscuous and popular girl on the school swim team. Their new friendship threatens the relationship between Marie and her best friend, Anne (Louise Blachère), an overweight, unpopular girl. Both Anne and Floriane pine for François (Warren Jacquin), a hunky male swimmer. What initially sounds like a typically contrived teen drama actually turns out to be surprisingly tender and absorbing coming-of-age story. Even though Floriane might seem like a bad influence on Marie, there’s much more to her than meets the eye. Each young actress gets a chance to shine and give a very convincing performance. First-time writer/director Céline Sciamma wisely allows the plot to progress organically and doesn’t rely on sex or violence as a means to entertain—like in the movie Kids. The sensitive screenplay allows for the character of Marie to change believable without any contrivances or eye-rolling scenes. Water Lilies ultimately succeeds as a poignant coming-of-age drama because it’s driven by strongly-developed characters that you care about as complex individuals rather than caricatures. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: High. Released by Koch Lorber Films. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema. /center>

- Directed by Lucía Puenzo.

In Spanish with subtitles. Alex (Ines Efron), a 15-year-old hermaphrodite, struggles with a sexual identity crisis when she enters a sexual relationship with 16-year-old Alvaro (Martín Piroyansky). Alvaro’s father (German Palacios) happens to be a plastic surgeon who can help Alex become 100% female with corrective surgery. Ricardo Darin plays Alex’s supportive and loving father. What follows is a surprisingly tender and endearing drama that’s almost as powerful as Boys Don’t Cry, which treads the same water. Ines Efron delivers a raw performance that demands your attention. She masters a wide range of emotions from frustration to lust to just plain confusion. Her scenes with Alvaro feel particularly intense and moving, especially given how Alvaro questions his own sexuality as well. Writer/director Lucía Puenzo includes lush, exquisite cinematography along with lighting and moves the pace slowly which enhances the overall sad tone of the film. A few scenes drag a bit in the second act, but much of the plot is unpredictable and surprising. Released by Film Movement. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Opens May 2nd, 2008 at the Cinema Village.

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