10 Movies to See at New Directors/New Films, NYC’s Premier Showcase for Emerging Filmmakers
ManOfTheCenturyMovie Film 10 Movies to See at New Directors/New Films, NYC’s Premier Showcase for Emerging Filmmakers

10 Movies to See at New Directors/New Films, NYC’s Premier Showcase for Emerging Filmmakers



10 Movies to See at New Directors/New Films, NYC’s Premier Showcase for Emerging Filmmakers

Looking for bold new work from first- and second-time feature filmmakers? Look no further than New Directors/New Films, the premier New York City festival that annually highlights them.

Now in its 53rd edition, New Directors/New Films returns to New York April 3 through 14 from Film at Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art, bringing the best of the fests so far to audiences eager for discovery. This year’s festival is bookended by Aaron Schimberg’s opening night entry “A Different Man,” starring Sebastian Stan as an actor who unravels after a facial reconstruction surgery, and Theda Hammel’s “Stress Positions,” an anxiety-inducing COVID lockdown comedy starring John Early. Both films premiered at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, whose Dramatic Competition gem “Good One,” a coming-of-age drama set around a derailed camping trip and directed by India Donaldson, also features at New Directors.

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Also premiering at the festival is Sundance favorite “Exhibiting Forgiveness,” Titus Kaphar’s emotive drama starring André Holland as an artist confronted by the resurfacing of his long-estranged father. During the festival, IndieWire will host a live recording of the weekly “Screen Talk” podcast, with co-hosts Anne Thompson and Ryan Lattanzio joined by “Blue Valentine” director Derek Cianfrance. He’s at the festival as a producer on “Exhibiting Forgiveness.”

Below, we round up 10 must-see movies at New Directors/New Films.

David Ehrlich contributed to this story.

A DIFFERENT MAN, Sebastian Stan, 2024. ph: Matt Infante /© A24 /Courtesy Everett Collection
‘A Different Man’Courtesy Everett Collection

“A Different Man”

Aaron Schimberg’s mordantly funny the-universe-is-a-cruel-joke film “A Different Man” stars Sebastian Stan as Edward, a New York actor who undergoes an experimental facial reconstruction surgery only to end up cast as himself in a play about his former life. The playwright is Edward’s former neighbor, the eccentric Ingrid (Renate Reinsve, playing the type of woman who loves to watch things die), and the play is interrupted by a man with neurofibromatosis named Oswald (Adam Pearson), who is Edward’s doppelganger and a charisma machine who outpaces him in every way.

Schimberg, directing Pearson for the second time after “Chained for Life,” fuses the more surreally fatalistic “Synecdoche, New York” side of Charlie Kaufman with his own dark metaphor about disability. Edward’s facial deformities are erased because of the procedures, but his life is ruined and his career destroyed. “A Different Man” exists in its own alternate-reality vision of New York still stalked by Woody Allen (who gets a final brain-bending homage here), a fitting portrait of an artist who has crumbled to the ground. —RL

“Stress Positions”

The summer of 2020 shouldn’t project beautiful memories onto the brain maps of those who endured it, but Theda Hammel’s anxiety-addled screwball feature debut “Stress Positions,” set around that COVID Fourth of July in New York, asks you to relive the scary days of sheltering in place, banging pots and pans in solidarity with health care workers, and social distancing whenever it was convenient or made you look like you stood for something.

“Stress Positions” mines the gap between the dark bookend of events that shaped millennial lives — September 11 and the pandemic — and that between liberal-posturing millennials and a Gen Z with a less fussy, more hopeful worldview. Hammel’s muses and emissaries on either side of the dichotomy in a comedy swirling with ideas are comedian John Early as a gay soon-to-be-divorcee and Qaher Harhash as his nephew, a 19-year-old Moroccan model with identity-shifting questions of his own. Here is a movie that sees a hapless set of self-obsessed millennials who came of age out of liberal arts colleges and the internet for who they really are. —RL

“Good One”

A slight but sensitive and fantastically assured debut that unfolds with the pointillistic detail of a great short story, India Donaldson’s “Good One” is a coming-of-age story that jettisons all of the genre’s most familiar trappings in favor of a long walk in the woods.

Donaldson’s script doesn’t waste any time setting its terms, even if her film has the discipline and patience to wait for more than an hour before it finally activates them. Modest and casual until the exact moment when the film’s master plan suddenly clicks into place like the hammer of a gun transforming a neutral tool into a deadly weapon, “Good One” is the kind of movie that tightens its complete lack of tension into a knot in the pit of your stomach. It often reminded me of Julia Loktev’s little-seen but seldom-forgotten “The Loneliest Planet” in that sense. Wilson Cameron’s serene nature cinematography and Celia Hollander’s airy, Joanna Newsom-esque score don’t quite disabuse us from the notion that something terrible is eventually going to happen, even if they both play against the suspense (this doesn’t feel like a thriller until you start to project its family dynamics onto your own parents and/or children, at which point it becomes thoroughly harrowing), and when the worm finally turns it’s almost a relief that we can put it behind us. It’s sad and unfair, but also liberating in a way. —David Ehrlich

André Holland and Andra Day appear in Exhibiting Forgiveness by Titus Kaphar, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.
‘Exhibiting Forgiveness’Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

“Exhibiting Forgiveness”

The past is never really gone. Memories can invade the mind, feeling as immediate as the present. Moving on from past pain is a constant journey. In Titus Kaphar’s debut feature “Exhibiting Forgiveness,” the struggle of moving on plagues a successful painter trying to live in the present with his family. Tarrell (André Holland) is harried by memories of his abusive father, La’Ron (John Earl Jelks), including nightmares about their time together. He wakes up angry and violent, scaring his wife, Aisha (Andra Day). Despite their beautiful home and darling son, Tarrell can’t seem to settle. His success can’t heal the wounds of his childhood. 

This trauma inspires new, deeply personal paintings that beg for their own gallery show. But Tarrell doesn’t know how he feels about the work, and Aisha — who is a singer-songwriter — wants to return to the studio and focus on her own art. “It’s my turn,” she says more than once. They can’t both be busy because they have a son to raise, but the urgency of Tarrell’s trauma-fueled art takes priority. There’s also his mother, Joyce (Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor), who is supposed to be moving closer to him and his family, leaving his childhood home behind. Like Tarrell, Joyce can’t seem to let go, but she romanticizes their troubled past, refusing to see it for what it was. —Jourdain Seales

“Hesitation Wound”

The quest for justice, told through one of its professional advocates, is one of cinema’s most common narrative devices. It’s why so many of us grow up feeling that lawyers must comprise approximately half of the workforce, and the job largely consists of delivering three-and-a-half-minute monologues. While it’s one of cinema’s most useful professions in terms of structuring plot and themes, the reality of the corrupt and self-serving legal system is starkly out of sync with James Stewart’s Paul Biegler and Reese Witherspoon’s Elle Woods.

Still, despite the high standards of their lawyer colleagues on screen and the woeful ones of those experienced by many in real life, Canan, the protagonist of “Hesitation Wound,” is a compelling, knotty heroine who doesn’t over-concern herself with what end of the spectrum she lies in. She is a performance wrapped in a performance. Taking on the role of “lawyer” with a hardened artifice that, even before the plot wraps her up in moral quandaries, shows her to be a complex, empathetic, morally upstanding, chainsmoking, brittle-shelled pragmatist, with no fulfilling identity beyond her profession. Most impressively, that level of nuanced characterization unspools within the first 10 minutes of the film, thanks to a truly stunning performance by Tulin Ozen. —Leila Latif

“Explanation for Everything”

Hungarian director Gábor Reisz’s 2023 Venice premiere is a sprawling and nearly three-hour panorama of the inner life of a Budapest high schooler, Abel (Adonyi-Walsh Gáspár), who is in love with his best friend and lost amid the crush of high school final exams. Abel’s interior tensions boil over to include many of the people in his life, family and friends, as the movie expands its scope. “Explanation for Everything” takes a hard look at Hungary’s education system, and its ideological divides, through the lens of a coming-of-age story where the youth are the only hope, but also jaded by their circumstance and the world they’ve inherited. —RL

10 Movies to See at New DirectorsNew Films NYCs Premier.webp | ManOfTheCenturyMovie
‘Omen’Courtesy New Directors/New Films

“Omen”

The Museum of Modern Art’s film chief Rajendra Roy highly recommends “Omen,” a formally daring drama directed by Belgian-Congolese rapper Baloji. “Omen” premiered in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard last year, and it centers on a Congolese man banished by his mother, who superstitiously believes he is an evil sorcerer. Returning from Europe back to Congo, Koffi (Marc Zinga) brings with him a white (and pregnant) girlfriend, rankling the local tribes and customs as the visit falls apart around him.

From IndieWire’s review by Arjun Sajip: The film “offers a deeply felt look at Congolese customs, sensibilities, and family dynamics, it foregrounds its own European perspective. What results is an intriguingly ambivalent reckoning with Baloji’s mother country, a genre-hopping, beautifully slippery exploration of Congolese belief systems and their relation to patriarchally inflicted traumas.” —RL

“Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry”

Georgian director Elene Naveriani’s 2023 Cannes premiere “Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry” focuses on an independently minded, never-married woman in her late 40s who has an affair with her handyman. Eka Chavleishvili stars as the woman casually steers her life into a tailspin following a near-death experience. Naveriani wanted to make an empowering tale about a later-in-life woman at a crossroads over new romance, and in a remote Georgian village where gossip runs hot and nothing much exciting happens to anybody, until now. —RL

10 Movies to See at New DirectorsNew Films NYCs Premier | ManOfTheCenturyMovie
‘All, or Nothing at All’Courtesy New Directors/New Films

“All, or Nothing at All”

Jiajun “Oscar” Zhang’s feature debut “All, or Nothing At All” unfolds entirely on an urban shopping mall island in Shanghai. Against the glittering spoils of commerce, strangers form romantic connections cluttered by consumerism, in a shiny place where people waste time and money. Zhang, with screenwriter Hee Young Pyun, unwraps the story across two timelines as lovers entwine and drift apart alongside passersby and vendors. The film uses surveillance cameras and cell phone footage to tell a story in two parts, both of which will be presented at New Directors/New Films. —RL

“A Good Place”

Katharina Huber’s “A Good Place” won the best emerging director award at the 2023 Locarno Film Festival, so it’s fitting the German drama will now premiere at New Directors. Actor Clara Schwinning also won for best performance at Locarno in this apocalypse story about two women eking out a meager living in a farming village remote from global crisis. Huber, who previously worked in animation, wrote, directed, edited, and produced “A Good Place,” which places a sort of hangout film in a more high-concept context. There’s a looming spacecraft launch poised to save humanity, but that doesn’t minimize the more human, Earthly existential crises at play. —RL

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