New Directors/New Films 2023

Naíma Sentíes in Lila Avilés’s Tótem (2023)

On Wednesday, the Museum of Modern Art and Film at Lincoln Center will open the fifty-second edition of New Directors/New Films with Earth Mama, the debut feature from former Olympic volleyball player Savanah Leaf. Rapper Tia Nomore plays Gia, a pregnant single mother with a son and daughter in foster care. Though she’s barely scraping by on her own, she’ll do whatever it takes to keep her family together.

Earth Mama is “a story of precarity,” writes Film Comment’s Devika Girish, “but it’s told with a languor and an insistence on beauty that reengineers how we often perceive destitution. Cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes shoots the film in gorgeous 16 mm, in natural light and lambent colors, so that every character and setting glows—not with the kind of stylized, set-dressed sheen that might sand down the film’s realities, but with the genuine, generous love with which Leaf and her team regard their subjects.”

ND/NF 2023 will close on April 9 with Mutt, the debut feature from trans Chilean-Serbian writer-director Vuk Lungulov-Klotz. When Mutt premiered at Sundance, Puerto Rican and Greek actor, artist, and filmmaker Lío Mehiel won a Special Jury Award for their performance as Feña, a recently transitioned man who, as Carlos Aguilar writes at TheWrap, is “finally comfortable in his own skin but still grappling with how his choice to live authentically recalibrated, for better or worse, his closest relationships.”

Two more notable first features arrive in New York from Sundance. “With spiky candor and a flourish of personal poetry,” writes Guy Lodge in Variety, South African artist-turned-filmmaker Milisuthando Bongela’s Milisuthando “probes her experience as a millennial Black woman who only began reckoning with apartheid as her country was stumbling out of it.” In the Notebook, Jordan Cronk finds that Fox Maxy’s Gush “extends the bracingly intimate investigations of identity seen in the Native American filmmaker’s short films—which center primarily on young people of various Indigenous cultures living throughout the western U.S.—onto a larger canvas that finds them integrating subtle narrative and imagistic threads into their typically hyperkinetic montage of diaristic found and original footage.”

In Lila Avilés’s Tótem, the family buzzing around seven-year-old Sol (Naíma Sentíes) prepares to throw a birthday party for her father, Tona (Mateo García Elizondo), an artist who is dying. When Tótem premiered in competition in Berlin last month, Jessica Kiang, writing for Sight and Sound, noted that Sol cries just “once; viewers might not be capable of such restraint. And yet the film is nothing so manipulative as a tearjerker, with Avilés’s exceptional direction keeping sentimentality at bay while still, almost magically, sampling the different flavors of grief that run like currents and crosscurrents between the members of this close-knit, bickering family.”

MUBI’s Daniel Kasman caught Graham Foy’s The Maiden in Toronto a few days after its premiere last fall in the Giornate degli Autori in Venice and found it to be “beautifully conceived around teenage states of mind and the tenor of their internal emotions. Admittedly, its subject is a bit too tried and true, focused as it is on disconsolate white teens. But Foy's handling transcends this cliché by taking the film's small town setting in Alberta and ensuring that its every splay of light, its attention to spaces and peoples in the high school, and the captivating textures of the surrounding woods all work in magnificent concert to evoke these damaged teenage souls.”

Among the standouts from last year’s edition of Cannes was Alexandru Belc’s Metronom, which won the Best Director award when it premiered in the Un Certain Regard program. Set in 1972, Metronom is “the kind of film that inspires confidence from the get-go,” wrote Lawrence Garcia in the Notebook, adding that “its very first shot—a slow pan across a public square in Bucharest, observing a meeting between two teenagers from afar—balancing an up-front formal decision with a keen sense of narrative expectation. And throughout the film, Belc continually uses slow camera movement and skillful in-depth compositions to create visual tension—a fitting complement to the script's myriad dramatic reversals.”

Alongside twenty-seven features, ND/NF 2023 will also present eleven shorts in two programs, and Dwayne LeBlanc’s nineteen-minute Civic has impressed the New Yorker’s Richard Brody. “The title suggests both the film’s setting—the interior of a car—and the public life that emerges from its confines,” writes Brody. “A young man named Booker (Barrington Darius) returns to his neighborhood, South Central Los Angeles, after a long absence and, in a few days and nights, reconnects with friends yet discovers his distance from the community at large. The script, by LeBlanc and Nicole Otero, sketches vast emotional surges in brief encounters, and LeBlanc’s direction—yielding a surprising succession of sharply composed shots, a poignant overlay of voices, and poised performances—blends freedom and precision in a style entirely his own.”

For news and items of interest throughout the day, every day, follow @CriterionDaily.

You have no items in your shopping cart