New Directors New Films 2020’s Introductory Notes on Boys State: Filmmakers Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine closely track the escalating tensions that arise within a particularly riveting gubernatorial race, training their cameras on unforgettable teenagers like Ben, a Reagan-loving arch-conservative who brims with confidence despite personal setbacks, and Steven, a progressive-minded child of Mexican immigrants who stands by his convictions amidst the sea of red. In the process, they have created a complex portrait of contemporary American masculinity, as well as a microcosm of our often dispiriting national political divisions that nevertheless manages to plant seeds of hope.
New Directors New Films 2020’s Introductory Notes on Anne at 13,000 Ft: Here, the nimble Canadian filmmaker forces viewers to dive headlong into the daily struggles of Anne, a young daycare worker in Toronto whose seemingly steady life gives way to increasing anxiety and recklessness, her unpredictable behavior coinciding with a burgeoning romance with a well-meaning guy (Matt Johnson) wholly unprepared for her quarter-life crisis. Like John Cassavetes, Radwanski risks putting us in close proximity with a character we may bristle at, but the result is a cleansing emotional experience that coaxes our compassion.
New Directors New Films 2020’s Introductory Notes on Dwelling the Fuchun Mountains: Taking its title from a renowned 14th Chinese scroll painting by Huang Gongwang, this debut feature from Gu Xiaogang is a panoramic evocation of one year in the life of a provincial family. In tribute to its artistic inspiration, the film often presents its action from a quiet distance, the camera lyrically moving across the frame as its central characters—the members of the sprawling Yu family, overseen by an aging matriarch (Du Hongjun), whose birthday celebration opens the film—deal with business and romantic entanglements, financial debts and work struggles. All the while the seasons inexorably change. Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains was shot over the course of two years, and is the first in a declared trilogy of films about life along the Yangtze River—a first-time filmmaker’s labor of love that’s as accomplished as it is ambitious.
New Directors New Films 2020’s Introductory Notes on The Killing of Two Lovers: An evocative and atmospheric transmission from wintry Utah, The Killing of Two Lovers is a compact, economical portrait of a husband and father trying to keep it together while seething with rage during a trial separation from his wife. An interior drama set mostly outside, on the vast, lonely street where David (a knockout Clayne Crawford) stays with his ailing father just a few doors up from his wife Niki (Sepideh Moafi) and their four kids, Machoian’s film compassionately depicts a family in crisis, while moving at the ominous pace of a thriller. A complex, brooding soundscape from Peter Albrechtsen that seems to emanate directly from the head of its disturbed protagonist, and a claustrophobic aspect ratio contribute to the powerful emotional register of this impressive new work of American independent cinema.
New Directors New Films 2020’s Introductory Notes on The Metamorphosis of Birds: A highly unorthodox documentary that has the feel of a precious heirloom, this impressionistic yet emotionally rich film finds Portuguese filmmaker Catarina Vasconcelos sifting through the memories and dreams of her ancestors. In prismatic images, richly shot on 16mm film, we get the sense of a family’s entire lineage, starting with her naval officer grandfather, Henrique, who married her grandmother, Beatriz, on her 21st birthday; he then spent extended periods at sea, leaving her with an expanding brood of children. This is the beginning of a generational saga, told in shards of memory and voiceover. The Metamorphosis of Birds achingly evokes the natural world—the changing seasons, the play of sunlight, the ever-flowing tides, and the plant and animal life—that counterbalances and nurtures human life cycles.