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American Indies Are Back At New Directors/New Films

FROZEN RIVER Opens ND/NFFROZEN RIVER Opens ND/NF 

Wednesday, March 26----As another sign of seasonal change, the venerable New Directors/New Films festival returns to the Museum of Modern Art and the Film Society of Lincoln Center in what is one of New York’s rites of Spring. Dedicated to the discovery and support of emerging artists, ND/NF has earned an international reputation for its cutting-edge programming and commitment to more artistically ambitious filmmaking.

This year, a total of 26 features and 6 short films made the cut, spotlighting first and second-time directors who are beginning to make their market on the international film world.  While ND/NF has always been a supportive home for American independent filmmakers over its 37 year history, this year’s Festival has dedicated 9 feature films (one-third of the program) to new works from emerging indie auteurs. The Festival will open this evening with what is sure to be one of the most talked about films of the season. FROZEN RIVER, a debut feature by director Courtney Hunt that won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, is a classic indie in style and content. Two women in upstate New York—one recently left with two sons to raise, the other a widow on the Mohawk reservation straddling the U.S./Canadian border—need money fast, and they become unlikely partners in a perilous and illegal enterprise. The two leads, Melissa Leo and Misty Upham give exquisite and vulnerable performances in a film that builds in power as the twists of the story unfold.

Other Sundance titles making their East Coast Premieres include: BALLAST (Lance Hammer), a heart-wrenching human drama about an African-American family in the depressed Mississippi Delta region; MOMMA’S MAN (Azazel Jacobs), a tour-de-force mix of drama and documentary that chronicles the filmmaker’s own story as a man who finds himself unable to leave his childhood home in his parents’ bohemian loft; SLEEP DEALER (Alex Rivera), winner of the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Prize, is a masterfully intricate and intriguing mystery set in a near-future, militarized world marked by closed borders, virtual labor and a global digital network that joins minds and experiences; SLINGSHOT HIP HOP (Jackie Reem Salloum), an uplifting documentary that showcases the voice of a new generation, as Palestinian rappers form alternative voices of resistance within the Israeli-Palestinian struggle; and TROUBLE THE WATER (Tia Lessin and Carl Deal), an audience pleaser about an aspiring rap artist and her streetwise husband, armed with a video camera, who  show the world what survival is all about when they are trapped in New Orleans by deadly floodwaters.

Other American indie titles (and co-productions) include MUNYURANGABO (Lee Isaac Chung), an absorbing drama about an orphan of the Rwandan genocide, who travels from Kigali to the countryside on a quest for justice; MOVING MIDWAY (Godfrey Cheshire), the feature debut of the acclaimed New York film critic, this moving documentary chronicles the filmmaker’s search for his family roots in North Carolina, unearthing often painful reminders of the past and a host of truly quirky relatives; and THE TOE TACTIC (Emily Hubley), a unique mix of kinetic animation and first-person drama, featuring the music of Yo La Tengo and the voices of such stalwarts as Eli Wallach, Marian Seldes, Andrea Martin and David Cross.  

ND/NF continues its American indie lovefest with special screenings of the works of five seminal American independent filmmakers, whose works have been featured at ND/NF and the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s flagship event, The New York Film Festival. If you’ve never seen these films on the big screen, treat yourself to double-feature afternoon screenings at the Walter Reade Theater of such indie auteurs as Kevin Smith (CLERKS, DOGMA), Todd Solondz (WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOSUE, STORYTELLING), Charles Burnett (MY BROTHER’S WEDDING, TO SLEEP WITH ANGER), Lodge Kerrigan (CLEAN SHAVEN, KEANE), and Greg Araki (THE LIVING END, TOTALLY F***ED UP). 

A second article on the international films making their debut at the Festival will appear in the coming days. But to check the pulse of America’s indie film movement, make your way to MoMA or the Walter Reade Theater over the next two weeks, and meet some of the world’s most promising film artists. For more information on the New Directors/New Films series, log on to the websites of the Film Society of Lincoln Center: www.filmlinc.com or the Museum of Modern Art: www.moma.org 

Sandy Mandelberger, Film New York Editor 

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