Four Decades of New Directors/New Films Discoveries


Goldie Hawn in Steven Spielberg's Sugarland Express (ND/NF 1974). Photo: UNIVERSAL / THE KOBAL COLLECTION

For over four decades, Film Society and MoMA's showcase of emerging cinematic talent, New Directors/New Films, has had its finger on the pulse of both American and international film. Steven Spielberg, Chantal Akerman, Christopher Nolan, Darren Aronofsky, Kelly Reichert and Pedro Almodóvar are just some of the filmmakers that marked their early careers with the annual Spring event. Last year's series debuted a pair of Oscar nominees, 5 Broken Cameras and How to Survive a Plague, while the year before the Academy nominated ND/NF alums Incendies and Margin Call.

In 1972, the first ND/NF helped usher in Oscar-nominated German director Wim Wenders, screening his second feature, The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick. 1974 brought the likes of Greek director Theodoros Angelopoulos (who died last year) and Steven Spielberg to audiences. ND/NF screened Angelopoulos's 1972 feature Days Of 36, about a former drug trafficker who is at the center of political intrigue. Spielberg's The Sugarland Express centered on a woman who attempts to reunite her family by helping her husband escape prison. The feature went on to screen in competition at the Cannes Film Festival that year and Spielberg went on to direct Jaws the following year.

Veteran Portuguese filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira was hardly a new director when his Doomed Love (Amor de Perdição) played New Directors/New Films in 1980—he had been making films since 1927—but the screening helped raise his profile on U.S. shores. It is considered by many of the prolific filmmaker's admirers to be among his finest. At 104, de Oliveira is still working and, 33 years after he graced ND/NF, his new film Gebo and the Shadow played our Film Comment Selects series last month.

The 1980s ushered in a treasure trove of filmmaking giants, with many directors screening their early work at ND/NF as a catalyst for their burgeoning careers. John Sayles brought his drama Return of the Secaucus Seven to the 1980 ND/NF. Sayles went on to be an indie juggernaut with such titles as Eight Men Out and Lone Star. A few years later, the festival turned the spotlight on Spike Lee with his 1983 feature Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads.


Pedro Almodóvar's Law of Desire (ND/NF 1987). Photo: EL DESEO / THE KOBAL COLLECTION

Pedro Almodóvar upped his profile in America with New Directors/New Films screenings of What Have I Done to Deserve This? in 1984 and Law of Desire in 1987. Almodóvar went on to become one of the best-known foreign-language filmmakers in America and he's become a mainstay of the New York Film Festival in the last decade. He won an Oscar for Original Screenplay in 2002 for Talk to Her, which screened at NYFF that year.

Atom Egoyan (Family Viewing, 1987), Lasse Halstrom (My Life as a Dog, 1985), Whit Stillman (Metropolitan, 1989), Nanni Moretti (Palombella Rossa, 1989) and Michael Haneke (The Seventh Continent, 1989) are also among the foreign directors whose profiles Stateside increased, in part, through ND/NF.

The 1990s maintained the festival's impressed momentum. It is hard to imagine international cinema without Hong Kong-based filmmaker Wong Kar-wai. The writer-director debuted his second directorial feature, Days of Being Wild, at New Directors/New Films in 1990. Wong has gone on to win international accolades for a dozen films since then including Chungking Express, Happy Together, In the Mood for Love, and My Blueberry Nights. His latest, The Grandmaster opened the recent Berlin International Film Festival.

Richard Linklater's latest, Before Midnight with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, also screened in Berlin last month. But the film that put his name on the indie map, Slacker, screened at ND/NF the same year as Days of Being Wild. Slacker became a near-legendary example of the D.I.Y. filmmaking that has become a rallying cry for filmmakers after the millennium.


Gregg Araki's The Living End (ND/NF 1991). Photo: STRAND/DESPERATE PICTURES / THE KOBAL COLLECTION

In 1991, the festival screened Gregg Araki's The Living End, which debuted at the series. The film would become a keystone of the so-called New Queer Cinema movement, and Araki would go on to make indie hits such as Totally F***ed Up, The Doom Generation, Nowhere and Mysterious Skin, which starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a teenage hustler. Others who became audience favorites during the decade include Darren Aronofsky (Pi, 1998), Gary Burns (Kitchen Party, 1998), Kirby Dick (Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan Supermasochist, 1997), Vincent Gallo (Buffalo '66, 1998), François Ozon (See the Sea, 1998), Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, 1998), Shane Meadows (Twentyfourseven, 1998), Christopher Nolan (Following, 1999), and Mark Polish (Twin Falls Idaho, 1999).

The 2000s brought Jason Reitman to New Directors/New Films with his third short, In God We Trust. Later in the decade, Reitman would win praise for Thank You for Smoking and Juno. Brazilian filmmaker José Padilha debuted his stunning documentary Bus 174 at the festival 2002, alongside Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone's The Embalmer. Garrone is another example of a filmmaker who made the transition from ND/NF to NYFF, where his acclaimed feature Gomorrah screened in 2008. His latest film, Reality, won the Grand Prix at Cannes and began its U.S. theatrical run last weekend.

Michael Cuesta brought his first two features, L.I.E. and Twelve and Holding, to New Directors/New Films. Cuesta has continued to make movies, but has spent most of his time directing for television, including series such as Dexter and Homeland, taking a career path that has become much more commonplace for indie filmmakers in recent years.

Female directors that have debuted work at ND/NF in the 2000s include Kelly Reichert, who screened Old Joy in 2007. She has since made Wendy and Lucy and Meek's Cutoff, which debuted in competition at the 2010 Venice Film Festival. Julia Loktev screened her first project, the short Moment of Impact, in the late 1990s at the event and followed up in 2007 with her narrative feature debut Day Night Day Night. Her latest film, The Loneliest Planet with Gael García Bernal and Hani Furstenberg, appeared in the 2011 New York Film Festival.


Melissa Leo in Courtney Hunt's Frozen River (2008). Photo: FROZEN RIVER PICTURES / THE KOBAL COLLECTION

Documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras bowed The Oath in 2010, while Courtney Hunt's Frozen River (2008) received two Oscar nominations the following year, including Best Original Screenplay for Hunt and Lead Actress for Melissa Leo. Eight features and eight shorts in this year's lineup were directed or co-directed by women.

Actor Ryan Gosling's star power continued its meteoric rise with Ryan Fleck's Half Nelson, which screened at ND/NF in 2006. Gosling received an Oscar nomination for Actor in a Leading Role and a win in the same category at the Independent Spirit Awards.

Québécois filmmaker Xavier Dolan was honored Monday night with a Career Survey event at the Museum of Modern Art. Still in his early 20s, the director-actor is considered one of the most promising emerging artists of his generation. His critically lauded I Killed My Mother screened in 2010 at ND/NF. "I wrote I Killed My Mother because I wasn't getting any acting roles, so I decided to hire myself," Dolan said last night at MoMA.

"Clearly tonight, when we have Xavier back who was at New Directors only three years ago and is already considered an emerging world auteur, and the filmmaker who is considered one of his major inspirations, Pedro Almodóvar, is also a New Directors/New Films alum, [it] just wraps around the impact the event has had over the past 42 years," noted MoMA's Film Department head Rajendra Roy. "We sell it as a festival, but in reality ND/NF is an in-depth survey of what the Film Society of Lincoln Center and MoMA are predicting as talent to watch. It's exciting to be a part of it and it's also daunting… The response we've already had for the opening film, Blue Caprice, for instance, is great. It's so timely and culturally significant."

The New York Premiere of Alexandre Moors's Blue Caprice opens the 42nd New Directors/New Films festival on Wednesday evening. Head to newdirectors.org for the complete lineup, showtimes, and more info. Who knows? You might just find your next favorite filmmaker.