This year's online festival features promising talent, from Oscar submissions to outbreaks of film festivals, all of which can be seen across the United States.
For 49 years, MOMA and Film have partnered with New Directors / New Films at Lincoln Center to celebrate some of the most exciting films made by aspiring filmmakers, and even 2020 couldn't change that. While the original March date for ND / NF was postponed when the pandemic shut down, the series went virtual this year, kicking off this week with a range of options available to anyone in the US.
As usual, ND / NF selections qualify for filmmakers who have created up to three features. That is, instead of just celebrating debuts, the festival serves to highlight active talent who may have already proven themselves but deserve more attention. This is certainly the case with these highlights from the 2020 offer, which include some award winners and festival highlights that deserve wider attention. Together they prove that the future of cinema is in promising hands, no matter what the next year brings.
ND / NF runs through December 20th; Browse the lineup and rent movies to watch here.
"Anne at 13,000 feet"
The Canadian director Kazik Radwanski has developed his distinctive filmmaking further since his nervous character study "Tower". With “Anne at 13,000 ft”, he continues his path of recording insecure people caught in unstable routines. An amazing Deragh Campbell plays the central character, a passive-aggressive young woman who bumps into her peers in a daycare center as she moves through a series of emotional explosions.
The title takes on literal connotations with a parachute jump that gives Anne the freedom she lacks in her queasy everyday life, and Radwanski's deliberately rough hand-held camera work is characterized by the fact that she gets into her restless headspace. The spirit of John Cassavetes is alive and well in Radwanski's approach, and Campbell delivers the next generation as Gena Rowlands, but Anne at 13,000 ft escapes the shadow of its precedents with an intimate character study that follows – and shows – its own tight rhythms unique talent on both sides of the camera. – EK
One of the most famous documentaries to break out of Sundance this year, "Boys State," isn't quite the work of a newcomer as co-director Jesse Moss has been making insightful documentaries since 2003, "Speedo." However, it's the first time his production partner Amanda McBaine has shared a director's credit, and together they've created a fascinating window into the future of American politics. This poignant poll offers a deep look into the week-long event of the same name in Texas, where 17-year-old boys form their own representative government. It offers an insightful look at the instincts that can influence the campaign process, even without the future of the republic in question.
The American Legion veterans association has convened the eponymous assembly in states across the country since 1935. Alumni included Dick Cheney and Cory Booker. This range of famous leaders might suggest Boys State is taking a bipartisan approach, but the Texas event – at least as the filmmakers' sprawling cameras find it – is unfolding more like a battlefield. The 1,100 attendees are on their own as they compose campaigns for a range of leadership roles, with some ambitious kids keeping the topmost role of governor in mind.
Moss and McBaine follow four of these enterprising characters as they compose campaign strategies and argue through ideologies. His real hero is gubernatorial candidate Steven Garza, a child born to immigrant parents who has been exposed to xenophobic negative campaigns to dampen his ambitions. The film is getting a notable new response after the 2020 elections: while previously lamenting the tragedy of exploitative campaign tactics that can ruin the nation, it now applauds the resilience of those working to fix it. Steven Garza as President … in a few decades. – EK
"Killing Two Lovers"
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With a movie called "The Killing of Two Lovers", you might know what to expect from the start, but Robert Machoian's gripping thriller plays the prediction of its title at every exciting moment. David (a disheveled Clayne Crawford) is already at the end of the film, hovering over his estranged wife (Spideh Moafi) and her new boyfriend as they sleep in their small Utah town. There's a gun in his sweaty hand, but he still has to pull the trigger.
From that disturbing beginning, the film floats through David's fragile existence as he repeatedly tries to reconnect with the love of his life and their four children, balancing his smoldering anger with the semblance of sanity that still exists in seeped into his head. This material could become melodramatic at any moment, but Crawford's nervous performance and machoian's naturalistic style combine with a threatening sound design that brings the fragility of its protagonist's mindset to life. The result is a fresh and exciting new look at the breakup of the American family that redefines filmmaking through the talent shown in every moment. – EK
"The Mole Agent"
There's a certain thrill that comes from documentaries hiding, and "The Mole Agent" embodies that appeal. The charming character study by the Chilean director Maite Alberdi – which is also her country's Oscar submission – unfolds as a complicated spy thriller. A good-natured 83-year-old widower infiltrates a nursing home at the behest of a private detective. The plan goes wrong with all kinds of weird and touching outcomes so well put together within the framework of fictional tropes that it begs for an American remake. (The rumor mill says this is a work in progress.)
But as much as such a product might appeal to companies hungry for content, it would be superfluous from the start, because "The Mole Agent" is already one of the most heartwarming spy films of all time – a rare combination of genres that only works so well because it sneaks up on you. – EK
"Two of us"
Filippo Meneghetti's “Two of Us” unfolds like a delicate cross between “Carol” and “Amour” and combines a suppressed love story with a heartbreaking portrait of human frailty, as a medical emergency threatens to reveal the relationship between two Parisian women kept secret for decades. Nina (Barbara Sukowa, whose credits range from “Berlin Alexanderplatz” to “Atomic Blonde”) and the more conservative Mado (Martine Chevallier) have been through thick and thin together, with the only real conflict in their partnership being that the latter cannot tell her kids about how close she is to the woman who lives down the hall.
When Mado suffers a terrible stroke on the eve of her eagerly anticipated appearance, Nina grapples with potentially losing the love of her life without letting Mado's children know why she needs to be by their mother's bed or why they might find her in her mother's bed. "Two of Us" is a ruthless drama that still unfolds with enough grace and ease to hit the arthouse audience where they live. It's a feature film debut that is told with a touch of veteran, and it's all too easy to see why France picked Merenghetti's moving tear-catcher as its Oscar submission that year. – DE