If there’s any part of the arts and entertainment world that the coronavirus pandemic has given us a renewed appreciation for, it’s film festivals. While some of the largest ones were flat-out canceled, many others pivoted into the digital world, not only giving their regular viewers something to look forward to watching, but also reaching new audiences unencumbered by geography.
What’s also nifty is that you can almost always find a film fest coming up regardless of where you are in the year. In the immediate future, we’re looking forward to the New Directors/New Films festival, which is organized by the Museum of Modern Art and Film Society of Lincoln Center and usually takes place in New York City in March. This year it has been delayed until Dec 9 through Dec. 20. The online festival is made up of 24 features and 10 shorts, scheduled over the 12 day period.
The festival, now in its 49th year, always includes films from the U.S. and around the world and is famous for highlighting emerging filmmakers who go on to become big names in moviemaking. These include Spike Lee, Pedro Almodóvar, Guillermo del Toro, Christopher Nolan, and some guy named Steven Spielberg.
Virtual tickets to the festival’s films are $12, but there is also an all-access bundle for the price of $10.
This year, we’re most intrigued by “Boys State,” co-directed by Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss that won the Grand Jury Prize in the U.S. Documentary Competition at the Sundance Film Festival. It puts on display Texas’ 2018 Boys State, an educational program for politically-minded teenage boys in which the attendees spend a week creating their own model government, dividing into parties, forming platforms, and running for office. Allegedly, the whole thing ends up being charming and hopeful.
Everyone in the film world was talking about the movie back in August, but let’s just say we weren’t looking to add extra politics to our lives in the months leading up to the election. There was also some criticism that the documentary sidesteps any criticism of the anti-LGBTQ American Legion, the event’s sponsor, which historically segregated the event by race in some states. (It’s still notable that they have two separate events based on gender.) But we’re willing to give it a shot.
We also want to check out “Atlantis,” a Ukrainian film directed by Valentyn Vasyanovych. It won the Orizzonti Prize at the 2019 Venice Film festival and follows a retired soldier as he struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and navigates a post-apocalyptic dystopia. It’s supposed to be pretty Orwellian but also carries a message of hope for the future. At least that’s what the reviews say.
“Kala Azar,” on the other hand, by Greek director Janis Rafa, seeks to make sense of death and loss. The movie is named after a parasitic disease that attacked the country’s animal population in the 1990s and follows a couple who collects and cremates pets and returns the ashes to their owners. It sounds like a film that might stick with its viewers, especially right now when a far greater than average number of people are thinking about the frailty of human life.
Coming from China, Zheng Lu Xinyuan’s “The Cloud in Her Room” tells the tale of a woman in her 20s who returns to her hometown of Hangzhou after being away and finds herself drifting through her memories of the town and family she left behind. It’s black and white and arthouse, which doesn’t always mean entertaining, but it also won the Tiger Award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam.
Between those movies and the other 21 programs, there might be something worth watching.