New Directors/New Films 2013

This year’s poster

New Directors/New Films 2013, presented by New York’s Film Society at Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art, opens today with Alexandre Moors’s Blue Caprice and closes on March 31 with Penny Lane‘s Our Nixon. Introducing Slant‘s splendid ND/NF special, Andrew Schenker argues that this year’s edition “presents a slate as deep and diverse as any in recent memory,” showcasing “works from rookie (and near-rookie) filmmakers hailing everywhere from South Korea to the Ivory Coast to Bulgaria and working in fiction, documentary, and, most intriguingly, the area in between the two modes.”

On the other hand, the New York TimesManohla Dargis and A.O. Scott find that “this now largely digital festival can feel padded with titles that seem to have been chosen because they weren’t directed by a European or another white guy. Just as bad, some also seem to have been created with art-film software: Cue the overlong take of someone staring into space. Such movies seem made for programmers, and it’s worth noting that this is the same series that played Steven Spielberg’s Sugarland Express (1974) and George Miller’s Road Warrior (1982). That said, there is much to cheer,” and they present their picks for the first week.

In the Voice, Scott Foundas notes that ND/NF is “a decade older than Sundance and twice the age of Austin’s South by Southwest, both of which have eclipsed their seasonal New York competitor as zeitgeist-y discovery zones for vital new filmmakers. Chalk that up to Lincoln Center and MoMA’s aversion to institutional chest-thumping, but also to ND/NF’s privileging of world cinema above the American indie echo chamber. (This year’s 25-film lineup includes just five U.S. productions.) In short, if you’re looking for a terse Turkish police procedural with political overtones, you’ve come to the right place. The latest Joseph Gordon-Levitt movie? Not so much.”

For more overviews, see Dustin Chang (Twitch), Time Out New York, and Daniel Walber (, who discusses this year’s slate with Peter Labuza in a special hour-long episode of The Cinephiliacs. Meantime, the FSLC’s Brian Brooks looks back on highlights from the previous 41 editions.

“It seemed like a nightmare become real,” wrote Mark Olsen, introducing Blue Caprice to Los Angeles Times readers back in January when the film saw its premiere at Sundance: “a string of random shootings in the Washington, D.C., area in October 2002 that gripped the nation with fear and confusion. That the perpetrators, once captured, turned out to be a former soldier and a teenage boy only made the spree more surreal, more troubling.” Moors, he noted, “is a French-born, New York-based creative director and music video director who recently collaborated on film projects with Kanye West. While researching a different project, he came across a passing reference to John Allen Muhammad (the former soldier) and Lee Boyd Malvo (the teenager) that gave him pause. He was struck by how two people unrelated by blood could so quickly come to adopt one another as father and son and push each other to monstrous action. Though some will want to rope the film into the currently heated debate over gun violence in the media, the film itself resists easy categorization. Working with screenwriter R.F.I. Porto, Moors wanted to create a story that left audiences with more questions than answers.”

“A movie about two black men on a killing spree could go all kinds of wrong,” wrote Wesley Morris in a dispatch from Sundance to Grantland. “But this one operates with a moral chill that doesn’t identify with these two or even gratuitously humanize them. The movie is actually timid about politics. I don’t recall hearing Muhammad’s last name, and there’s no mention of his radicalist embrace and perversion of Islam. Instead, the film creates one of the most chillingly becalmed portraits of insanity I’ve seen. Washington doesn’t rant or rave, but his keel is usually uncomfortably uneven, like a man who doesn’t know that his fly is always down. Richmond might say a dozen words the entire movie, but the way he reroutes his steeliness from self-protective innocence to evil is a kind of silent-movie master class.”

At the AV Club, Sam Adams found Blue Caprice to be “a beautifully shot, sensitively acted drama about the relationship between an abandoned young man and the twisted father figure who takes him in. It’s also, more or less, drivel.” Tomas Hachard, writing for Slant, disagrees, awarding the film 3.5 out of 4 stars: “Part of the film’s slight lag in the middle comes from how thin the reasons for these horrendous acts were. There’s no depth to them, nothing for the film to dig into. But Blue Caprice‘s lasting impact, and the unsettling dread that it creates, derives in part from that very same emptiness.”

“Like In Cold Blood and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Blue Caprice doesn’t beg sympathy for the devil so much as an understanding that goes beyond the simplifications of the evening news,” writes Scott Foundas in the Voice. “Raging against the perceived betrayals of his ex-wife, and of society as a whole, Washington’s Muhammad isn’t a lip-smacking, Lecter-esque psycho, but rather a calculating sociopath assured of the righteousness of his actions.”

More from Zach Baron (Grantland), Justin Chang (Variety), Howard Feinstein (Filmmaker), Eric Kohn (Indiewire), Michael Nordine (Film Threat), and David Rooney (Hollywood Reporter). Interviews with Moors: Jason Guerrasio ( and Indiewire.

Update, 3/21: Brian Brooks interviews Moors for the FSLC.

Update, 3/27: “By putting us at such a clinical remove from its characters,” writes Christopher Bourne in Twitch, “one questions whether the filmmakers have anything to actually tell us about what truly motivates this sort of mass-scale violence. What we are left with is a stylistic exercise which does little to enlighten us or illuminate its subject. However, what cannot be faulted are the impressive performances by Washington and Richmond as the killers.”

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