Fresh visions

Marian Masone talks about this year's New Directors/New Films selection.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

New Directors/New Films opening selection A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night "speaks volumes politically about Iran and other things"
New Directors/New Films opening selection A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night "speaks volumes politically about Iran and other things"
New York's annual showcase of fresh filmmaking talent, New Directors/New Films, kicks off on March 19 with opening night film Ana Lily Amirpour's A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Other highlights include Richard Ayoade's The Double, Hélène Cattet's The Strange Colour Of Your Body's Tears, Albert Serra's Story Of My Death, Jessica Oreck's The Vanquishing Of The Witch Baba Yaga, and closing night portrait of Nick Cave, 20,000 Days on Earth directed by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard.

Marian Masone with Anne-Katrin Titze on New Directors/New Films: "At this point, just about every filmmaker is planning to come"
Marian Masone with Anne-Katrin Titze on New Directors/New Films: "At this point, just about every filmmaker is planning to come" Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Marian Masone, Associate Director of Programming at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, offered insight on filmmakers using a "genre to tell bigger stories", how the idea of what is real continues to evolve, a number of noteworthy films, and the selection process for New Directors/New Films.

Anne-Katrin Titze: I just came from a screening of The Double. You are on the selection committee of the New York Film Festival and on New Directors/New Films. In this case you are working together with another institution, the Museum of Modern Art, and you have the limitation to chose new directors. Tell me about the process.

Marian Masone: It's interesting. Last year was my first year on the New York Film Festival committee. That was a new event for me. Normally, in January I go to Sundance and I go to International Film Festival Rotterdam and I was always specifically looking for New Directors. But this year, I also had to keep my eye on things for the New York Film Festival as well. Until last year, there was only one person on both of those committees, which is Richard Peña. Now all three of us from the Film Society [Gavin Smith, Editor, Film Comment and Senior Programmer and Dennis Lim, Director of Cinematheque Programming] are also on the NYFF committee.

AKT: Do you have different parts of your brain working for each selection?

MM: I start looking for films by newer directors first and then see what happens.

AKT: Everybody has their individual favourites, I am sure. Talk to me about this year's selected films.

MM: A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is just brilliant. How she [Ana Lily Amirpour] used the different genres and tropes to make this thrilling film. It's almost a genre film but also speaks volumes politically about Iran and other things.

AKT: You all agreed that this would make for a good opening film?

MM: We all agreed. The opening night film is different for New Directors. We never look for world premieres we just look for what will speak to what New Directors is this year. There are quite a lot of genre films this year which is kind of interesting. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night does speak to a turn in ND/NF, in what we're finding and what would make a good program.

AKT: What are the other films in the genre category?

 "There are homages" in The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears
"There are homages" in The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears
MM: There's The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears. These are filmmakers [Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani] whose first film Amer we had in New Directors in 2010. Again, it's like Italian horror movies and things like that. And then there's Babadook, which is an Australian film, a kind of psychological horror movie. There really are a lot of films that use this genre. History Of Fear might be considered in that.

AKT: Do you have any explanation or speculation why this is so prominent right now?

MM: You know, I don't. It's filmmakers looking at genre to tell bigger stories, which is also a classic way of making movies. Many of them look like horror movies or thrillers but they're not copying things. In The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears there are homages.

AKT: To whom, for example?

MM: Dario Argento, that sort of thing.

AKT: Take vampires, for example. On the one hand, it has been done to death, or rather, sucked dry, in the past years with the Twilight franchise. On the other hand, there are thrilling fresh takes on it. I am thinking of Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive or of Neil Jordan's undeservedly often overlooked Byzantium from last year. Now your opening night film puts a girl vampire on a skateboard, wearing a chador, with thick eyeliner and Marinière top.

Story of My Death "is like a tussle between Casanova and Dracula"
Story of My Death "is like a tussle between Casanova and Dracula"
MM: Exactly. Even Albert Serra with Story of My Death is like a tussle between Casanova and Dracula. I mean, he does wild things beyond that. But for me A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night has this stunning image, all black and white and the girl in jeans and her striped T-shirt but she got the Chador on - on a skateboard in the middle of the night. It's fascinating.

AKT: The T-shirt as the Iranian vampire homage to the Nouvelle Vague.

MM: Exactly. Get your copy of The Herald Tribune!

AKT: I don't think I've seen a programme with more animal titles than this one. You have a zoo here. There's Buzzard, Fish And Cat, Japanese Dog, Mouton, Of Horses And Men, and The Strange Little Cat.

MM: That is so funny! That is hysterical. Some years we have incredibly similar titles. This didn't even occur to me. I have to say, it's a total coincidence.

AKT: No intentions of an ark?

MM: No ark. In Buzzard, I do not believe there are any buzzards in it actually. There is a cat in The Strange Little Cat. But I think Of Horses And Men is the only one with animals in a leading role. Mouton actually is a character's name. Fish And Cat is a brilliantly rendered story that you think is a genre film but it is an Iranian take. We're hoping that the director [Shahram Mokri] will actually be able to get here. We'll see if he can get a visa.

AKT: Do you expect all the filmmakers to attend?

MM: At this point, just about every filmmaker is planning to come.

AKT: A film I liked very much is The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga. A beautiful provoking work.

The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga "We loved not just the story that she tells but the way she tells it, the visuals of it"
The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga "We loved not just the story that she tells but the way she tells it, the visuals of it"
MM: Isn't it beautiful? We loved not just the story that Oreck tells but the way she tells it, the visuals of it. Looking at her work and the Bens' [Ben Rivers and Ben Russell] A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness - a lot of times people expect straight narrative or straight documentary. Of course these films belong in ND/NF because this is great filmmaking.

AKT: Hubert Sauper's We Come As Friends is another great unclassifiable work.

MM: We showed Sauper's Darwin's Nightmare at ND/NF four years ago. He really takes on all those people raping Africa. Missionaries but also big business etc., all under the guise of helping out.

AKT: It's a very courageous film.

MM: It's very courageous. He has sort of become a part of the story, building this plane, this thing that he does to get into this world. He is in there. I believe he is planning to make at least one more film about this, all through Africa to show the reality.

We Come As Friends "He really takes on all those people raping Africa"
We Come As Friends "He really takes on all those people raping Africa"
AKT: It's the perspective, also. He lets you judge. I did not feel manipulated about very serious issues. He is dealing with life and death here. He shows people who might have good intentions of helping and when you see them do the helping you become even more frightened.

MM: Yeah, these are supposedly the good guys? It's documentary and not fiction, so it's interesting, the way that he inserts himself in there. I wouldn't call it a hybrid film. Stop the Pounding Heart is a fiction film but it uses people with their real names, sort of playing themselves but not really. That's another thing we've been seeing for years now, actually. This idea of what is real? What is not real? What do you call the people in these films? They're not characters. They're real people. And subject is such a weird word. Now people are starting to call them "social actors".

AKT: Your closing night film 20,000 Days on Earth shows us the "character" Nick Cave in a mix of documentary rehearsals and staged therapy sessions.

MM: It's like staging scenes with Nick Cave. They're not writing dialogue. They [Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard] are doing their own thing. They made up the whole scenario, if you will. They set up a scene but he is talking as himself.

AKT: Your centerpiece film Obvious Child will be shown at MoMA PS1?

MM: Yes, this is the second year at PS1. Obvious Child is actually an incredible choice to do at PS1 because I think it was shot around the corner, somewhere in Queens or Williamsburg, or Greenpoint. It's very local. Talking of genre, it's a romantic comedy. How many romantic comedies have we ever shown at New Directors? Jenny Slate is actually a comedian. A lot of it is wicked bad girl humor.

In part two on this year's New Directors/New Films, I speak with longtime selection committee member MoMA Department of Film Curator Jytte Jensen.

Read our interview with Jessica Oreck about The Vanquishing Of The Witch Baba Yaga here.

Film Society of Lincoln Center and The Museum of Modern Art's 43rd New Directors/New Films festival runs from March 19–30, 2014, read reviews from the festival here. For more information about tickets, visit the official site.

20,000 Days on Earth "It's like staging scenes with Nick Cave"
20,000 Days on Earth "It's like staging scenes with Nick Cave" Photo: Amelia Troubridge

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