New Discoveries & Innovative Cinema at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival | FirstShowing.net

New Discoveries & Innovative Cinema at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival

by Alex Billington
May 15, 2024

Another year, another Cannes Film Festival. The 77th Festival International du Film de Cannes has begun this week in the South of France in the lovely beach city of Cannes on the Mediterranean coast. We’re back again, along with thousands (and thousands) of film critics, journalists, cinephiles, industry members, filmmakers, students, and more. Cannes remains the BIGGEST film festival in the world, not only with the most prestigious line-up and the most attendees. It’s always an exciting time, just to be here in the midst of it all. In the weeks leading up to Cannes, it’s particularity challenging to gauge whether everyone is actually excited about coming back, or if there’s some other controversy or snag that will disrupt the festival… With its pandemic years now in the rear-view, Cannes is powering forward with another full-on, fireworks-filled two week celebration of the power of cinema. Artistic director Thierry Frémaux also stated during the announcement of the official selection that due to the strikes in Hollywood last year, there are not as many American films, but there are plenty of other new discoveries and surprises ready to shine on the big screen.

Every year when I return to Cannes (or Venice or Sundance) I always wonder, is it still possible to innovate anymore in cinema? With limitations on production, budgetary problems, changes in the industry, many major crises around the world, can cinema still remain relevant and reinvent what visual art can be? Yes, of course! Cannes is the place to be in May every year because they still have the power to program and screen some of the best films that really are innovative & exhilarating. Of course, they’re showing George Miller’s Furiosa and Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis, two new creations made by Cannes veterans already well known as masterminds of cinema. Yet here they are, returning again decades later to the Croisette, still challenging cinema as we know it with movies that are visually stunning and hard to pull off. It’s important to be in Cannes because it’s the right place to be to get a first look at all this fresh new cinema. Maybe that small film from India might be the most innovative creation? Maybe some other film from no one expected to matter will blow us all away? Better to be here now and find out before any of the marketing kicks in, to go in with an open mind and hope Cannes has brought some truly great filmmakers from around the world.

There’s an interesting quote in a very dour Cannes postmortem article published by Roger Ebert in 2010. He ends his wrap-up saying: “I’ve been to 35 festivals in Cannes. I’ll tell you the truth. I doubt if there will even be a Cannes Film Festival in another 35 years. If there is, it will have little to do with the kinds of films and audiences we grew up treasuring. More and more, I’m feeling it’s goodbye to all that.” Well, first things first, it’s 14 years later and Cannes is still going strong. However, he does bring up a good point – is Cannes moving in a good direction, are they still playing these kind of films that “we grew up treasuring”? Or have they drifted off course? Everyone seems to have a different answer. One thing is for sure – there’s absolutely way too much French control over Cannes these days, with the country’s films dominating the line-up but also everything else about how the festival runs (e.g. no Netflix films because of archaic, oppressive laws about films playing in cinemas in France). However, I do believe that Cannes does still make its mark by having first dibs on incredible movies and giving them a chance to reach audiences by showing them to the huge number of attendees these two weeks. I do hope they don’t drift too far off course in the next decade…

In terms of my most anticipated films at Cannes 2024, aside from Furiosa and Megalopolis, there’s a handful of others I cannot wait to watch. I have high hopes for the two big horror films in the competition line-up: David Cronenberg’s The Shrouds (teaser trailer here) and Coralie Fargeat’s The Substance. I’m always looking forward to animation in Cannes, including Claude Barras’s Sauvages, Yôko Kuno & Nobuhiro Yamashita’s Ghost Cat Anzu (teaser trailer here), Michel Hazanavicius’ The Most Precious of Cargoes, and Gints Zilbalodis’ Flow. As a big fan of her 2017 film I Am Not a Witch, I’m excited to watch Rungano Nyoni’s On Becoming a Guinea Fowl. I’ve also got a really good feeling about all of these films playing at the festival this year: Jacques Audiard’s Emilia Perez, Zhangke Jia’s Caught by the Tides, Ali Abbasi’s The Apprentice, Mohammad Rasoulof’s The Seed of the Sacred Fig, Payal Kapadia’s All We Imagine as Light (teaser trailer here), Sean Baker’s Anora, and Paolo Sorrentino’s Parthenope (which was already picked up by A24). The rest we’ll have to wait and see and find out if they’re any good (or not).

I invite you to please follow along as I make my way from screening to screening at #Cannes2024, watching films from all kinds of different countries, catching up with friends and colleagues. And please make sure to follow updates, read reviews, and keep an eye on all of the film critics / journalists in Cannes this year. One thing I love about this festival is that it brings us all together! We fly in to be here at the same time. There’s different voices, different takes, different kinds of coverage, different reviews, always more to read, always more to consider. As strange as it is to say this out loud, I do love arguing about films here! Sometimes it’s fun to have a healthy debate, sometimes it’s fun to disagree about a new film, sometime it’s interesting to think about what someone else saw in a film, and how their interpretation is different (or similar). Festivals should always be about this kind of intriguing discussion, encouraging a vivacious discourse, where any/all voices can participate in the conversation about cinema. Thankfully the Cannes Film Festival is a beautiful place where conversations happen on every street, in bars, in restaurants, in apartments, and yes even in queues for the next screening. I’m ready to start watching, dedicating myself fully to two full weeks of films.

You can follow all of my Cannes 2024 coverage and reviews right here and on my Letterboxd with ratings and thoughts posted daily. I’m also still on Twitter @firstshowing. The festival begins on May 14th and runs until May 25th, and I’ll be watching as much as I can while the films are still playing on the screens in town.

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2024 Indie Spirit Awards: ‘Past Lives’ Wins Best Film & Best Director | FirstShowing.net

2024 Indie Spirit Awards: ‘Past Lives’ Wins Best Film & Best Director

by Alex Billington
February 26, 2024
Source: Film Independent

The Independent Spirit Awards are an annual award given in the name of independent film, featuring all of the indie films which deserve honor and recognition – celebrating their 39th year. The 2024 winners of the Spirit Awards were announced Saturday evening, in their usual spot in Santa Monica near the beach – this time just a week before the Oscars. The big winner this year is the beloved Past Lives, taking both Best Film and Best Director (Celine Song also won a DGA Award for Best First Feature). The other nominations from all the 2023 releases included many outstanding indie films many cinephiles have been talking up all year, deserving of some extra time in the spotlight – gems like May December, American Fiction, Passages, Earth Mama, All of Us Strangers, Theater Camp, BlackBerry, and The Starling Girl. As usual, there are a few surprises: I’ve never heard of Chronicles of a Wandering Saint (an Argentinian film titled Crónicas de una Santa Errante in Spanish) or Upon Entry before their nominations; We Grown Now (watch the trailer) and Mountains haven’t been released yet. Still worth a watch whenever they come your way. Full list below.

You’ll notice an [IMDb] link next to each film. This is so you can discover great new films, because there is guaranteed to be at least one film you’ve never heard of in here. Read on for a complete list of nominees and winners from the 39th Independent Spirit Awards. Winners from each category are designated in BOLD.

BEST FEATURE
All of Us Strangers [IMDb]
American Fiction [IMDb]
May December [IMDb]
Passages [IMDb]
Past Lives [IMDb]
We Grown Now [IMDb]

BEST FIRST FEATURE
All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt [IMDb]
Chronicles of a Wandering Saint [IMDb]
Earth Mama [IMDb]
A Thousand and One [IMDb]
Upon Entry [IMDb]

BEST DIRECTOR
Andrew Haigh – All of Us Strangers [IMDb]
Todd Haynes – May December [IMDb]
William Oldroyd – Eileen [IMDb]
Celine Song – Past Lives [IMDb]
Ira Sachs – Passages [IMDb]

BEST LEAD PERFORMANCE
Jessica Chastain – Memory [IMDb]
Greta Lee – Past Lives [IMDb]
Trace Lysette – Monica [IMDb]
Natalie Portman – May December [IMDb]
Judy Reyes – Birth/Rebirth [IMDb]
Franz Rogowski – Passages [IMDb]
Andrew Scott – All of Us Strangers [IMDb]
Teyana Taylor – A Thousand and One [IMDb]
Jeffrey Wright – American Fiction [IMDb]
Teo Yoo – Past Lives [IMDb]

BEST SUPPORTING PERFORMANCE
Erika Alexander – American Fiction [IMDb]
Sterling K. Brown – American Fiction [IMDb]
Noah Galvin – Theater Camp [IMDb]
Anne Hathaway – Eileen [IMDb]
Glenn Howerton – BlackBerry [IMDb]
Marin Ireland – Eileen [IMDb]
Charles Melton – May December [IMDb]
Da’Vine Joy Randolph – The Holdovers [IMDb]
Catalina Saavedra – Rotting in the Sun [IMDb]
Ben Whishaw – Passages [IMDb]

Best Breakthrough Performance
Marshawn Lynch – Bottoms [IMDb]
Atibon Nazaire – Mountains [IMDb]
Tia Nomore – Earth Mama [IMDb]
Dominic Sessa – The Holdovers [IMDb]
Anaita Wali Zada – Fremont [IMDb]

BEST SCREENPLAY
Cord Jefferson – American Fiction [IMDb]
Laura Moss & Brendan J. O’Brien – Birth/Rebirth [IMDb]
Emma Seligman & Rachel Sennott – Bottoms [IMDb]
David Hemingson – The Holdovers [IMDb]
Celine Song – Past Lives [IMDb]

BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY
Tomás Gómez Bustillo – Chronicles of a Wandering Saint [IMDb]
Samy Burch – May December [IMDb]
Laurel Parmet – The Starling Girl [IMDb]
Noah Galvin, Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman, Ben Platt – Theater Camp [IMDb]
Alejandro Rojas & Juan Sebastián Vásquez – Upon Entry [IMDb]

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Jomo Fray – All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt [IMDb]
Pablo Lozano – Chronicles of a Wandering Saint [IMDb]
Eigil Bryld – The Holdovers [IMDb]
Katelin Arizmendi – Monica [IMDb]
Pat Scola – We Grown Now [IMDb]

BEST EDITING
Daniel Garber – How to Blow Up a Pipeline [IMDb]
Santiago Cendejas, Gabriel Díaz, Sofía Subercaseaux – Rotting in the Sun [IMDb]
Jon Philpot – Theater Camp [IMDb]
Emanuele Tiziani – Upon Entry [IMDb]
Stephanie Filo – We Grown Now [IMDb]

BEST DOCUMENTARY
Bye Bye Tiberias [IMDb]
Four Daughters [IMDb]
Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project [IMDb]
Kokomo City [IMDb]
The Mother of All Lies [IMDb]

BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM
Anatomy of a Fall (France) [IMDb]
Godland (Denmark/Iceland) [IMDb]
Mami Wata (Nigeria) [IMDb]
Tótem (Mexico) [IMDb]
The Zone of Interest (United Kingdom/Poland/United States) [IMDb]

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD
Best feature made for less than $1,000,000.
The Artifice Girl [IMDb]
Cadejo Blanco [IMDb]
Fremont [IMDb]
Rotting in the Sun [IMDb]
The Unknown Country [IMDb]

ROBERT ALTMAN AWARD
Showing Up – Kelly Reichardt [IMDb]
Ensemble Cast: André Benjamin, Hong Chau, Judd Hirsch, Heather Lawless, James Le Gros, John Magaro, Matt Malloy, Amanda Plummer, Maryann Plunkett, Denzel Rodriguez, Michelle Williams

SOMEONE TO WATCH AWARD
Monica Sorrelle – Co-Writer / Director of Mountains [IMDb]

TRUER THAN FICTION AWARD
Set Hernandez for Unseen [IMDb]

And that’s that! For last year’s list of nominees and winners, which was dominated by The Daniels’ brilliant multiverse movie Everything Everywhere All at Once winning 7 awards in total – click here. This year’s set of nominees for the Indie Spirits include an impressive and diverse selection of some of the best indie films and talented filmmakers out there – every last one of these films is worth a watch. The Indie Spirits are always a breath of fresh air in the awards season, with so many great films getting some extra attention. This year it’s nice to see something different from the Oscars, as I don’t think Past Lives will win anything there. It deserves to win! I adore this film! But I’m glad to see Indie Spirit Awards going to so many smaller films, and favorites like American Fiction and A Thousand and One. I’m also especially happy to see How to Blow Up a Pipeline winning something during the awards season – this rebellious eco-punk film totally rocks, and I hope this attention might get a few more people to watch it. Keep an eye out for the documentaries listed as noms, all of them deserve to be seen. Always some excellent films in these nominations to catch up with.

For more: SpiritAwards.com. A big indie congratulations to all of 2024’s winners & nominees!

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Berlinale 2024 Begins – What Will the Big Discoveries Be This Year? | FirstShowing.net

Berlinale 2024 Begins – What Will the Big Discoveries Be This Year?

by Alex Billington
February 15, 2024

Wir sind wieder da für mehr Kino. The 2024 Berlin Film Festival, known locally as Berlinale celebrating its 74th year, kicks off today in the capital city of Germany. With every year, the festival continues to fade further & further into irrelevance (read my report from last year), with an unimpressive line-up and staunch refusal to make any changes to the way the festival runs. Most major film festivals nowadays need to evolve, adapt, update and improve in so many ways right now. Berlinale is one of the most defiant, standing firm in its badly positioned slot in February (right after Sundance, and just before SXSW & Cannes) focusing on so many bleak and boring films. Not much ever makes it out of his festival anymore… Much like Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, Berlinale is becoming a fest where films go to be forgotten, where they have one big premiere and then are never get talked about again. Many of my colleagues get really grumpy when they hear me say this, but it’s how I feel about this festival and their film selection. But I am always watching new films anyway – hoping for a few discoveries. There’s always a few surprises to be found in any fest’s line-up.

As a participant in film criticism, I do believe it’s important to always be honest and clear when offering criticism – including criticizing a festival and the films they program. Berlinale is a big festival with a big ego that has lost its way, though they do try every year to feature some good films. And I’m happy to encounter them! I do want this festival to program better films again. At the 2023 Berlin Film Festival last year, there were a handful of stand-out discoveries from the selection: Femme (watch the trailer) which opens soon in the US; The Teacher’s Lounge (watch the trailer) which ended up being nominated for an Oscar this year – rightfully so; Samsara (watch the trailer) which many cinephiles describe as an incomparable cinematic experience, Tótem (watch the trailer) one of the best films about family from Mexico; BlackBerry (watch the trailer) the amusing Canadian tech story with Jay Baruchel & Glenn Howerton, and Past Lives (which really is a Sundance film anyway). I’d also name Kiss the Future, the U2 + Sarajevo doc that I really loved (watch the trailer), but my press screening of this was entirely empty (it literally was only me and one other guy) and no one else has talked about it since then. Sadly another (good but) forgotten film from Berlinale…

So what will be the worthwhile discoveries from the 2024 festival? Will there at least be another 3 or 4 great films playing here? Much of the Berlinale 2024 is filled with plenty of Sundance discoveries (and a few from 2023 festivals as well), which is what I recommended in my article from last year anyway. Bring in good films even if they aren’t world premieres! My favorite film from Sundance 2024, The Outrun, is also in the Berlinale line-up. Along with other important Sundance premieres including A Different Man, Love Lies Bleeding, Sasquatch Sunset (watch the trailer), Between the Temples, I Saw the TV Glow, Brief History of a Family, and Reinas. All of these are good films and I am glad they’re showing up at both fests. In the “weird” realm, I’m curious about The Box Man, and Cuckoo (a new supernatural film from the German director of Luz previously). There’s also this very strange Netflix sci-fi film Spaceman starring Adam Sandler and a giant space spider voiced by Paul Dano. Sure, why not. In the Main Competition, Black Tea (watch the trailer) and La Cocina are high on the list of my most anticipated premieres to see. Pepe, the film about a hippopotamus, also sounds like good fun. As usual, the best discoveries are often surprises.

Despite my frustration with this festival and its bland selection the past few years, there are some films that I am happy to have discovered here. Some of my other favorite films from the last few years include Mogul Mowgli with Riz Ahmed, the exhilarating Jóhann Jóhannsson documentary feature Last and First Men, the German family drama System Crasher (from the same director as The Outrun), the Chilly Gonzales music biopic doc Shut Up and Play the Piano, the Norwegian comedy Ninjababy, and the super sweet Language Lessons with Mark Duplass and Natalie Morales (here’s my interview with the two of them). I just really miss the days when films like Snowpiercer and The Grand Budapest Hotel were premiering at Berlinale. But those days are over, that era of this festival is long gone. Next year, a brand new director will be taking over Berlinale – the former head of the London Film Festival, named Tricia Tuttle, will begin her next era running this fest instead. What changes will she make? Or will she not change anything? How will she steer this ship through troubled waters? Only time will tell… The festival doesn’t need to show big Hollywood movies, that isn’t the right choice either, but it does need to figure out how to be relevant again.

For now – it’s time to start watching while keeping an eye on the festival buzz. The best part about Berlinale is how accessible & open this festival is. Anyone can buy tickets for screenings in the city at various cinema venues all over. They borrow many of the city’s best movie theaters (Zoo Palast 1, Cinemaxx, Colosseum) to show festival films during these two weeks and they encourage locals to buy some tickets to see something interesting & different. This is what makes Berlinale great! It’s a festival for everyone! The tickets are still affordable (15€ for most, 18€ for Palast premieres – more info here) so that you can wander in to something that might just blow your mind. Or it might bore you so much you get a nice nap. You never know! I’ve been to both of these kind of films at the festival, and I’ve experienced everything here: empty cinemas, sold out shows, snoring audience members, rapturous crowds. It’s what makes big city festivals so much fun. My goal as a cinephile is still the same: be on the lookout for the best of the best – the real breakouts, go to as many interesting screenings as I can, and engage in conversations with colleagues as much as possible. Viel Spaß.

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Sundance 2024 Awards: ‘In The Summers’ & ‘Porcelain War’ Top Films | FirstShowing.net

Sundance 2024 Awards: ‘In The Summers’ & ‘Porcelain War’ Top Films

by Alex Billington
January 26, 2024
Source: Sundance.org

The official awards for the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, held in Park City, Utah every January, were announced this morning with a small ceremony held in person in Utah. This always marks the end of the fest, with a few days of screenings left. The festival played on this week with an at-home online series of viewings in addition to all the in-person premieres. It was a fairly impressive year, with a handful of terrific films, along with plenty of duds as well – and a smaller line-up with only around 92 new films premiering (compared to over 100 last year). The main winners for 2024 include In the Summers, taking home Grand Jury Prize & Directing Award; along with Sean Wang’s Dìdi (弟弟) winning the coveted Audience Award and a U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Ensemble. In addition, the festival favorite is the documentary titled Daughters, playing in the U.S. Doc competition section. As always, if any of these films interest you, we hope you note them down and catch up with them as soon as you can. All the main 2024 winners below.

Here’s the full announcement of winners with synopsis next to each. The 2024 festival is wrapping up soon.

2024 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL JURY AWARDS:

The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic was presented to In The Summers / U.S.A. (Director & Screenwriter: Alessandra Lacorazza, Producers: Alexander Dinelaris, Rob Quadrino, Fernando Rodriguez-Vila, Lynette Coll, Sergio Lira, Cristóbal Güell) — On a journey that spans the formative years of their lives, two sisters navigate their loving but volatile father during their yearly summer visits to his home in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Cast: René Pérez Joglar, Sasha Calle, Lío Mehiel, Leslie Grace, Emma Ramos, Sharlene Cruz.

The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was presented to Porcelain War / U.S.A., Ukraine (Director & Screenwriter: Brendan Bellomo, Director: Slava Leontyev, Producers and Screenwriters: Aniela Sidorska, Paula DuPré Pesmen, Producers: Camilla Mazzaferro, Olivia Ahnemann) — Under roaring fighter jets and missile strikes, Ukrainian artists Slava, Anya, and Andrey choose to stay behind and fight, contending with the soldiers they have become. Defiantly finding beauty amid destruction, they show that although it’s easy to make people afraid, it’s hard to destroy their passion for living.

The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic was presented to Sujo / Mexico, U.S.A., France (Directors, Screenwriters, & Producers: Astrid Rondero, Fernanda Valadez, Producers: Diana Arcega, Jewerl Keats Ross, Virginie Devesa, Jean-Baptiste Bailly-Maitre) — When a cartel gunman is killed, he leaves behind Sujo, his beloved 4-year-old son. The shadow of violence surrounds Sujo during each stage of his life in the isolated Mexican countryside. As he grows into a man, Sujo finds that fulfilling his father’s destiny may be inescapable. Cast: Juan Jesús Varela, Yadira Pérez, Alexis Varela, Sandra Lorenzano, Jairo Hernández, Kevin Aguilar.

The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was presented to A New Kind of Wilderness / Norway (Director: Silje Evensmo Jacobsen, Producer: Mari Bakke Riise) — In a forest in Norway, a family lives an isolated lifestyle in an attempt to be wild and free, but a tragic event changes everything, and they are forced to adjust to modern society.

The Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic was presented to Alessandra Lacorazza for In The Summers / U.S.A. (Director & Screenwriter: Alessandra Lacorazza, Producers: Alexander Dinelaris, Rob Quadrino, Fernando Rodriguez-Vila, Lynette Coll, Sergio Lira, Cristóbal Güell) — On a journey that spans the formative years of their lives, two sisters navigate their loving but volatile father during their yearly summer visits to his home in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Cast: René Pérez Joglar, Sasha Calle, Lío Mehiel, Leslie Grace, Emma Ramos, Sharlene Cruz.

The Directing Award: U.S. Documentary was presented to Julian Brave NoiseCat & Emily Kassie for Sugarcane / U.S.A., Canada (Director: Julian Brave NoiseCat, Director & Producer: Emily Kassie, Producer: Kellen Quinn) — An investigation into abuse and missing children at an Indian residential school ignites a reckoning on the nearby Sugarcane Reserve.

The Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic was presented to Raha Amirfazli & Alireza Ghasemi for In The Land Of Brothers / Iran, France, Netherlands (Directors, Screenwriters, & Producers: Raha Amirfazli, Alireza Ghasemi, Producers: Adrien Barrouillet, Frank Hoeve, Charles Meresse, Emma Binet, Arya Ghamavian) — Three members of an extended Afghan family start their lives over in Iran as refugees, unaware they face a decades-long struggle ahead to be “at home.” Cast: Hamideh Jafari, Bashir Nikzad, Mohammad Hosseini.

The Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary was presented to Benjamin Ree for Ibelin / Norway (Director: Benjamin Ree, Producer: Ingvil Giske) — Mats Steen, a Norwegian gamer, died of a degenerative muscular disease at the age of 25. His parents mourned what they thought had been a lonely and isolated life, when they started receiving messages from online friends around the world.

The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic was presented to Jesse Eisenberg for A Real Pain / U.S.A., Poland (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Jesse Eisenberg, Producers: Dave McCary, Ali Herting, Emma Stone, Jennifer Semler, Ewa Puszczyńska) — Mismatched cousins David and Benji reunite for a tour through Poland to honor their beloved grandmother. The adventure takes a turn when the pair’s old tensions resurface against the backdrop of their family history. Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kieran Culkin, Will Sharpe, Jennifer Grey, Kurt Egyiawan.

The Jonathan Oppenheim Editing Award: U.S. Documentary was presented to Carla Gutiérrez for Frida / U.S.A., Mexico (Director: Carla Gutiérrez, Producers: Katia Maguire, Sara Bernstein, Justin Wilkes, Loren Hammonds, Alexandra Johnes) — An intimately raw and magical journey through the life, mind, and heart of iconic artist Frida Kahlo. Told through her own words for the very first time — drawn from her diary, revealing letters, essays, and print interviews — and brought vividly to life by lyrical animation inspired by her unforgettable artwork.

A U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award: Ensemble was presented to the cast of Dìdi (弟弟) / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Sean Wang, Producers: Carlos López Estrada, Josh Peters, Valerie Bush) — In 2008, during the last month of summer before high school begins, an impressionable 13-year-old Taiwanese American boy learns what his family can’t teach him: how to skate, how to flirt, and how to love your mom. Cast: Izaac Wang, Joan Chen, Shirley Chen, Chang Li Hua.

A U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Performance was presented to Nico Parker for Suncoast / U.S.A. (Director & Screenwriter: Laura Chinn, Producers: Jeremy Plager, Francesca Silvestri, Kevin Chinoy, Oly Obst) — A teenager who, while caring for her brother along with her audacious mother, strikes up an unlikely friendship with an eccentric activist who is protesting one of the most landmark medical cases of all time. Inspired by a semi-autobiographical story.

A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Sound was presented to Gaucho Gaucho / U.S.A., Argentina (Directors & Producers: Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw, Producers: Cameron O’Reilly, Christos V. Konstantakopoulos, Matthew Perniciaro) — A celebration of a community of Argentine cowboys and cowgirls, known as Gauchos, living beyond the boundaries of the modern world.

A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for the Art of Change was presented to Union / U.S.A. (Directors: Stephen Maing, Brett Story, Producers: Samantha Curley, Mars Verrone) — The Amazon Labor Union (ALU) — a group of current and former Amazon workers in New York City’s Staten Island — takes on one of the world’s largest and most powerful companies in the fight to unionize.

The NEXT Innovator Award presented by Adobe was presented to Little Death / U.S.A. (Director & Screenwriter: Jack Begert, Screenwriter: Dani Goffstein, Producers: Darren Aronofsky, Andy S. Cohen, Dylan Golden, Brendan Naylor, Sam Canter, Noor Alfallah) — A middle-aged filmmaker on the verge of a breakthrough. Two kids in search of a lost backpack. A small dog a long way from home. Cast: David Schwimmer, Gaby Hoffmann, Dominic Fike, Talia Ryder, Jena Malone, Sante Bentivoglio.

2024 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL AUDIENCE AWARDS:

The Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic, Presented by Acura was awarded to Dìdi (弟弟) / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Sean Wang, Producers: Carlos López Estrada, Josh Peters, Valerie Bush) — In 2008, during the last month of summer before high school begins, an impressionable 13-year-old Taiwanese American boy learns what his family can’t teach him: how to skate, how to flirt, and how to love your mom. Cast: Izaac Wang, Joan Chen, Shirley Chen, Chang Li Hua.

The Audience Award: U.S. Documentary, Presented by Acura was awarded to Daughters / U.S.A. (Directors: Angela Patton, Natalie Rae, Producers: Lisa Mazzotta, Justin Benoliel, Mindy Goldberg, Sam Bisbee, Kathryn Everett, Laura Choi Raycroft) — Four young girls prepare for a special Daddy Daughter Dance with their incarcerated fathers, as part of a unique fatherhood program in a Washington, D.C., jail.

The Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic, Presented by United Airlines was awarded to Girls Will Be Girls / India, France, Norway (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Shuchi Talati, Producers: Richa Chadha, Claire Chassagne) — In a strict boarding school nestled in the Himalayas, 16-year-old Mira discovers desire and romance. But her sexual, rebellious awakening is disrupted by her mother who never got to come of age herself. Cast: Preeti Panigrahi, Kani Kusruti, Kesav Binoy Kiron.

The Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary, Presented by United Airlines was awarded to Ibelin / Norway (Director: Benjamin Ree, Producer: Ingvil Giske) — Mats Steen, a Norwegian gamer, died of a degenerative muscular disease at the age of 25. His parents mourned what they thought had been a lonely and isolated life, when they started receiving messages from online friends around the world.

The Audience Award: NEXT, Presented by Adobe was awarded to Kneecap / Ireland, U.K. (Director & Screenwriter: Rich Peppiatt, Producers: Jack Tarling, Trevor Birney) — There are 80,000 native Irish speakers in Ireland. 6,000 live in the North of Ireland. Three of them became a rap group called Kneecap. This anarchic Belfast trio becomes the unlikely figurehead of a civil rights movement to save the mother tongue. Cast: Liam Óg Ó hAnnaidh, Naoise Ó Cairealláin, JJ Ó Dochartaigh, Michael Fassbender, Josie Walker, Simone Kirby).

Selected by audience votes from the feature films that screened at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, the Festival Favorite Award was presented to Daughters / U.S.A. (Directors: Angela Patton, Natalie Rae, Producers: Lisa Mazzotta, Justin Benoliel, Mindy Goldberg, Sam Bisbee, Kathryn Everett, Laura Choi Raycroft) — Four young girls prepare for a special Daddy Daughter Dance with their incarcerated fathers, as part of a unique fatherhood program in a Washington, D.C., jail.

Congrats to all of 2024’s winners! Keep an eye on all these films, catch them when they show in your area. My personal pick for Grand Jury Prize would’ve been Jesse Eisenberg’s A Real Pain (read my review), which impressed me the most out of any of the films I saw in the competition section. I did not care for Little Death much (it’s two halves of a film, not a whole film) and I think In The Summers is good, but not great. I get what it’s going for with the story about a family, and that’s probably why the Jury liked it so much, but it doesn’t really stand out compared to some of these other much better films. Other critics are wondering why Titus Kaphar’s Exhibiting Forgiveness didn’t win anything, since it’s another one of 2024’s highlights that deserves a chance to shine beyond the festival. A number of these winners I didn’t even have the chance to see anyway – hoping to catch up later. Everyone’s opinions on all of these 2024 films are different! That said, every last one of them is still worth your time & attention anyway – Sundance drops many of the best films.

For more info, visit Sundance.org. Also see last year’s winners here Follow all our Sundance 2024 coverage.

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Top 10 Most Anticipated Films at Sundance 2024 – Cinema in the Snow | FirstShowing.net

Top 10 Most Anticipated Films at Sundance 2024 – Cinema in the Snow

by Alex Billington
January 16, 2024
Source: Sundance.org

It’s January again, which means it’s time for yet another Sundance Film Festival. The 2024 festival is about to kick off in a few days, and FS is back in Utah, ready to start watching. Ready to dive into the enthralling line-up of new films this year. This is the 18th time we have covered Sundance, ever since 2007, bringing attention to good films and the festival experience. I am always looking forward to wading through all the good films the fest. Packing in as many as I can catch. Out of the 90+ films showing at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, I’ve picked 10 films that I’m looking forward to the most. To keep things well balanced, I’ve chosen 5 feature films and 5 documentaries from the line-up. For 2024, the fest has once again programmed a compelling selection of unknown directors, first-time filmmakers, and potential hits that could breakout. As usual with Sundance, you never can really tell what’ll good or bad before watching anything, but here’s my early picks anyway. I recommend adding these 10 films to your festival schedule / or to your watchlist.

For the full line-up of films showing at Sundance 2024 – click here. Follow my reviews on Letterboxd. This will be my 18th year in a row covering Sundance, starting back in 2007 then ever since. I’m still excited to be watching the latest indie films, even from afar, and I’m hoping there’s some good discoveries despite the chaotic times we’re living in. The fest is just about to begin, here’s my Top 10 most anticipated 2024 films.

Alex’s Most Anticipated ~Sundance 2024~ Feature Films:

Exhibiting Forgiveness
Exhibiting Forgiveness
Directed by Titus Kaphar

This is perhaps my most anticipated film at Sundance 2024 because it really feels like it’s going to be one of this year’s cinema gems that will go on to have a beautiful life beyond the festival. It’s the feature directorial debut of an artist named Titus Kaphar, starring André Holland, John Earl Jelks, Andra Day, and Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor. What it’s about: “Utilizing his paintings to find freedom from his past, a Black artist on the path to success is derailed by an unexpected visit from his estranged father, a recovering addict desperate to reconcile. Together, they learn that forgetting might be a greater challenge than forgiving.” Yep that sounds like it’s going to be a winner. Sundance adds: “this soulful, sophisticated, and beautifully crafted debut feature blossoms a hard-to-tell story about destructive parenting, the seasons of angst weathered by an abused child becoming a successful human being, and the deep meaning and salve of creative practice.” I’ve heard enough! I’ve got my ticket, ready to watch this with the Sundance audience at the world premiere.

Love Me
Love Me
Directed by Sam Zuchero & Andy Zuchero

This is my favorite “wait, what?!” film of the festival line-up this year (since there’s quite a few). Here’s the synopsis: “Long after humanity’s extinction, a buoy and a satellite meet online and fall in love.” Okayyy I’m sold. I’ll be at the world premiere. I have to find out what this is, I have to see where story goes, I have to see how they visualize this in a film. The strange thing is it’s not just beeping machines, there are actors playing the two main roles: Kristen Stewart and Steven Yeun. I’m not sure which is playing which, the satellite or the buoy, but I’m intrigued to find out and watch their performances. Sundance drops this nice tease: “[the film’s] whimsically philosophical, shape-shifting structure ingeniously weaves together the real, the virtual, and the surreal.” Adding that after collecting data for all these years: “Awash in these mediated experiences and fabricated expressions of love and identity, they yearn to understand who they are, whether their feelings are real, and for that matter, whether they are real.” My kind of intelligent cinema – can’t wait.

My Old Ass
My Old Ass
Directed by Megan Park

Another favorite Sundance trope is: a stuck-in-life character reexamines themselves after going through a major (and usually hilarious) mind-opening experience. This one sounds like a fun one: “The summer before college, bright-yet-irreverent Elliott comes face-to-face with her older self during a mushroom trip. The encounter spurs a funny and heartfelt journey of self-discovery and first love as Elliott prepares to leave her childhood home.” So it’s about a woman encountering her older self and ending up on a coming-of-age love story journey. It could perhaps be another a lo-fi sci-fi concept, similar to the Sundance 2021 film How It Ends, but it actually just seems like another drug trip film with all the usual rediscover-yourself bells and whistles. Sundance adds this tidbit about the cast that should convince anyone to watch: “Maisy Stella and Aubrey Plaza have a terrific unlikely chemistry, as the sass and self-assuredness of the young Elliott, as played by Stella, blends and overlaps with Plaza’s sardonic humor as a more mature Elliott.” Yep I’m there.

Thelma
Thelma
Directed by Josh Margolin

A 93-year-old gets revenge! Ha! I’m all for this, it sounds like such a fun time, just the kind of film we all need right now. June Squibb taking on her first lead role in her very long career as an actor is incredible! I’m still amazed that this is even true. “When 93-year-old Thelma Post gets duped by a phone scammer pretending to be her grandson, she sets out on a treacherous quest across the city to reclaim what was taken from her.” Best part about this is it’s inspired by the filmmaker’s own grandmother, named Thelma, though I’m not quite sure if that actually means she went out for revenge and found the guys who scammed her, too. This is beginning a pretty common plot (Jason Statham’s The Beekeeper is also about him getting revenge on old person scammers) but I have a very good feeling this film is going to handle it just right, letting the actual elderly person (who got scammed) be the star of the show as she goes out on her own to make her mark. I definitely won’t be missing this – I think audiences at the festival are going to flip for this film, too.

Sasquatch Sunset
Sasquatch Sunset
Directed by David Zellner & Nathan Zellner

Wait, what?! A whole film about a Sasquatch family? With people in suits playing the Sasquatches the entire time? Get out of here! This is the kind of weird, wacky, have-to-see-it Sundance film that I love discovering and experiencing with an audience during the festival. The description is purposefully vague: “A year in the life of a singular family.” But early word is that it is as bonkers as we’re all hoping, and sticks close to the premise. More from one early review: “Sasquatch Sunset may be entirely conveyed through errant grunts, failed sexual overtures, and prolific amounts of pissing and shitting, but it somehow manages to cohere into a heartbreaking — and all too human — story about a species oblivious to its own demise.” If you need any more convicning this is worth seeing, the family of Sasquatches is played by actors Jesse Eisenberg, Riley Keough, Nathan Zellner, and Christophe Zacaj-Denek – all completely unrecognizable under their make-up and costumes. Yes, for the whole film. Yep, I’ve got my ticket for the premiere already ready to go.

Other Feature Films I’m Looking Forward To: The Outrun with Saoirse Ronan, Steven Soderbergh’s Presence, Thea Hvistendahl’s Handling the Undead, Jane Schoenbrun’s I Saw the TV Glow, the midnight horror In a Violent Nature, Krazy House with Nick Frost & Alicia Silverstone, Realm of Satan, Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Rob Peace, Mikko Makela’s Sebastian, Stress Positions, Suncoast, Tendaberry, The Moogai, The American Society of Magical Negroes (view a trailer), Freaky Tales, A Different Man with Sebastian Stan.

Alex’s Most Anticipated ~Sundance 2024~ Documentaries:

A New Kind of Wilderness
A New Kind of Wilderness
Directed by Silje Evensmo Jacobsen

I am a HUGE fan of the Sundance 2016 film Captain Fantastic, it’s one of my all-time favorites for many reasons (my original review). It seems a bit of an obvious pick for Sundance to now program A New Kind of Wilderness, which sounds exactly like the real-world documentary version of Captain Fantastic, and that’s why it’s one of my most anticipated docs. A family with a bunch of kids living off-the-grid (in Norway) on a sustainable, grow-everything-yourselves lifestyle must deal with life-changing upheaval when one of the parents passes away. Yeah this is exactly what Captain Fantastic is like, but I’m especially interested to see how an actual, real family deals with this and what insight the film will offer as it follows them through this moment in their lives. The Sundance description makes it sound like it’ll be an emotional experience. “[Director Silje Evensmo Jacobsen] crafts a sensitive, affectionate, and completely heartfelt experience that is as much about navigating grief as it is about graciously accepting change.” It’s one of my must watch docs.

Every Little Thing
Every Little Thing
Directed by Sally Aitken

I have no idea what this film is going to be like or what it’s going to show us, but a documentary about how hummingbirds have changed one woman’s life? Yeah I’m intrigued. I want to find out more. The initial Sundance intro: “Amid the glamour of Hollywood, Los Angeles, a woman finds herself on a transformative journey as she nurtures wounded hummingbirds, unraveling a visually captivating and magical tale of love, fragility, healing, and the delicate beauty in tiny acts of greatness.” They have only released this one hazy, glitzy image (seen above) of the hummingbird, so it’s really hard to tell where this film where go or what else it’s going to explore in its 93 minute runtime. But I want to be there at the premiere to find out, it might be another sensational, life-affirming doc just like last year’s Smoke Sauna Sisterhood (which I also highly recommend discovering). The birds even have names: “The viewer becomes emotionally invested in Cactus, Jimmy, Wasabi, Alexa, and Mikhail, celebrating their small victories and lamenting their tiny tragedies.”

Never Look Away
Never Look Away
Directed by Lucy Lawless

This film wins the award for 2024 for having the greatest got-your-attention promo images. The couple of shots they’ve released for Never Look Away are all I need to be convinced that this is a must see doc at Sundance 2024 (which is why the teaser image at the top of this article is one of these images). Kiwi actress Lucy Lawless (who was the original “Xena: Warrior Princess”) is making her directorial debut profiling an intrepid journalist. “New Zealand–born groundbreaking CNN camerawoman Margaret Moth risks it all to show the reality of war from inside the conflict, staring down danger and confronting those who perpetuate it.” I’m always fascinated by stories like this, about incredibly brave people doing incredibly brave things, especially journalists who risk it all to cover important stories. The Sundance intro makes it sound like a profound film about more than journalism: “Lawless creates a distinctively female, Kiwi lens to cover this titanic career, showing both the horrors & life-affirming dimensions of war from a woman’s point of view.”

Black Box Diaries
Black Box Diaries
Directed by Shiori Ito

I’m interested in this one solely from the description and also that it sounds like it’s going to an important, powerful film retelling a major #MeToo story. Here’s the initial intro: “Journalist Shiori Ito embarks on a courageous investigation of her own sexual assault in an improbable attempt to prosecute her high-profile offender. Her quest becomes a landmark case in Japan, exposing the country’s outdated judicial and societal systems.” It’s the story of the woman at the center of Japan’s #MeToo movement. Not only is it telling her entirey story in complete, unfiltered detail, it’s also directed by Shiori Ito herself, which hopefully means she will dig deep into showing us just how hard it is to confront patriarchy. This line from Sundance is what should make anyone want to watch this: “it is an impressively crafted, concise piece of filmmaking — guided by a strong sense of purpose and broken up by occasional moments of joy. Ito came forward to challenge her high-profile abuser despite knowing the risks.” this film’s premiere is going to be an emotional experience.

Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story
Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story
Directed by Ian Bonhôte & Peter Ettedgui

Early word is that this is going to be one of the best documentaries at Sundance 2024, right up there with last year’s Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie. It’s not as if we haven’t heard Christopher Reeve’s story, everyone knows what happened to him, and he made many, many appearances over the years before passing away in 2004. However, my hope is that this film expands upon his story, adding to it by giving us a more intimate, and more honest examination of his unique life than ever before. This seems to be the case, as the Sundance description hints at exactly that idea: “Never-before-seen home movies and extraordinary personal archives reveal how Christopher Reeve went from unknown actor to iconic movie star as the ultimate screen superhero. He learned the true meaning of heroism as an activist after suffering a tragic accident that left him quadriplegic and dependent on a ventilator to breathe.” This doc film is also not available to view online at all during the online portion of the festival, so it’s an important must-see-while-at-Sundance experience.

More Docs I’ll Be Watching: Amanda McBaine & Jesse Moss’ Girls State, Benjamin Ree’s Ibelin, Yance Ford’s Power, Skywalkers: A Love Story, moth doc Nocturnes, Bhutan’s Agent of Happiness, J.M. Harper’s As We Speak, Chris Smith’s music biopic Devo, Emily Kassie & Julian Brave NoiseCat’s Sugarcane, Luther: Never Too Much, Union about unionizing at Amazon, Johan Grimonprez’s Soundtrack to a Coup d’Etat.

For ALL of Alex’s Sundance 2024 updates: follow @firstshowing or follow @alexb.bsky.social

For more Sundance 2024 previews around the web, highlighting early picks and potential breakouts, also see: The Film Stage’s 20 Most-Anticipated Premieres, Indiewire’s 26 Must-See Films at This Year’s Festival, Rolling Stone’s 20 Most-Anticipated Movies from Sundance 2024, and also Nylon’s The 13 Most Anticipated Films of Sundance 2024. You never know what might be a big hit, and it’s vital to have a pulse on the early buzz – even before the fest starts. There’s plenty of intriguing films found in the selection this year, tons of discoveries from first time filmmakers and up-and-coming talent, so let’s jump right in and start watching.

You can follow our Sundance 2024 coverage and reviews right here and on Alex’s Letterboxd. The festival begins on January 18th and runs until January 28th, with films premiering online + locally. Glad to be back.

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Sundance 2024: Official Selection of All 91 Feature Films Announced | FirstShowing.net

Sundance 2024: Official Selection of All 91 Feature Films Announced

by Alex Billington
December 6, 2023
Source: Sundance.org

Time for a peek at how the next year in cinema is shaping up. Every new year brings another Sundance Film Festival and with less than two months until Sundance 2024 kicks off on January 18th, it’s time to find out what is premiering at this prestigious fest in Utah. Sundance has revealed their 2024 selection of official feature films premiering this January, featuring 91 films playing across these 11 main categories (including their usual four Competition categories), ranging from new documentaries to quirky comedies, compelling dramas, and everything else good. The 2024 festival is taking place both as an in-person festival returning to snowy Park City, UT, as well as a virtual festival with online premieres only available for the second half. Sundance is still one of my favorite festivals in the world, and we’ll be returning for our 18th year in a row to cover it. Keep an eye out for more fest updates. “Curation is Sundance’s secret sauce and we’re energized by the range of films, stories, & artists we’ve watched and selected from around the world.”

Eugene Hernandez, the brand new director of the Sundance Film Festival & Public Programming, states: “This Festival has had a vital history of first impressions: introductions to new talent, new friends, new worlds — our commitment to our artists and our audiences is fundamental to our work. Our programming team, lead by Kim Yutani, has curated 11 days of exciting new voices and stories for the many audiences we serve whether they’re joining us in Utah or experiencing the Festival offerings from afar. Sundance 2024 will be a special year for discovery and community.” There’s a sasquatch film, a Will Ferrell documentary, a new horror film with Kristen Stewart from the director Saint Maud, a “buoy and a satellite” love story, and some other strange films in the 2024 selection. What are you looking forward to so far out of all these films?

Browse through all the feature film selections for Sundance 2024 films – and visit Sundance.org for more.

U.S. Dramatic Competition:
Exhibiting Forgiveness

The U.S. Dramatic Competition offers Festivalgoers a first look at the world premieres of groundbreaking new voices in American independent film.

Between the Temples (Director & Screenwriter: Nathan Silver, Screenwriter: C. Mason Wells, Producers: Tim Headington, Theresa Steele Page, Nate Kamiya, Adam Kersh, Taylor Hess) — A cantor in a crisis of faith finds his world turned upside down when his grade school music teacher reenters his life as his new adult bat mitzvah student. Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Carol Kane, Dolly de Leon, Caroline Aaron, Robert Smigel, Madeline Weinstein.

Dìdi (弟弟) (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Sean Wang, Producers: Carlos López Estrada, Josh Peters, Valerie Bush) — In 2008, during the last month of summer before high school begins, an impressionable 13-year-old Taiwanese American boy learns what his family can’t teach him: how to skate, how to flirt, and how to love your mom. Cast: Izaac Wang, Joan Chen, Shirley Chen, Chang Li Hua.

Exhibiting Forgiveness (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Titus Kaphar, Producers: Stephanie Allain, Derek Cianfrance, Jamie Patricof, Sean Cotton) — Utilizing his paintings to find freedom from his past, a Black artist on the path to success is derailed by an unexpected visit from his estranged father, a recovering addict desperate to reconcile. Together, they learn that forgetting might be a greater challenge than forgiving. Cast: André Holland, John Earl Jelks, Andra Day, Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor.

Good One (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: India Donaldson, Producers: Diana Irvine, Graham Mason, Wilson Cameron) — On a weekend backpacking trip in the Catskills, 17-year-old Sam contends with the competing egos of her father and his oldest friend. Cast: Lily Collias, James Le Gros, Danny McCarthy.

In The Summers (Director & Screenwriter: Alessandra Lacorazza, Producers: Alexander Dinelaris, Rob Quadrino, Fernando Rodriguez-Vila, Lynette Coll, Sergio Lira, Cristóbal Güell) — On a journey that spans across the formative years of their lives, two sisters navigate their loving but volatile father during their yearly summer visits to his home in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Cast: René Pérez Joglar, Sasha Calle, Lío Mehiel, Leslie Grace, Emma Ramos, Sharlene Cruz.

Love Me (Directors & Screenwriters: Sam Zuchero, Andy Zuchero, Producers: Kevin Rowe, Luca Borghese, Ben Howe, Shivani Rawat, Julie Goldstein) — Long after humanity’s extinction, a buoy and a satellite meet online and fall in love. Cast: Kristen Stewart, Steven Yeun.

Ponyboi (Director: Esteban Arango, Screenwriter: River Gallo, Producers: Mark Ankner, River Gallo, Adel “Future” Nur, Trevor Wall) — Unfolding over the course of Valentine’s Day in New Jersey, a young intersex sex worker must run from the mob after a drug deal goes sideways, forcing him to confront his past. Cast: River Gallo, Dylan O’Brien, Victoria Pedretti, Murray Bartlett, Indya Moore.

A Real Pain (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Jesse Eisenberg, Producers: Dave McCary, Ali Herting, Emma Stone, Jennifer Semler, Ewa Puszczyńska) — Mismatched cousins David and Benji reunite for a tour through Poland to honor their beloved grandmother. The adventure takes a turn when the pair’s old tensions resurface against the backdrop of their family history. Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kieran Culkin, Will Sharpe, Jennifer Grey, Kurt Egyiawan.

Stress Positions (Director & Screenwriter: Theda Hammel, Producers: Brad Becker-Parton, John Early, Stephanie Roush, Allie Jane Compton, Greg Nobile) — Terry Goon is keeping strict quarantine in his ex-husband’s Brooklyn brownstone while caring for his nephew — a 19-year-old model from Morocco named Bahlul — bedridden in a full leg cast after an electric scooter accident. Unfortunately for Terry, everyone in his life wants to meet the model. Cast: John Early, Qaher Harhash, Theda Hammel, Amy Zimmer, Faheem Ali, John Roberts.

Suncoast (Director & Screenwriter: Laura Chinn, Producers: Jeremy Plager, Francesca Silvestri, Kevin Chinoy, Oly Obst) — A teenager who, while caring for her brother along with her audacious mother, strikes up an unlikely friendship with an eccentric activist who is protesting one of the most landmark medical cases of all time. Inspired by a semi-autobiographical story. Cast: Laura Linney, Woody Harrelson, Nico Parker.

U.S. Documentary Competition:
Every Little Thing

The U.S. Documentary Competition offers Festivalgoers a first look at world premieres of nonfiction American films illuminating the ideas, people, and events that shape the present day.

As We Speak (Director & Producer: J.M. Harper, Producers: Sam Widdoes, Peter Cambor, Sam Bisbee) — Bronx rap artist Kemba explores the growing weaponization of rap lyrics in the United States criminal justice system and abroad — revealing how law enforcement has quietly used artistic creation as evidence in criminal cases for decades.

Daughters (Directors: Angela Patton, Natalie Rae, Producers: Lisa Mazzotta, Justin Benoliel, Mindy Goldberg, Sam Bisbee, Kathryn Everett, Laura Choi Raycroft) — Four young girls prepare for a special Daddy Daughter Dance with their incarcerated fathers, as part of a unique fatherhood program in a Washington, D.C., jail.

Every Little Thing (Director: Sally Aitken, Producers: Bettina Dalton, Oli Harbottle, Anna Godas) — Amid the glamour of Hollywood, Los Angeles, a woman finds herself on a transformative journey as she nurtures wounded hummingbirds, unraveling a visually captivating and magical tale of love, fragility, healing, and the delicate beauty in tiny acts of greatness.

Frida (Director: Carla Gutiérrez, Producers: Katia Maguire, Sara Bernstein, Justin Wilkes, Loren Hammonds, Alexandra Johnes) — An intimately raw and magical journey through the life, mind, and heart of iconic artist Frida Kahlo. Told through her own words for the very first time — drawn from her diary, revealing letters, essays, and print interviews — and brought vividly to life by lyrical animation inspired by her unforgettable artwork.

Gaucho Gaucho (Directors & Producers: Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw, Producers: Cameron O’Reilly, Christos V. Konstantakopoulos, Matthew Perniciaro) — A celebration of a community of Argentine cowboys and cowgirls, known as Gauchos, living beyond the boundaries of the modern world.

Love Machina (Director & Producer: Peter Sillen, Producer: Brendan Doyle) — Futurists Martine and Bina Rothblatt commission an advanced humanoid AI named Bina48 to transfer Bina’s consciousness from a human to a robot in an attempt to continue their once-in-a-galaxy love affair for the rest of time.

Porcelain War (Director & Screenwriter: Brendan Bellomo, Director: Slava Leontyev, Producers and Screenwriters: Aniela Sidorska, Paula DuPré Pesmen, Producers: Camilla Mazzaferro, Olivia Ahnemann) — Under roaring fighter jets and missile strikes, Ukrainian artists Slava, Anya, and Andrey choose to stay behind and fight, contending with the soldiers they have become. Defiantly finding beauty amid destruction, they show that although it’s easy to make people afraid, it’s hard to destroy their passion for living.

Skywalkers: A Love Story (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Jeff Zimbalist, Producers: Maria Bukhonina, Tamir Ardon, Chris Smith, Nick Spicer) — To save their career and relationship, a daredevil couple journey across the globe to climb the world’s last super skyscraper and perform a bold acrobatic stunt on the spire.

Sugarcane (Director: Julian Brave NoiseCat, Director and Producer: Emily Kassie, Producer: Kellen Quinn) — An investigation into abuse and missing children at an Indian residential school ignites a reckoning on the nearby Sugarcane Reserve.

Union (Directors: Stephen Maing, Brett Story, Producers: Samantha Curley, Mars Verrone) — The Amazon Labor Union (ALU) — a group of current and former Amazon workers in New York City’s Staten Island — takes on one of the world’s largest and most powerful companies in the fight to unionize.

World Cinema Dramatic Competition:
Brief History of a Family

These narrative feature films from emerging talent around the world offer fresh perspectives and inventive styles.

Brief History of a Family / China, France, Denmark, Qatar (Director & Screenwriter: Jianjie Lin, Producers: Ying Lou, Yue Zheng, Yiwen Wang) — A middle-class family’s fate becomes intertwined with their only son’s enigmatic new friend in post one-child policy China, putting unspoken secrets, unmet expectations, and untended emotions under the microscope. Cast: Feng Zu, Keyu Guo, Xilun Sun, Muran Lin.

Girls Will Be Girls / India, France, Norway (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Shuchi Talati, Producers: Richa Chadha, Claire Chassagne) — In a strict boarding school nestled in the Himalayas, 16-year-old Mira discovers desire and romance. But her sexual, rebellious awakening is disrupted by her mother who never got to come of age herself. Cast: Preeti Panigrahi, Kani Kusruti, Kesav Binoy Kiron.

Handling the Undead / Norway (Director & Screenwriter: Thea Hvistendahl, Screenwriter: John Ajvide Lindqvist, Producers: Kristin Emblem, Guri Neby) — On a hot summer day in Oslo, the newly dead awaken. Three families faced with loss try to figure out what this resurrection means and if their loved ones really are back. Based on the book by John Ajvide Lindqvist. Cast: Renate Reinsve, Bjørn Sundquist, Bente Børsum, Anders Danielsen Lie, Bahar Pars.

In the Land of Brothers / Iran, France, Netherlands (Directors, Screenwriters, & Producers: Raha Amirfazli, Alireza Ghasemi, Producers: Adrien Barrouillet, Frank Hoeve, Charles Meresse, Emma Binet, Arya Ghamavian) — Three members of an extended Afghan family start their lives over in Iran as refugees, unaware they face a decades-long struggle ahead to be “at home.” Cast: Hamideh Jafari, Bashir Nikzad, Mohammad Hosseini.

Layla / U.K. (Director & Screenwriter: Amrou Al-Kadhi, Producer: Savannah James-Bayly) — When Layla, a struggling Arab drag queen, falls in love for the first time, they lose and find themself in a transformative relationship that tests who they really are. Cast: Bilal Hasna, Louis Greatorex, Safiyya Ingar, Darkwah, Terique Jarrett, Sarah Agha.

Malu / Brazil (Director & Screenwriter: Pedro Freire, Producers: Tatiana Leite, Sabrina Garcia, Leo Ribeiro, Roberto Berliner) — Malu — a mercurial, unemployed actress living with her conservative mother in a precarious house in a Rio de Janeiro slum — tries to deal with her strained relationship with her own adult daughter while surviving on memories of her glorious artistic past. Cast: Yara de Novaes, Carol Duarte, Juliana Carneiro da Cunha, Átila Bee.

Reinas / Switzerland, Peru, Spain (Director & Screenwriter: Klaudia Reynicke, Screenwriter & Producer: Diego Vega, Producers: Britta Rindelaub, Thomas Reichlin, Daniel Vega, Valérie Delpierre) — Surrounded by social and political chaos in Lima during the summer of 1992, Lucia, Aurora, and their mother, Elena, plan to leave and seek opportunities in the United States. Their farewell involves reconnecting with their estranged father, Carlos, adding turbulence to the regrets, hopes, and fears of their emotional departure. Cast: Abril Gjurinovic, Luana Vega, Jimena Lindo, Gonzalo Molina, Susi Sánchez.

Sebastian / U.K., Finland, Belgium (Director & Screenwriter: Mikko Mäkelä, Producer: James Watson) — Max, a 25-year-old aspiring writer living in London, begins a double life as a sex worker in order to research his debut novel. Cast: Ruaridh Mollica, Hiftu Quasem, Ingvar Sigurdsson, Jonathan Hyde, Leanne Best, Lara Rossi.

Sujo / Mexico, U.S.A., France (Directors, Screenwriters, & Producers: Astrid Rondero, Fernanda Valadez, Producers: Diana Arcega, Jewerl Keats Ross, Virginie Devesa, Jean-Baptiste Bailly-Maitre) — When a cartel gunman is killed, he leaves behind Sujo, his beloved 4-year-old son. The shadow of violence surrounds Sujo during each stage of his life in the isolated Mexican countryside. As he grows into a man, Sujo finds that fulfilling his father’s destiny may be inescapable. Cast: Juan Jesús Varela, Yadira Pérez, Alexis Varela, Sandra Lorenzano, Jairo Hernández, Kevin Aguilar.

Veni Vidi Vici / Austria (Director & Screenwriter: Daniel Hoesl, Producer: Ulrich Seidl) — The Maynards and their children lead an almost perfect billionaire family life. Amon is a passionate hunter, but doesn’t shoot animals, as the family’s wealth allows them to live totally free from consequences. Cast: Laurence Rupp, Ursina Lardi, Olivia Goschler.

World Cinema Documentary Competition:
Never Look Away

These nonfiction feature films from emerging talent around the world showcase some of the most courageous and extraordinary filmmaking today.

Agent of Happiness / Bhutan, Hungary (Director & Producer: Arun Bhattarai, Director: Dorottya Zurbó, Producers: Noémi Veronika Szakonyi, Máté Artur Vincze) — Amber is one of the many agents working for the Bhutanese government to measure people’s happiness levels among the remote Himalayan mountains. But will he find his own along the way?

The Battle for Laikipia / Kenya, U.S.A. (Director and Producer: Daphne Matziaraki, Director: Peter Murimi, Producer: Toni Kamau) — Unresolved historical injustices and climate change raise the stakes in a generations-old conflict between Indigenous pastoralists and white landowners in Laikipia, Kenya, a wildlife conservation haven.

Black Box Diaries / Japan, U.S.A., U.K. (Director and Producer: Shiori Ito, Producers: Eric Nyari, Hanna Aqvilin) — Journalist Shiori Ito embarks on a courageous investigation of her own sexual assault in an improbable attempt to prosecute her high-profile offender. Her quest becomes a landmark case in Japan, exposing the country’s outdated judicial and societal systems.

Eternal You / Germany, U.S.A. (Directors: Hans Block, Moritz Riesewieck, Producers: Christian Beetz, Georg Tschurtschenthaler) — Startups are using AI to create avatars that allow relatives to talk with their loved ones after they have died. An exploration of a profound human desire and the consequences of turning the dream of immortality into a product.

Ibelin / Norway (Director: Benjamin Ree, Producer: Ingvil Giske) — Mats Steen, a Norwegian gamer, died of a degenerative muscular disease at the age of 25. His parents mourned what they thought had been a lonely and isolated life, when they started receiving messages from online friends around the world.

Igualada / Colombia, U.S.A., Mexico (Director: Juan Mejía Botero, Producers: Juan E. Yepes, Daniela Alatorre, Sonia Serna) — In one of Latin America’s most unequal countries, Francia Márquez, a Black Colombian rural activist, challenges the status quo with a presidential campaign that reappropriates the derogatory term “Igualada” — someone who acts as if they deserve rights that supposedly don’t correspond to them — and inspires a nation to dream.

Never Look Away / New Zealand (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Lucy Lawless, Screenwriters and Producers: Matthew Metcalfe, Tom Blackwell) — New Zealand–born groundbreaking CNN camerawoman Margaret Moth risks it all to show the reality of war from inside the conflict, staring down danger and confronting those who perpetuate it.

A New Kind of Wilderness / Norway (Director: Silje Evensmo Jacobsen, Producer: Mari Bakke Riise) — In a forest in Norway, a family lives an isolated lifestyle in an attempt to be wild and free, but a tragic event changes everything, and they are forced to adjust to modern society.

Nocturnes / India, U.S.A. (Director & Producer: Anirban Dutta, Director: Anupama Srinivasan) — In the dense forests of the Eastern Himalayas, moths are whispering something to us. In the dark of night, two curious observers shine a light on this secret universe.

Soundtrack to a Coup d’Etat / Belgium, France, Netherlands (Director & Screenwriter: Johan Grimonprez, Producers: Daan Milius, Rémi Grellety) — In 1960, United Nations: the Global South ignites a political earthquake, musicians Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach crash the Security Council, Nikita Khrushchev bangs his shoe denouncing America’s color bar, while the U.S. dispatches jazz ambassador Louis Armstrong to the Congo to deflect attention from its first African post-colonial coup.

NEXT:
Kneecap

Pure, bold works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling populate this program. Unfettered creativity promises that the films in this section will shape the greater next wave in American cinema.

Desire Lines / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Jules Rosskam, Screenwriter: Nate Gualtieri, Producers: André Pérez, Amy E. Powell, Brittani Ward) — Past and present collide when an Iranian American trans man time-travels through an LGBTQ+ archive on a dizzying and erotic quest to unravel his own sexual desires. Cast: Theo Germaine, Aden Hakimi.

Kneecap / Ireland, U.K. (Director & Screenwriter: Rich Peppiatt, Producers: Jack Tarling, Trevor Birney) — There are 80,000 native Irish speakers in Ireland. 6,000 live in the North of Ireland. Three of them became a rap group called Kneecap. This anarchic Belfast trio becomes the unlikely figurehead of a civil rights movement to save the mother tongue. Cast: Liam Óg Ó hAnnaidh, Naoise Ó Cairealláin, JJ Ó Dochartaigh, Michael Fassbender, Josie Walker, Simone Kirby).

Little Death / U.S.A. (Director & Screenwriter: Jack Begert, Screenwriter: Dani Goffstein, Producers: Darren Aronofsky, Andy S. Cohen, Dylan Golden, Brendan Naylor, Sam Canter, Noor Alfallah) — A middle-aged filmmaker on the verge of a breakthrough. Two kids in search of a lost backpack. A small dog a long way from home. Cast: David Schwimmer, Gaby Hoffmann, Dominic Fike, Talia Ryder, Jena Malone, Sante Bentivoglio.

Realm of Satan / U.S.A. (Director & Screenwriter: Scott Cummings, Producers: Caitlin Mae Burke, Pacho Velez, Molly Gandour) — An experiential portrait depicting Satanists in both the everyday and in the extraordinary as they fight to preserve their lifestyle: magic, mystery, and misanthropy. Cast: Peter Gilmore, Peggy Nadramia, Blanche Barton.

Seeking Mavis Beacon / U.S.A. (Director & Writer: Jazmin Renée Jones, Producer: Guetty Felin) — Launched in the late ’80s, educational software Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing taught millions globally, but the program’s Haitian-born cover model vanished decades ago. Two DIY investigators search for the unsung cultural icon, while questioning notions of digital security, AI, and Black representation in the digital realm.

Tendaberry / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Haley Elizabeth Anderson, Producers: Carlos Zozaya, Matthew Petock, Zachary Shedd, Hannah Dweck, Theodore Schaefer, Daniel Patrick Carbone) — When her boyfriend goes back to Ukraine to be with his ailing father, 23-year-old Dakota anxiously navigates her precarious new reality, surviving on her own in New York City. Cast: Kota Johan, Yuri Pleskun.

Premieres:
Will & Harper

This showcase of world premieres presents highly anticipated films on a variety of subjects, in both fiction & nonfiction.

The American Society of Magical Negroes / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Kobi Libii, Producers: Julia Lebedev, Eddie Vaisman, Angel Lopez) — A young man, Aren, is recruited into a secret society of magical Black people who dedicate their lives to a cause of utmost importance: making white people’s lives easier. Cast: Justice Smith, David Alan Grier, An-Li Bogan, Drew Tarver, Rupert Friend, Nicole Byer.

And So It Begins / U.S.A., Philippines (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Ramona S. Diaz) — Amidst the traditional pomp and circumstance of Filipino elections, a quirky people’s movement rises to defend the nation against deepening threats to truth and democracy. In a collective act of joy as a form of resistance, hope flickers against the backdrop of increasing autocracy. Documentary.

Devo / U.K., U.S.A. (Director: Chris Smith, Producers: Chris Holmes, Anita Greenspan, Danny Gabai) — Born in response to the Kent State massacre, new wave band Devo took their concept of “de-evolution” from cult following to near–rock star status with groundbreaking 1980 hit “Whip It” while preaching an urgent social commentary. Documentary.

A Different Man / U.S.A. (Director & Screenwriter: Aaron Schimberg, Producers: Christine Vachon, Vanessa McDonnell, Gabriel Mayers) — Aspiring actor Edward undergoes a radical medical procedure to drastically transform his appearance. But his new dream face quickly turns into a nightmare, as he loses out on the role he was born to play and becomes obsessed with reclaiming what was lost. Cast: Sebastian Stan, Renate Reinsve, Adam Pearson.

Freaky Tales / U.S.A. (Directors, Screenwriters, & Producers: Ryan Fleck, Anna Boden, Producers: Poppy Hanks, Jelani Johnson) — In 1987 Oakland, a mysterious force guides The Town’s underdogs in four interconnected tales: Teen punks defend their turf against Nazi skinheads, a rap duo battles for hip-hop immortality, a weary henchman gets a shot at redemption, and an NBA All-Star settles the score. Basically another day in the Bay. Cast: Pedro Pascal, Jay Ellis, Normani Kordei Hamilton, Dominique Thorne, Ben Mendelsohn, Ji-Young Yoo.

Ghostlight / U.S.A. (Director & Screenwriter: Kelly O’Sullivan, Director and Producer: Alex Thompson, Producers: Pierce Cravens, Chelsea Krant, Ian Keiser, Eddie Linker, Alex Wilson) — When a construction worker unexpectedly joins a local theater’s production of Romeo and Juliet, the drama onstage starts to mirror his own life. Cast: Keith Kupferer, Dolly de Leon, Katherine Mallen Kupferer, Tara Mallen.

Girls State / U.S.A. (Directors & Producers: Amanda McBaine, Jesse Moss) — Teenage girls from wildly different backgrounds across Missouri navigate a week-long immersive experiment in American democracy, build a government from the ground up, and reimagine what it means to govern. Documentary.

Look Into My Eyes / U.S.A. (Director & Producer: Lana Wilson, Producer: Kyle Martin) — A group of New York City psychics conduct deeply intimate readings for their clients, revealing a kaleidoscope of loneliness, connection, and healing. Documentary.

Luther: Never Too Much / U.S.A. (Director: Dawn Porter, Producers: Trish D Chetty, Ged Doherty, Jamie Foxx, Datari Turner, Leah Smith) — Luther Vandross started his career supporting David Bowie, Roberta Flack, Bette Midler, and more. His undeniable talent earned platinum records and accolades, but he struggled to break out beyond the R&B charts. Intensely driven, he overcame personal and professional challenges to secure his place amongst the greatest vocalists in history. Documentary.

My Old Ass / U.S.A. (Director & Screenwriter: Megan Park, Producers: Tom Ackerley, Margot Robbie, Josey McNamara, Steven Rales) — The summer before college, bright-yet-irreverent Elliott comes face-to-face with her older self during a mushroom trip. The encounter spurs a funny and heartfelt journey of self-discovery and first love as Elliott prepares to leave her childhood home. Cast: Maisy Stella, Percy Hynes White, Maddie Ziegler, Kerrice Brooks, Aubrey Plaza.

The Outrun / U.K., Germany (Director & Screenwriter: Nora Fingscheidt, Screenwriter: Amy Liptrot, Producers: Sarah Brocklehurst, Dominic Norris, Jack Lowden, Saoirse Ronan) — After living life on the edge in London, Rona attempts to come to terms with her troubled past. She returns to the wild beauty of Scotland’s Orkney Islands — where she grew up — hoping to heal. Adapted from the bestselling memoir by Amy Liptrot. Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Paapa Essiedu, Stephen Dillane, Saskia Reeves.

Power (Director & Producer: Yance Ford, Producers: Sweta Vohra, Jess Devaney, Netsanet Negussie) — Driven to maintain social order, policing in the United States has exploded in scope and scale over hundreds of years. Now, American policing embodies one word: power. Documentary.

Presence / U.S.A. (Director: Steven Soderbergh, Screenwriter: David Koepp, Producers: Julie M. Anderson, Ken Meyer) — A family moves into a suburban house and becomes convinced they’re not alone. Cast: Lucy Liu, Chris Sullivan, Callina Liang, Julia Fox, Eddy Maday, West Mulholland.

Rob Peace / U.S.A. (Director & Screenwriter: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Producers: Andrea Calderwood, Antoine Fuqua, Kat Samick, Rebecca Hobbs, Jeffrey Soros, Alex Kurtzman) — Robert Peace grew up in an impoverished section of Newark and later graduated from Yale with degrees in molecular biophysics and biochemistry while on scholarship. Peace led a dual life in academia and research while also earning six figures selling marijuana. Based on Jeff Hobbs’ bestselling biography. Cast: Jay Will, Mary J. Blige, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Camila Cabello, Michael Kelly, Mare Winningham.

Sasquatch Sunset / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: David Zellner, Director & Producer: Nathan Zellner, Producers: Lars Knudsen, Tyler Campellone, George Rush, Jesse Eisenberg) — A year in the life of a singular family. Cast: Riley Keough, Jesse Eisenberg, Christophe Zajac-Denek, Nathan Zellner.

Sue Bird: In The Clutch / U.S.A. (Director & Producer: Sarah Dowland, Producers: Emily Singer Chapman, Svetlana Zill) — In her 21-year professional career, WNBA basketball legend Sue Bird has won five Olympic gold medals and become the most successful point guard to ever play the game. Alongside her fiancée, U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe, Sue confronts her next challenge: retiring from the only life she’s ever known. Documentary.

Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story / U.K., U.S.A. (Director & Producer: Ian Bonhôte, Director and Screenwriter: Peter Ettedgui, Producers: Lizzie Gillett, Robert Ford) — Never-before-seen home movies and extraordinary personal archives reveal how Christopher Reeve went from unknown actor to iconic movie star as the ultimate screen superhero. He learned the true meaning of heroism as an activist after suffering a tragic accident that left him quadriplegic and dependent on a ventilator to breathe. Documentary.

Thelma / U.S.A. (Director & Screenwriter: Josh Margolin, Producers: Zoë Worth, Chris Kaye, Nicholas Weinstock, Benjamin Simpson, Karl Spoerri, Viviana Vezzani) — When 93-year-old Thelma Post gets duped by a phone scammer pretending to be her grandson, she sets out on a treacherous quest across the city to reclaim what was taken from her. Cast: June Squibb, Fred Hechinger, Richard Roundtree, Parker Posey, Clark Gregg, Malcolm McDowell.

Will & Harper / U.S.A. (Director & Producer: Josh Greenbaum, Producers: Rafael Marmor, Will Ferrell, Jessica Elbaum, Christopher Leggett) — When Will Ferrell finds out his close friend of 30 years is coming out as a trans woman, the two decide to embark on a cross-country road trip to process this new stage of their relationship in an intimate portrait of friendship, transition, and America. Documentary.

Winner / U.S.A., Canada (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Susanna Fogel, Screenwriter: Kerry Howley, Producers: Amanda Phillips, Shivani Rawat, Julie Goldstein, Scott Budnick, Ameet Shukla) — Reality Winner is a brilliant young misfit from a Texas border town who finds her morals challenged while serving as an NSA contractor. A sarcastic, gun-lovin, vegan, yogi, and CrossFit fanatic, Reality is an unconventional whistleblower who ends up being prosecuted for exposing Russia’s hacking of the 2016 election. Cast: Emilia Jones, Connie Britton, Zach Galifianakis, Kathryn Newton, Danny Ramirez.

Midnight:
Krazy House

From horror flicks and wild comedies to chilling thrillers and works that defy any genre, these films will keep you wide awake and on the edge of your seat.

I Saw the TV Glow / U.S.A. (Director & Screenwriter: Jane Schoenbrun, Producers: Emma Stone, Dave McCary, Ali Herting, Sam Intili, Sarah Winshall) — Teenager Owen is just trying to make it through life in the suburbs when his classmate introduces him to a mysterious late-night TV show — a vision of a supernatural world beneath their own. In the pale glow of the television, Owen’s view of reality begins to crack. Cast: Justice Smith, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Ian Foreman, Helena Howard, Fred Durst, Danielle Deadwyler.

In A Violent Nature / Canada (Director & Screenwriter: Chris Nash, Producers: Peter Kuplowsky, Shannon Hanmer) — The enigmatic resurrection, rampage, and retribution of an undead monster in a remote wilderness. Cast: Ry Barrett, Andrea Pavlovic, Lauren Taylor.

It’s What’s Inside / U.S.A. (Director ^ Screenwriter: Greg Jardin, Producers: William Rosenfeld, Kate Andrews, Jason Baum, Raúl Domingo) — A pre-wedding party descends into an existential nightmare when an estranged friend shows up with a mysterious suitcase. Cast: Brittany O’Grady, James Morosini, Alycia Debnam-Carey, Gavin Leatherwood, Reina Hardesty, Nina Bloomgarden.

Kidnapping Inc. / Haiti, France, Canada (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Bruno Mourral, Screenwriter and Producer: Gilbert Jr. Mirambeau, Screenwriter: Jasmuel Andri, Producers: Samuel Chauvin, Yanick Letourneau, Gaëthan Chancy) — Tasked with what appears to be a simple abduction for hire, two hapless kidnappers find out that it’s anything but and end up in the middle of a political conspiracy. Cast: Jasmuel Andri, Rolaphton Mercure, Anabel Lopez, Ashley Laraque, Gessica Geneus, Patrick Joseph.

Krazy House / Netherlands (Directors & Screenwriters: Steffen Haars, Flip van der Kuil, Producer: Maarten Swart) — When Russian workers in Bernie’s house turn out to be wanted criminals, Bernie has to man up and save his ’90s sitcom family. Cast: Nick Frost, Alicia Silverstone, Jan Bijvoet, Gaite Jansen, Walt Klink, Kevin Connolly.

Love Lies Bleeding / U.S.A., U.K. (Director & Screenwriter: Rose Glass, Producers: Andrea Cornwell, Oliver Kassman — Reclusive gym manager Lou falls hard for Jackie, an ambitious bodybuilder headed through town to Las Vegas in pursuit of her dream. But their love ignites violence, pulling them deep into the web of Lou’s criminal family. Cast: Kristen Stewart, Katy O’Brian, Ed Harris, Dave Franco, Jena Malone, Anna Baryshnikov.

The Moogai / Australia (Director & Screenwriter: Jon Bell, Producers: Kristina Ceyton, Samantha Jennings, Mitchell Stanley) — A young Aboriginal couple bring home their second baby. What should be a joyous time takes a sinister turn as the mother starts seeing a malevolent spirit she is convinced is trying to take her baby. Cast: Shari Sebbens, Meyne Wyatt, Tessa Rose, Jahdeana Mary, Clarence Ryan, Bella Heathcote.

Your Monster / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Caroline Lindy, Producers: Kayla Foster, Shannon Reilly, Melanie Donkers, Kira Carstensen) — After her life falls apart, soft-spoken actress Laura Franco finds her voice again when she meets a terrifying, yet weirdly charming, monster living in her closet. Cast: Melissa Barrera, Tommy Dewey, Meghann Fahy, Edmund Donovan, Kayla Foster.

Spotlight:

The Spotlight program is a tribute to the cinema we love, presenting films that have played throughout the world.

àma Gloria / France (Director and Screenwriter: Marie Amachoukeli, Producer: Bénédicte Couvreur) — Six-year-old Cléo loves her nanny, Gloria, more than anything. When Gloria must return to Cape Verde to care for her own children, the two must make the most of their last summer together. Cast: Louise Mauroy-Panzani, Ilça Moreno Zego, Abnara Gomes Varela, Fredy Gomes Tavares, Arnaud Rebotini, Domingos Borges Almeida.

Hit Man / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Richard Linklater, Producer and Screenwriter: Glen Powell, Producers: Mike Blizzard, Jason Bateman, Michael Costigan) — A strait-laced professor discovers his hidden talent as a fake hit man. He meets his match in a client who steals his heart and ignites a powder keg of deception, delight, and mixed-up identities. Inspired by an unbelievable true story. Cast: Glen Powell, Adria Arjona, Austin Amelio, Retta, Sanjay Rao.

How to Have Sex / U.K. (Director and Screenwriter: Molly Manning Walker, Producers: Ivana MacKinnon, Emily Leo, Konstantinos Kontovrakis) — Three British teenage girls go on a rite-of-passage holiday, drinking, clubbing, and hooking up in what should be the best summer of their lives. As they dance their way across the sun-drenched streets of Malia, they find themselves navigating the complexities of sex, consent, and self-discovery. Cast: Mia McKenna-Bruce, Samuel Bottomley, Shaun Thomas, Lara Peake, Enva Lewis, Laura Ambler.

The Mother of All Lies / Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar (Director and Producer: Asmae El Moudir) — On a handmade set re-creating her Casablanca neighborhood, a young Moroccan filmmaker enlists family and friends to help unearth the troubling lies built into her childhood.

Family Matinee:

Geared towards our youngest independent-film fans, this section of the Festival is programmed for children & adolescents.

Out of My Mind / U.S.A. (Director: Amber Sealey, Screenwriter: Daniel Stiepleman, Producers: Peter Saraf, Robert Kessel, Dan Angel, Michael B. Clark) — Melody Brooks is navigating sixth grade as a nonverbal wheelchair user who has cerebral palsy. With the help of some assistive technology and her devoted, exuberant allies, Melody shows that what she has to say is more important than how she says it. Cast: Phoebe-Rae Taylor, Rosemarie DeWitt, Luke Kirby, Michael Chernus, Courtney Taylor, Judith Light.

10 Lives / U.K. (Director and Screenwriter: Christopher Jenkins, Screenwriters: Karen Wengrod, Ken Cinnamon,Producers: Guy Collins, Sean Feeney, Yann Zenou, Adrian Politowski, Martin Metz) — A pampered cat takes for granted the lucky hand he has been dealt after he is rescued and loved by Rose, a kind-hearted and passionate student. When he loses his ninth life, fate steps in to set him on a transformative journey. Cast: Mo Gilligan, Simone Ashley, Sophie Okonedo, Dylan Llewellyn, Zayn Malik, Bill Nighy.

New Frontier Films:

New Frontier champions artists practicing at the crossroads of film, art, performance, and new media tech. This year, the section focuses on the powerful rise of AI, the role of artists on the rapidly changing landscape of technologies, and empowering narrative agency and sustainable creative practice through design.

Being (the Digital Griot) (Lead Artist: Rashaad Newsome) — In this innovative participatory experience, Being, an artificial intelligence digital griot, asks the audience to engage in unifying and challenging discussions. It features a soundscape and movement informed by a dataset from Black communities, theorists, poets, and activists, including bell hooks, Paulo Freire, Dazié Grego-Sykes, and Cornel West.

Eno (Director: Gary Hustwit) — Visionary musician and artist Brian Eno — known for producing David Bowie, U2, Talking Heads, among many others; pioneering the genre of ambient music; and releasing over 40 solo and collaboration albums — reveals his creative processes in this groundbreaking generative documentary: a film that’s different every time it’s shown.

Special Screenings:

War Game / U.S.A. (Director and Producer: Jesse Moss, Director: Tony Gerber, Producers: Todd Lubin, Jack Turner, Mark DiCristofaro, Jessica Grimshaw, Nick Shumaker) — A bipartisan group of U.S. defense, intelligence, and elected policymakers spanning five presidential administrations participate in an unscripted role-play exercise in which they confront a political coup backed by rogue members of the U.S. military, in the wake of a contested presidential election.

Robert Redford, President and Founder of Sundance Institute, comments on this year of Sundance films: “From the first edition in 1985, Sundance Film Festival has aimed to provide a space to gather, celebrate, and engage with risk-taking artists that are committed to bringing their independent visions to audiences — the Festival remains true to that goal to this day. It continues to evolve, but its legacy of showcasing bold work that starts necessary conversations continues with the 2024 program.” Joana Vicente, Sundance Institute’s CEO, on the selection: “The Institute takes great pride in the role the Festival plays in advancing our mission to support artists creating audacious work,. This year is especially significant as we look back on our history of showcasing stories that surprise and delight, spark empathy and reflection, and honor our shared humanity. We’re all thrilled for this opportunity to celebrate the power of storytelling as we gather in January to introduce captivating works from acclaimed filmmakers and discover more new voices.” Let’s go.

Sundance is one of my top festivals, and I’m excited to get a glimpse at all the films playing. This year looks as intriguing as always, with plenty of fresh discoveries and some unique premieres. Bring on another year of Sundance. Sundance 2024 runs from January 18th to January 28th, 2024. Visit Sundance.org for more.

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A Quick Visit to the 2023 Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival in Estonia | FirstShowing.net

A Quick Visit to the 2023 Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival in Estonia

by Alex Billington
November 21, 2023

Awooooo!! There’s a charming festival up in the Baltic country of Estonia called the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. Also known locally as PÖFF (which stands for Pimedate Ööde Filmifestival in Estonian) the festival just celebrate its 27th year with a 2 and 1/2 week cinema celebration. It kicked off on November 3rd and ran through November 19th in downtown Tallinn, with tons of screenings & premieres every single day. It’s much longer than a regular festival because they like to let the films play and give locals a chance to come watch them in the evenings, with hundreds of films in the line-up to choose from. There’s also a big industry event at the end of the fest, which is when I was in town for a visit. PÖFF flew me up to Tallinn this year (from Berlin) and offered me a hotel room so that I can experience the festival in person. It was a very nice trip and I’m glad I could visit to watch some more films, though I arrived a bit late and couldn’t catch as many as I really hoped to watch. It’s a well-run festival overall, with a great selection of the year’s best films.

For anyone curious, the reason it’s called the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival is Estonia is located very far in the north in Europe – just across the Baltic Sea from Finland, and next to Saint Petersburg, Russia. At this time of the year, in the dark of winter, there is very little light – the sun rises around 8AM & sets just before 4PM every day. Most of the screenings take place in the afternoon & evening, so most of the fest is set during the “black nights” of November. While the fest is known for premiering a lot of Eastern European, Baltic, and Scandinavian cinema, they’re open to anything. There isn’t really a specific theme with regards to what they play. However, my favorite thing about the Tallinn Black Nights Film Fest is the logo – a howling wolf. Even their awards are howling wolves. There was a gigantic bronze statue sitting in front of the hotel that I wanted to “acquire” and stuff into my carry-on luggage and bring home so he could keep me company in my living room while I watch movies at home. Alas, don’t think it would make it through airport security.

Most of the screenings (that I attended) take place at big multiplex movie theaters downtown where the festival HQ is based (at the Nordic Forum Hotel). They have events in other Estonian cities, but the venues are not as unique as one might expect. It’s pretty much just going to a big movie theater every day to watch. Here’s a few of my photos from the trip – one of a cinema, the other showing a sign that’s promoting the fest:

Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival

Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival

The impressive 2023 selection for the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival includes new films in a variety of different competition sections (First Feature, Critics’ Picks Comp, Rebels With a Cause, Baltic Films, etc) as well as additional various Out of Competition, Critics’ Picks, Special Screenings, Gala Premieres, and more. It’s a diverse and engaging line-up, there’s no question about that. One of my favorite Estonian films that I already watched at Sitges called The Invisible Fight (here’s my full review) received a big gala screening, along with the excellent Estonian documentary film Smoke Sauna Sisterhood that initially premiered at Sundance (here’s the full trailer). I highly recommend watching both. These two are excellent examples of Estonia’s growing prominence in cinema, but of course they have plenty of other films to offer. During my quick 5 day trip up to PÖFF, I was able to watch 8 films in total. Here are my quick thoughts on these films:

Death Is a Problem for the Living (dir. Teemu Nikki) – A superrrrrrrr dark, superrrrrrrr dry Finnish black comedy. Quite draining to watch if I may say. Not quite my tempo… It’s about these two shady hearse drivers who get involved with an underground Russian roulette ring to help get rid of the dead and, yeah, it gets extra bleak. Doesn’t quite come together, feels a bit empty and emotionless despite the best intentions of telling this extra dark buddy story. I wanted to like it more.

The G (dir. Karl R. Hearne) – Despite a fantastic lead performance by actor Dale Dickey, I really did not care for this film. It’s way too dark and unsettling and just plain boring, with strange twists and turns that don’t really work. It could’ve been a more lighthearted yet thrilling comedy (similar to I Care a Lot) without all the crime and gangsters and wannabe Taken vibes. Already want to forget about this film…

All of Us Strangers (dir. Andrew Haigh) – A really beautiful film about loss and grief, it’s one of the best films of the year addressing these themes. Touching and tender and endearing, it’s a wonderful look at how memories can be both healing and haunting; and how memories can comfort us but also hold us back. Even though I wasn’t emotionally affected by it, I still admire and respect this film and all that it accomplishes with its illustrious cast – Andrew Scott, Paul Mescal, Jamie Bell, and Claire Foy.

The Peasants (dirs. DK Welchman & Hugh Welchman) – This hand-painted follow-up to Loving Vincent is gorgeous to look at, every single frame is literally a spectacular painting. However, it’s just so depressing to watch. A town full of spiteful, angry, gossip-addicted, aggressive people who torture the only good soul around. It’s hard to watch because it just gets worse and worse and there’s so little hope… I don’t know why we need to tell stories like this when it all just feels so awful and I don’t feel better by the end.

Close Your Eyes (dir. Víctor Erice) – The best of what I saw during my visit. This Spanish film premiered in Cannes earlier this year, and was acclaimed by many there as one of the best films of that fest. I missed it during Cannes, but caught up with it here and was completely enamored. A long film that’s entirely worth sitting through. Absolutely breathtaking cinema. As rich and layered as Drive My Car, as moving and lovely as Cinema Paradiso. An instant classic. Seek out this film and watch it as soon as you can.

Pelikan Blue (dir. László Csáki) – A great discovery from this festival. An animated documentary about a group of young Hungarian teens who figure out how to create fake train tickets and travel all around Europe in the early 1990s after Hungary became an independent nation (and no one had any money). It’s a simple story told so well by charismatic characters with great enthusiasm. A reminder that everyone just wants to get out and see the world and we should all learn to embrace that desire rather than stifle it.

Light Falls (dir. Phedon Papamichael) – Solid thriller. Legit film about tourists visiting a Greek island who get into some trouble with locals. Though it makes me sad seeing what happens to them. But well done, very well done. Minimalistic but it works – effectively gripping. Great performances. I was caught up in this.

Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World (dir. Radu Jude) – This Romanian satire is fun and captivating, while also being quite messy and boring. It’s way, way too long… I enjoyed most of it, but not all of it. Jude is trying to do way too much in one film, even though he is getting good commentary with Angela & Bobita. It loses all of its steam at the end, shifting the focus right when it’s getting really good.

Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival

🐺 This is the huge wolf statue sitting in front of the HQ hotel that I wanted to bring home. It’s beautiful! I’ve always loved wolves, I have so many stories about my obsession with wolves. There are currently around 150 to 300 wolves living in Estonia, and the grey wolf has been officially chosen as the “national animal” symbol of the country. This nice statue is also what the awards look like when filmmakers win a prize at the festival. I would go to this fest as a filmmaker just to win one of these! As for the vibe of the fest itself, it’s a bit lackluster, to be frank… There wasn’t much energy or excitement at the screenings, the audiences rarely ever clapped or cheered, even at the end of wonderful films. Is this how it usually is there? Perhaps this is what Estonian society is like, perhaps the festival needs to work more on cultivating greater enthusiasm for cinema. Some of my screenings were sold out, while others were barely half full. It seems to be more of an event for locals to attend, with an industry conference on the side, though it’s hard to say if it’s worth flying all the way up to Estonia when many of these films are also playing at other film festivals around the world.

Nonetheless, I am happy to have made the trek up to Tallinn and attended my very first PÖFF. I am thankful and grateful that the festival offered to bring me and show me what the experience is like in Tallinn. And as always, I’m happy I had the chance to watch some good films. For me personally, when I go to film festivals, the films are what matter the most. Not parties, not industry meet-ups, not red carpets, not sponsor events, nothing like that. I want to watch some of the best new films each year with excited audiences interested in all of the stories being told on the big screen. I want to dive into cinema and be immersed in the lively world of visual storytelling, discussing these great films and how they move us, entertaining us, enlighten us, and inspire us all. Would I recommend going to PÖFF? Only if you’re in the area, or only if you have the time to travel up to Tallinn to watch some superb films. The A-list selection makes it worth the trip. Other favorites including Poor Things, Daaaaaali!, Past Lives, La Chimera, The Holdovers, The Pot au Feu, Fallen Leaves, Perfect Days, The Old Oak, The Promised Land, The Teachers’ Lounge, Theater Camp, and many others, also played in Tallinn this year. No matter what it’s most important to relish all this top notch world cinema.

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Fall Film Festival Season 2023 Begins – 10 Most Anticipated Premieres | FirstShowing.net

Fall Film Festival Season 2023 Begins – 10 Most Anticipated Premieres

by Alex Billington
August 29, 2023

It’s that time of year again! The fall film festival season is beginning. Starting with the 80th Venice Film Festival this week in Italy, along with the 50th Telluride Film Festival in Colorado – two of the most iconic festivals both celebrating major milestones. Then the 48th Toronto Film Festival will take over in mid-September, before Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX (starting on Sept. 21) and the 61st New York Film Festival in NYC (starting on Sept. 29). This is when all the movies that they’ve been saving for the end of the year finally make their first appearance, and it’s an exciting time for cinephiles who make the voyages to these cities to discover the latest that the world of cinema has to offer us. We’ve been covering these festivals for the last 17 years – can’t miss them. In the midst of the ongoing WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes (which we fully support!) the finished films must premiere anyway. I’d prefer it if there weren’t any red carpets, so we can actually focus on the films, but a few of the premieres have been given exceptions from SAG. I’ll be back in Venice to watch films during the festival – though this list contains films from all of these upcoming fests.

The challenge with film festivals nowadays is that it’s impossible to see everything at every festival, and it’s unaffordable to go to every festival all over the world (as much as I wish I could). Each of these fests has its own set of world premieres & special presentations – I decided to pick my own Top 10 Most Anticipated from among the entire set of films debuting this fall. Not just the ones at Venice or at TIFF or otherwise. Alas, I won’t be able to watch all of these listed as I won’t be able to attend the Toronto and New York Film Fests. But I still think these are some of the most interesting premieres. Choosing only 10 films is always a daunting task – I could name 50 films I want to see right now. However, this is always what’s so enticing and exhilarating about festivals, and why I always go back year after year. Let’s go watch and discover something new and discuss cinema! Let’s celebrate all of these achievements – and make sure writers and actors and the entire film crew are paid fairly & treated with respect. Anyway, enough of my rambling, onto the films…

The Holdovers – directed by Alexander Payne – TIFF
The Holdovers - Alexander Payne

There’s something about this film that gives me a warm & fuzzy feeling. Especially with the first trailer out, I’ve got good vibe that this might just turn out wonderful. I wish it was also premiering at the Venice Film Festival, but Toronto got the scoop instead – and it’ll probably show up in Telluride, too. Not everyone is so fond of Alexander Payne much recently, after Nebraska and Downsizing, but I still think he’s a talented storyteller who makes engaging and thoughtful films. His latest, The Holdovers, seems like a wholesome, classic Americana drama with some feel good vibes – featuring Paul Giamatti turning from a grumpy ol’ teacher into a kind friend. “With no family and nowhere to go over Christmas holiday in 1970, Paul remains at school to supervise students unable to journey home. After a few days, only one student holdover remains — a trouble-making 15-year-old named Angus, a good student with bad behavior.” Joining Paul & Angus on the stay is the school’s head cook, Mary. It also stars Dominic Sessa & Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Mary.

Lee – directed by Ellen Kuras – TIFF

Lee - Ellen Kuras

As a photographer myself, I’m always interested films about photographers. This is another new one and the set photos (like the one above) have also intrigued me to find out more and watch this. From TIFF: “Oscar winner Kate Winslet stars in this fascinating portrait of the talented American photojournalist Lee Miller, whose singular talent and ferocious tenacity gave us some of the 20th century’s most indelible images.” The film is the first narrative feature directed by an acclaimed cinematographer named Ellen Kuras (she was DP on Summer of Sam, Bamboozled, Blow, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Be Kind Rewind, Away We Go). I’m excited that she’s telling the story of photographer Elizabeth ‘Lee’ Miller, a fashion model who became an acclaimed war correspondent for Vogue magazine during World War II. The impressive cast also includes Alexander Skarsgård, Andy Samberg, Marion Cotillard, Noémie Merlant, Andrea Riseborough, and Josh O’Connor. There’s not much more they can say that will make me any more interested in watching this than I already am. The world premiere is at TIFF (on Sept. 10), wish I could be there for that screening.

Poolman – directed by Chris Pine – TIFF
Poolman - Chris Pine

This year’s The Beach Bum? This year’s Under the Silver Lake? Both combined? With a dash of Chinatown thrown in? Or something else entirely? We’ll find out soon! Actor Chris Pine makes his feature directorial debut with Poolman, a film he shot and starred in and co-wrote and produced – filmed in Los Angeles in 2022. The one-liner for this does make it sound like some kooky mystery fun: “A kinetic noir comedy where he plays an anxious pool cleaner who uncovers a curious conspiracy in the city of Los Angeles.” The cast also includes Annette Bening, Danny DeVito, DeWanda Wise, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Maybe I’m just hopeful, but I don’t think anyone should be writing this off yet. Sounds like it might be really good! Poolman “follows a hapless dreamer and would-be philosopher who spends his days looking after the pool of the Tahitian Tiki apartment block in sunny LA. When he uncovers the greatest water heist, he does what he can to protect his precious LA.” Who else is sold from that? Catch everyone at the world premiere at TIFF – if you’ll be there?

Woman of the Hour – directed by Anna Kendrick – TIFF
Woman of the Hour - Anna Kendrick

Now what we do have here? Another surprise appearance of a fresh film playing on 2023 film festival circuit is this feature debut of the actress Anna Kendrick. She has directed a crime film called Woman of the Hour, taking us back to the 70s for a very creepy story. I’m curious to see which tone she went with for this – more thriller or dark comedy or what. Since it sounds rather unsettling. Here’s the intro for Woman of the Hour: “In the 1970s Rodney Alcala went on a murder spree, luring women by posing as a photographer looking for models. Though [he was] already a registered sex offender and recently released from prison, he infamously appeared on The Dating Game, a show that introduced a set of three new bachelors each week, hidden from view as a woman asked them amusing questions before choosing a winner to go on an all-expenses-paid trip with her.” Uh wow, okay. The film also stars Tony Hale, Daniel Zovatto, & Nicolette Robinson. Premiering at TIFF first (on Sept. 8) as a “Special Presentation” there. Keep an eye out for this.

Foe – directed by Garth Davis – NYFF
Foe - Garth Davis

“I don’t want a robot living with my wife!” This wouldn’t have even been on my radar if not for the stellar trailer that MGM dropped last week. Foe is making a late appearance at the festivals – skipping a few others and heading straight to the New York Film Festival for its world premiere at the end of September. Then it opens in select theaters not too long after anyway. As many have already pointed out, this looks surprisingly similar to the recent “Black Mirror” episode “Beyond the Sea“, which debuted in Season 6 on Netflix. Foe is about: “Hen and Junior farm a secluded piece of land that has been in Junior’s family for generations, but their quiet life is thrown into turmoil when an uninvited stranger shows up at their door with a startling proposal.” That sci-fi proposal, revealed in the trailer, is to take the husband Junior up into space to work on a space station, and replace him with an exact android replica on Earth, to have him “be there” with his wife (even though he’s far away). It’s almost more of a prequel to this BM episode. The cast is mainly three people: Saoirse Ronan, Paul Mescal, and Aaron Pierre. I’m very much looking forward to watching it.

The Killer – directed by David Fincher – Venice
The Killer - David Fincher

Fincher!! It’s Fincher!! Need I say anything more?? The Killer is filmmaker David Fincher’s latest feature – with a nice 1-hour-58-minute running time. His last was Mank that premiered during the early pandemic in late 2020. Netflix teamed up with Fincher yet again to let him make this film, some kind of hitman drama. Based on a graphic novel, the actual Fincher plot remains a big mystery. There is only this: “After a fateful near-miss an assassin battles his employers, and himself, on an international manhunt he insists isn’t personal.” Michael Fassbender stars as the Assassin, along with Tilda Swinton, Charles Parnell, and Arliss Howard. From a screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker, whom Fincher has been raving about. His “director’s statement” is a rather peculiar intro: “The Killer is my attempt to reconcile notions I’ve had for years about cinematic stories and their telling. I have always held: ‘What were you doing in Chinatown?… As little as possible’ — to be the single greatest evocation of backstory I’ve ever heard… I was also playfully curious about the revenge genre as a tension delivery-system.” Whatever it is, excited to find out in Venice.

The Beast (La Bête) – directed by Bertrand Bonello – Venice & TIFF & NYFF
The Beast - Bertrand Bonello

This film was originally expected at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, but after a bit of longer wait – it’s now ready to make its mark this fall. The Beast, also known as La Bête in French, is the latest from acclaimed French filmmaker Bertrand Bonello (known for House of Tolerance, Saint Laurent, Nocturama, Zombi Child). It’s an intriguing new sci-fi film of some kind, though it seems to be more of a romantic thriller with a strong love story at its core. Léa Seydoux stars as a woman who decides to use new tech to stop having any emotions. “In the near future where emotions have become a threat, Gabrielle finally decides to purify her DNA in a machine that will immerse her in her previous lives and rid her of any strong feelings. She then meets Louis and feels a powerful connection, as if she has known him forever.” Here’s the real hype: it is set across three time periods. The film also stars George MacKay (a truly spectacular actor – always great) and Dasha Nekrasova. I have a really, really strong feeling this is going to be something special and completely win over the fall festival season this year (premiering in Venice on Sept. 3). I can’t wait to watch.

Evil Does Not Exist – directed by Ryusuke HamaguchiVenice & TIFF & NYFF
Evil Does Not Exist - Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Another mysterious fall festival surprise. Japanese filmmaker Ryusuke Hamaguchi is already back again with not one, but two, new films this fall season. So soon after he made a splash with 4 noms total and one Oscar win for Drive My Car early in 2022, which is why it’s especially exciting to see him back. His first big premiere is Evil Does Not Exist (悪は存在しない), debuting at the Venice Film Festival (on Sept. 4) before going on to show at TIFF & NYFF. The film seems to be an eco-drama about a community in Japan. “Takumi and his daughter live in Mizubiki Village, close to Tokyo. Like generations before them, they live a modest life according to the cycles and order of nature. One day, the village inhabitants become aware of a plan to build a glamping site near Takumi’s house offering city residents a comfortable ‘escape’ to nature. When two company representatives from Tokyo arrive in the village to hold a meeting, it becomes clear that the project will have a negative impact on the local water supply, causing unrest.” Hamaguchi also has a film called Gift, that might premiere at Belgium’s Film Fest Gent in October – the two films are said to be related somehow.

Aggro Dr1ft – directed by Harmony Korine – Venice & TIFF & NYFF
Aggro Dr1ft - Harmony Korine

Hmm. I don’t want to put this on the list, to be honest, but I have to. From cinema provocateur Harmony Korine (of Gummo, Trash Humpers, Mister Lonely, Spring Breakers, The Beach Bum), Aggro Dr1ft is filmed entirely with the infrared / thermal lenses. Yes, that’s the point, whatever it means. Whether this will work or not is part of the experience of watching this film (especially fresh at a festival before everyone else has something to say about it). I want to be clear – I am not sold on this infrared camera gimmick. I am not going to say that just because he’s tRyInG sOmEtHiNg NeW in cinema that it’s genius. It might be cool, it might be shit. But of course there is only one way to find out – and I’ll admit they really got my attention. I just have to see WTF is going on in this and if it’s any good. And it’s only 80 minutes. Korine’s director’s statement is hilarious & fascinating: “Wild days, wild nights. Wasn’t wanting to make a movie. Was wanting to make what comes after movies. Was wanting to be inside the world. More like a video game. But who’s playing who. GAMECORE. Edglrd. Something new on the horizon. Life is good. Without it we’d be dead. AGGRO DR1FT. In between worlds. Locked and loaded. An ode to the aggressive drifter.” Well, okay then.

Origin – directed by Ava DuVernay – Venice
Origin - Ava DuVernay

AvaDuVernay’s got a new film ready! Origin is premiering at the Venice Film Festival near the end of the festival, on the second Wednesday. There’s not too much known about it yet, or revealed so far. The film is described simply: “Origin chronicles the remarkable life and work of Pulitzer Prize winning author Isabel Wilkerson as she investigates the genesis of injustice and uncovers a hidden truth that affects us all.” The 2-hour-10-minute drama is also produced and written by DuVernay, who last directed her own feature in 2018 with A Wrinkle in Time (which didn’t get great reviews) along with the acclaimed films 13th and Selma before, and the acclaimed series “When They See Us” and “Colin in Black & White” after. The film explores “the hierarchy of injustice that has shaped America and unflinchingly examine society and its relationships with race.” Which is still vague, so I’m extra interested in really finding out what the narrative threads are. The superb cast features Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor & Jon Bernthal (seen embracing in the one-and-only photo), Niecy Nash-Betts, Vera Farmiga, Audra McDonald, Nick Offerman, Blair Underwood, and Connie Nielsen.

There are SO many other films to see this year: Pablo Larraín’s El Conde (aka The Count) about a vampire Augusto Pinochet (trailer); Michael Mann’s Ferrari mainly to see Adam Driver; Bradley Cooper’s Maestro about composer / conductor Leonard Bernstein; Yorgos Lanthimos’ funky Poor Things with Emma Stone; Timm Kröger’s in-the-mountains philosophical thriller film The Theory of Everything (trailer); William Friedkin’s final work The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial; kooky French filmmaker Quentin Dupieux’s latest film Daaaaaali! about the artist Dali; Richard Linklater’s latest Hit Man with Glen Powell; Wes Anderson’s The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar; a little film called Sidonie in Japan feat. Isabelle Huppert in Japan; obviously Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron; another little gem – the Ross Brothers’ Gasoline Rainbow; Taika Waititi’s new soccer movie Next Goal Wins also with Fassbender; Dream Scenario feat. Nicolas Cage; the extra peculiar Dicks: The Musical (trailer); Greek director Christos Nikou’s new sci-fi romance Fingernails; French director Ladj Ly’s latest film Les Indésirables; Mexican director Michel Franco’s latest Memory; Ethan Hawke directing a new film called Wildcat; and a dark horror comedy from Montreal titled Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person.

With the Venice Film Festival beginning soon, I’ll be dedicated entirely to this festival and catching films for the next two weeks and writing about them. Venice 2023 runs from August 30th until September 9th, ending Saturday night with the awards (the Golden Lion). Follow my daily coverage and instant reactions on Twitter/X as usual @firstshowing, follow my photography posts as always on Instagram @abillington, follow my reviews on Letterboxd, and check the site for daily updates on films + reviews. Back in 2016, I wrote an essay about Why I Can’t Stop Going to Film Festivals. What I said then is still true. It always is. I’m still totally addicted film festivals, and they still fill me with so much joy and inspiration. Let’s hope some of these films turn out to be all-timers – like Dune and Tar and First Man in the years before. I’m so glad to be back, so ready to start watching and analyzing, hopeful that this fest season will be another memorable one.

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Interview: ‘The Eight Mountains’ Directors Felix van Groeningen & Charlotte Vandermeersch | FirstShowing.net

Interview: ‘The Eight Mountains’ Directors Felix van Groeningen & Charlotte Vandermeersch

by Alex Billington
August 23, 2023

“Yes, we want to build this house really for real at this altitude. Yes, we really want go on a glacier.” They went to any length to make this film feel real, and authentic, and it’s all the better for it. One of my favorite films of 2022 (and 2023) is called The Eight Mountains, an Italian drama about two friends who grew up in the mountains. I have been raving about it since the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, seeing it again at another festival in late 2022, following its release in spring of 2023. Co-directed by Belgian filmmakers Felix van Groeningen & Charlotte Vandermeersch (who are also married), the film is a remarkable look at how massively powerful mountains are in shaping the lives of humans. I get all emotional just thinking about it, as I’m a huge mountain nerd myself (I even once went to Nepal to trek around the Himalayas, too). I was lucky to get time to interview Felix & Charlotte earlier in 2023 – I’d been chasing them throughout 2022 and earlier this year when they showed up at Sundance to screen the film. No matter when, I’m happy to share this conversation with the two of them – discussing the parts of the film that I think are truly extraordinary.

The Eight Mountains (originally Le Otto Montagne in Italian) is written & directed by Felix van Groeningen & Charlotte Vandermeersch; it’s adapted from the novel of the same name written by Italian author Paolo Cognetti. It stars Luca Marinelli as Pietro, and Alessandro Borghi as Bruno, two boys who become best friends growing up in the Italian Alps near Turin. The film follows them as they grow up and become men, each heading down their own paths: Bruno digs deeper into the mountains, building his own mountain hut from scratch; Pietro explores further, eventually traveling to the Himalayas and meeting a Nepali woman. The film has played at the Cannes, Munich, Melbourne, Zurich, Busan, Zagreb, Cologne, Vilnius, Tallinn, & Sundance Film Festivals, picking up tons of awards along the way. After premiering in art house theaters in the US earlier in 2023, it’s now available to stream on the Criterion Channel. I adore this film, and have written about it many times. Here is my original review from Cannes 2022. I also love the soundtrack by Swedish musician Daniel Norgren – visit his official website. My chat with Felix & Charlotte begins below.

The Eight Mountains Directors

Before making this – how closely connected to mountains were you? What is your relationship with mountains? Did this film bring you deeper into understanding and appreciating them?

Felix van Groeningen: My personal connection is – I’ve been going to this place in the center of France, in between volcanoes…. But not so high. Yet, a very remote place. The closest big shop is 20 kilometers. And the biggest city, it takes an hour to get there, so very remote. And that place, my parents went to live there first… Then they came back to Belgium. It was even before I was born. And we kept going there. My parents built a house there, I have part of my family who started living there. So I have this place that I knew from holidays, that I [also] go to when I need to feel grounded, when the city’s too much. I have my personal Bruno, also, who is my cousin, who still lives there, although they travel more than Bruno did. So I have that connection. This very pure place in the world where time stands still… Where you have very pure lakes and where you encounter yourself with the mountains as a backdrop. And with people from there that we know very well. And my mother had a relationship with a guy from there who was a mason.

Charlotte Vandermeersch: They build their own houses.

Felix: We built our own house. And before I read the book, actually I started to by accident… go into the higher mountains. And I did go to the Alps with a friend for four days to do a hike. And we slept in mountain huts and it was part of my life, somehow. And then I read this book and I’m like, okay, I wanna get to know more. And Charlotte is someone who really seeks adventure. Mountains, maybe not necessarily, but she did go by herself to the Amazon. She did a hike in the Indian Himalayas. She did the Trans-Siberian. So she’s very much an adventurer. In that sense, she also had discovered the mountains, or in being at a very remote place.

Charlotte: I combined for the film this feeling that you get, whether it’s standing in front of an ocean, on a beach all alone at night, for instance. The feeling that you get there. Or when you’re in the Amazon and you travel for days and days. Now it’s faster, because they have fast boats. But before, it was very slow and you get deeper and deeper into the forest and the emotion that brings. Then I went to the Himalayas with my best friends. And you hike for six days in a very remote area, only by foot. And I remember the emotion of it. After a few days, it really got to me. When you feel like a tiny human, but very connected to the whole universe – like you’re tiny, but it’s beautiful. Something like that…

And that I combined with growing up in the countryside. My father especially being friends with all of these old farmers. We would go visit them in these tiny farmhouses. Just seeing the way they lived. Now these people have died and things are really changing now… But this old world of farming, living with your animals, you know? It’s something that I knew from my upbringing.

As a mountain lover myself, I watch so many Hollywood movies that involve mountains and, if it’s not entirely CGI on a soundstage, they just shoot it at a ski resort. And this doesn’t feel authentic, no matter how hard they try… But from the first shot of this film – I’m in. I’m sold. And then there’s 2 + 1/2 more hours of just everything beautiful. This is not something we see often, and I appreciate your commitment. So I’m wondering, how hard was that? How much convincing did you have to do to get everyone on board to film this authentically like that?

Charlotte: I have to say, Felix is a natural. When you go for it, you [really] go into it. And then you drag everybody along. That’s a big part of it.

Felix: Yeah, sure — I have that. I guess as a director, you need to or you don’t get anything made. But we had amazing producers, I have to say, from the beginning.

Charlotte: Also.

Felix: They were all in. Of course at moments, they asked us if we could bring the script down because there were maybe too many shooting days. And other things that came up… But in terms of the vision we had or the vision we developed while we were preparing and developing the movie, because upfront I didn’t [hold back]… The way we were going to shoot it was [figured out] during the development. We said, yes, we want to build this house really for real at this altitude. Yes, we really want go on a glacier. So they went along… And then we realized as we were going along that it was worth it, that it was working and that we had to push it further. We reached a limit, at some moments, where our Italian line producer was like, “that’s not possible.” The actors are never going to sleep in a mountain hut. With the rest of the crew. And we’re like, yes, they will.

Charlotte: They will. And they did.

Felix: And they did. So we just – we kept on saying like, yes, we’re going to do that. But how I don’t know. Let’s figure it out. I guess the stress you take in making that work is that, you don’t know. And there’s nobody who really takes responsibility. Because nobody knows. So you have to bring guides. And the line producer and somebody who… the first assistant [director]. But nobody really knows. So you have to… speak everything through and try it and go to the limit and see what works and what doesn’t work—

Charlotte: Because things are scary at first. They seem a bit threatening with a lot of risks and how and if you get pushed back by that, yeah, you have to be courageous, and believe it’s possible.

The Eight Mountains Directors

Felix: [Our DP] Ruben Impens and I and Charlotte, I mean… Especially Ruben and I, we go back 20 years. And he’s an incredible force in that, too. To foresee things and to make them happen and…

Charlotte: And be courageous and not make mistakes, and “we’re going to make it work.” And be very flexible. He’s always flexible and going for it. Yeah.

Felix: I’m really happy that you say that that the mountains work so well. I didn’t know if we were going to be able to do that. But you read it [the novel] and you start to write and images start to come and then and you start to get to know the place. And it’s just something that forms itself, I guess.

Charlotte: Well, what’s crazy with you is that… We would take a helicopter – and then it all felt like, wow, it’s going to cost a lot of money, to do some location scouting in this helicopter. Then being in the Alps – “Could we land on that mountaintop? Could you land on this mountaintop?” Maybe it’s just a little bit dangerous. “Oh, we can try?” Things like that. You feel like wow, what are we doing? It’s crazy. But then we would get back down and we assess what we’ve seen and what we’ve learned and then Felix would say, okay, so what we’ve learned—okay, yeah, this is more interesting, this and that. Well, let’s go there again. And they’re like, “again?” Yeah. We need to go again. And I’m like, really? “Yeah.” Then a third time. “Yeah.”

And I’d be like, wow, this process of making this film and getting to know a place – it’s really a big effort. It’s going there again. Sometimes I was like, what? What should I be seeing now that I haven’t seen before… Not knowing the process. All right, now I can see how things evolved every time more pictures, more, more, more, yeah – it’s this whole evolution.

Felix: And I think the mountain really works because it’s also it really found its place in the script, right? In the storytelling. In function of… how the story moves and what it means for the characters or how a character becomes part of this place, that you get to know more or less in the visual geography of the movie.

Charlotte: And how important it was to defend, for instance, the walk up. [The characters] first walking up [the mountain in the film]. Then with the mules… The effort it takes. And we needed shots along the way. These are things that when you look at it and they are walking up, the producer’s saying, “why don’t you just cut those moments in between?” They start walking and then they get there. Well, it’s a big thing defending this because you need to feel the effort and to feel how far things are. And with the motorcycle, it’s a long ride on the motorcycle. And then they need to walk more… It’s like a long walk. So this is—this was a job. And realizing how important this was. You can’t just jump and be there.

Yep, that’s exactly why I’m asking about this. I’ve done one of the big treks in Nepal, too. And I learned about how much effort and energy it takes. That’s something that comes through in your film that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in any other mountain film. In documentaries, yes, but in a feature, that’s very rare to see. This is why it moved me so deeply. How much – how dedicated you were to bringing all of these lived-in, accurate experiences of the mountains to the screen and not cutting them out and not shortchanging it wherever you go…

Felix: The book set the basis of that, too. The book makes you realize more of what the mountains are. And makes you look differently at the mountains. So arriving there, having read the book, experiencing it ourselves, it became—our experience became part of the movie. That’s why we also when we went to Nepal, we said, we’re really going to do the trek. So we did it for real.

Good.

Charlotte: Yeah. Because if not, the alternative was taking jeeps and going along the paths that have been walked – the big touristic Annapurna trek. But how are we going to film him getting to a very authentic place along there? Then we would’ve had to stage that. Because we didn’t have the time to prepare also. It was during COVID-19 times, the country’s locked up, so the moment it opened up, we just went there and had a month to film…

Oh, wow.

Charlotte: And yeah, we shot a lot of great material. It was a very stressful month, but we did a lot. And we all lost like eight pounds or ten pounds. Because it was so physical.

I also want to compliment the pacing of the film, and discuss how exquisitely paced it is. At first, I thought the whole film was going to be about these two kids. Then you move on as they grow up, then they go out and experience life… After all of this time, I still I wanted to keep following their story. I wanted to keep finding out where they’re going to end up and what’s going to happen next. My first thought is – how much more footage do you have of the two kids? Could you have made a whole movie with just them?

Felix: Well, actually we cut the most from the kids. We did have more.

It felt like it… I could’ve spent the whole time watching their story.

Charlotte: We loved the kids’ section.

Felix: [There’s] another whole film. But…

Charlotte: It was really hard to cut there. That was really a pressure point that we had from up above.

Felix: Yes. Yes. For us it was – what do I want to say? We were confused at some point in the edit. When we first showed the film to people, we thought adults… the second and third part, let’s say the building of the house and everything else, was too slow. It was really taking too much time. But in the first cut, we realized all those scenes, they’re working. They’re working. Let’s give it time. Let’s give it time. But it did feel that the film was somehow out of balance. And we thought – we have to go faster there. And then reactions from people involved and not involved were rather the opposite – the beginning is harder to get into and then the rest is really working. Then it was about finding that balance. And indeed pressure from above to get the movie under 2 + 1/2 hours. And to cut the beginning. And then there were moments where we tried that, where we were like, okay, it works. It’s better. Everything’s there… it’s usable, well told, and it works. And then at moments, we did try and went further and were like, but this… no, we don’t want to go there. We have defended it! To give the kids time all through the process, in the writing, every [step of the way]—

Charlotte: Always we needed to defend that. “Why don’t we just start off when they’re already friends?” No. We we want them to feel their loneliness. It’s brief, but you feel why. It’s also something intuitive. But they have to get to know each other. And you see how different they are, there’s something energetic about their coming together. These were things that were… under attack often.

Felix: But somehow the first cuts of the scenes when they were adults… In pacing, a lot changed throughout the whole edit – as it goes. But on the other hand, it very naturally found the right pacing and it was close to what we felt on set.

Charlotte: It was close to what happened on set. It was very natural in that way. Didn’t need to manipulate.

The Eight Mountains Directors

You mean – you could get a sense for the entire story while you are on set as to what you are building and getting from these performances, right while it’s happening?

Charlotte: They had very natural pacing between the actors… When you ask them about it, I heard them answer, it was already in the script. Every pause, every—we gave a lot of silence and a lot of “air”, let’s say, space in between reactions to each other. It was not written “they’re reacting all the time.” Give it time. Breathe. Think. Take it in. Give it back. And then they just naturally delivered this dialogue and we did not need to manipulate that a lot in the edit. It just worked the way it was. That was… pretty cool.

Did you test screen the film with a public audience? Or only a family and friends preview?

Felix: Family and friends.

I’m curious: do you trust a public audience to actually give you proper feedback? Or would you rather prefer to trust yourselves as filmmakers and storytellers more?

Felix: Depends on the mood I’m in. I like to show it to people. Beause as you watch together with people, you watch through their eyes also. Sometimes it’s not so much the discussion afterwards that is interesting, but your experience as you’re watching it with them.

You speak so confidently about your editing here that I’m thinking, okay, you’ve clearly not only borrowed from some of the reactions of these people, but also made sure to stay true to what you believe in, in terms of telling the story properly.

Charlotte: Sure. We did – we showed it to people, this and that, but it’s always just us looking at each other after the screening, sharing our feelings about it. And if something comes back from one of your friends, or a person that was there, you feel confident, because yeah, I understand that. It’s a reflection of your own idea.

Felix: Yeah. The interaction with the producers was really important and beautiful at times. Other moments it was harder, but in general – and especially the first times they watched – it was incredibly productive, I would say.

Charlotte: They’ve always been very supportive. First of all, they’re nice people. They are very supportive. They know that’s what will help. The producers gave us confidence… Let us just find out where we are.

Felix: But it’s a process. In the beginning, you want try different things – with voiceover, too. You’re still figuring out what it has to be. And every step of the way… you want to stay open. Your feeling has to be right… You have to stay true to a certain feeling, but on the other hand, you have to keep experimenting – I think, that’s what makes it exciting.

Charlotte: I thought it was a interesting journey… You write and you rewrite and then you prepare and then you shoot and then things get mixed up again and so for the 50th time, you assess this scene and in the end you don’t really know anymore what you are conveying. So how much info do you need to put in? How much can you just leave out? And it’s already there. That’s where the editor is super important. Nico Leunen is a great editor. He really feels what it needs, what it doesn’t need. How you can keep some mystery, he really understands that. What you need, what you don’t need. That’s an interesting journey, I think. That’s what editing is all about. Because you stuff it with so much detail… And then you find out.

I also must ask about the choice to use Daniel Norgren for the soundtrack. I want to know about the story of how you found him and how you ended up thinking that he’s the right person for this? I think he’s perfect, I love his songs in this film, it’s a magical match. Why did you choose him to score this film?

Felix: We had gotten to know an album by him called “Alabursy“, which, a couple of tracks or most of the tracks from that album ended up in the movie.

Charlotte: This is really the inspirational album.

Felix: Yeah. Charlotte got it from her brother. And so that’s how we got to know him. I started listening to a lot while I was writing and working on the project. And I brought it up at some point with Charlotte and with Nico. And they were both very excited. We decided yeah, let’s just go for it. We reached out before—a long time before shooting. Six months before shooting. And he was very much interested. He read the script. Loved it. He wanted to do it. And then… something went off. It just became strange and he backed out. He said that he didn’t have time. That he wanted to focus on other things.

Charlotte: He’s just 250%. He suddenly realized that this would dominate his own life and work and then that he would not be completely free also, because it’s a film. You have a big production company behind it. You know? And he backed out.

Felix: It was strange, beause we had great contact and all of a sudden, he was gone. And we were really mourning. We were like, oh fuck, we really don’t know what we’re going to do…

So I started to try and find other options. And actually Charlotte is the one who was always like, no, no, no, no. And I was ready to move on… We have to find somebody else. And she kept on saying, it’s not better, it’s not better. And we tried all different kinds of music… We weren’t trying to copy his style with a different artist, that wasn’t going to make sense. We were parting in a different way. Until – as we were already shooting the movie, in between blocks, we hear a song of his on the radio and we’re both really moved and we realize it’s him and I say to Charlotte, we’re just going to ask him if we can use his songs. And that could be a solution. And we did and he immediately said yes. And that’s how we started the conversation again. Because he was still super excited by the project. And he was like, “oh, like that way? That’s fine.” And what we hoped would happen, did happen, is that at some point he’d like it. He started to send stuff that he hadn’t released yet and it became part of the movie. In the end, although he didn’t do a lot for it, it became a very creative collaboration with him.

Charlotte: Nothing was composed for the film.

Ohhh, wow, okay…

Charlotte: But he composed a lot of soundscapes, just by himself. And he had this in his drawer. And some [sounds] found their way into an album as an intro or an outro. He often uses that. But then he just told us, oh I have this left, or I have this. And then he told us – this is the film I was making music for without having a film. So that was great. That was just beautiful.

Yeah, it worked out beautifully.

Felix: It was meant to be, somehow, and it worked out after a long trajectory.

Charlotte: Yeah, he came too, for opening night. It was great.

Thank you to Felix & Charlotte for their time and also to Cinetic for arranging this interview.

The Eight Mountains Directors

Felix & Charlotte’s The Eight Mountains won the Jury Prize award at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival last year. The film initially opened in US theaters starting April 28th, 2023 earlier this year. It’s also available to watch streaming on Criterion Channel right now. Listed as one of Alex’s Top 10 Films of 2022 (screened at multiple festivals). Worth a watch anytime – enjoy the exhilarating experience of this cinematic journey.

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Yep, The Karlovy Vary Film Festival is Still One of the Best in the World | FirstShowing.net

Yep, The Karlovy Vary Film Festival is Still One of the Best in the World

by Alex Billington
July 7, 2023

If you know, you know… If you’ve been, you’ll always want to go back… At least that’s how I feel. There is a wonderful film festival in Czechia called the Karlovy Vary Film Festival – they’re celebrating their 57th year, making it one of the oldest festivals in the world (it was originally founded in 1946). This is my fifth year attending KVIFF (as it’s known – the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival), returning to this lovely little spa town in the middle of the summer to watch more films and enjoy the full-on cinema lovers party ambience. Karlovy Vary is a famous town in the hills of west Czechia, right near the border of Germany. It’s only 6 hours by train from Berlin, where I live, and even less if you go directly from Prague. They’re an A-list event and the first major festival after Cannes in May to play the best of Cannes’ selection, including all the awards winnersAnatomy of a Fall, Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell, Perfect Days, and many others. I write about KVIFF every year nowadays, because this humble festival really is one of the best in the entire world.

What makes this particular film festival stand out from so many others is how much it really feels like going to cinema heaven. In addition to the picturesque town where it takes place, as well as their always-amazing selection of films from around the world, the audience at every screening at KVIFF is full of genuine film-loving fans. No matter what time it is or what film may be showing, every screening is completely packed. Sometimes they even let in extra people who sit on the floor or stairs just because they’ll sit anywhere and don’t want to miss whatever is showing. These audiences are also respectful of the experience, very rarely ever taking out their phone or chatting, and they always seem completely engaged in and focused on the film on the screen in front of them. It’s actually kind of awe inspiring to see, especially since phone use in movies has been getting really bad again post-pandemic. This festival is Czechia’s chance to dive head first into the world of cinema, with tons of Czech people pouring in from every corner of the country to watch new films.

My biggest complaint – the chairs suck. After spending a few days the festival, my back starts to hurt because the chairs in most of the venues are terrible. There are about four venues at the festival that are actual movie theaters they takeover and use for screenings. The rest of their key venues are gorgeous old hotels (like the Grandhotel Pupp) or vintage spa palaces (like the Lazne III) or big conference rooms. Unfortunately they put the cheapest plastic chairs in these places and it’s tough to sit in them. This year I went to watch the three-hour-long Argentinian film The Delinquents (which I loved) at a venue with chairs that barely have a rigid back on them and it was tough to make it through. I doubt my complaining will make them change the chairs, but I hope one day they’ll put some better seating in. At least the “Grand Hall” (which is their version of Cannes’ Grand Théâtre Lumière), located inside the famously clunky Hotel Thermal, is a nice place with nice seats and a huge screen. All that really matters is that I can get tickets & get in to watch all these films.

Karlovy Vary Film Festival

I was first introduced to the Karlovy Vary Film Festival by a film critic friend years ago. Ever since I started attending in 2017, I’ve been passing the torch and doing my best to introduce it to more people. I also follow film critic Robert Daniels, who went for his first time in 2022 and is back again in 2023. I love his writing anyway, but his coverage of KVIFF is especially invigorating. He opens his first review article from this year with this lovely intro: “oh, how I have missed its winding cobblestone streets, its canals, and its resplendent Renaissance style. But most of all, I’ve missed the jubilant crowds and bountiful movies.” Indeed, Robert, indeed. Even if you don’t believe me, I’m not the only one going on and on about how delightful this Czech film festival is. His wrap up article from 2022 also eloquently captures what makes KVIFF so unforgettable once you attend: “I was struck by the jubilant mood of the event, and the graciousness shown by the heads of the festival—the Festival President Jiří Bartoška, Executive Director Kryštof Mucha, and Artistic Director Karel Och—along with a film community so eager, so passionate to share their festival with the world.” Yep.

In addition to coming to Karlovy Vary to watch the Cannes films I might’ve missed, or a few world premieres of something that might be the next big international breakout, their retrospective selections every year are always remarkable. I caught a total of 11 films over the five days I was in town, with a few more screeners to catch up with this weekend as the fest winds down. I always make sure I watch at least one old film on the big screen – this is one of the most important aspects of great film festivals. This year’s key retrospective is a tribute to the movies of the Japanese master Yasuzô Masumura. Most have probably never heard of this filmmaker or seen his movies before, and I admittedly only learned about him from the festival itself. I was lucky to catch one of the 11 films they showed, called Kisses (from 1957), and it was splendid. Of course, as soon as it was over I checked the schedule to see if I could catch any more of Masumura’s films before leaving, alas, there was no way to fit them in. In the past I’ve watched some Czech classics on the big screen and it’s always a delight. It’s a refreshing experience to watch old films this way with an entranced audience.

There’s only so much I can write in a post like this before I start to sound too arrogant. Above all else, if you love film festivals, you have to book a trip to KVIFF one year and experience it for yourself… As long as it’s possible, I’ll continue to return. It feels so surreal, escaping from my apartment to visit this cute spa town to watch some excellent films every summer. It’s an enriching experience that feels vital to my yearly routine nowadays, reaffirming why I love doing this (talking about movies for a living) and reminding me why I am still so addicted to film festivals. Even if the seats suck, even if it’s hard to get good vegan food in Karlovy Vary, it’s still worth it. The films matter, the audiences matter, the festival matters. Cinema still matters. And it still has the power to pull us into unforgettable stories, to bring us all together, to teach us about the world, and different cultures, different perspectives. KVIFF is a testament to the true potential of festivals and how important they are in the world of cinema. For more info or to view their line-up, visit kviff.com.

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