First Look 2024

Bill and Turner Ross’s Gasoline Rainbow (2023)

When Bill and Turner Ross’s Gasoline Rainbow (2023) premiered in Venice last fall, Leonardo Goi, dispatching to Filmmaker, called it “a standout in an otherwise hit-and-miss Orizzonti section.” Five teens, fresh out of high school, set out on a five-hundred-mile journey from their small Oregon town to the Pacific coast. “What’s remarkable about Gasoline Rainbow,” wrote Goi, “is the ease with which the Ross brothers build on the tritest of formulas—the road movie—for a tale that feels joltingly alive.”

In their directors’ statement, the brothers said that they “imagined the cast of Streetwise navigating the wild roads of Easy Rider—restless youth guided by a spirit of freewheeling exploration, shot out of a cannon into the new frontier. A punk rock Wizard of Oz.

Like their previous work—Tchoupitoulas (2012), Western (2015), Contemporary Color (2016), or Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets (2020)—Gasoline Rainbow, the winner of the Punto de Encuentro Award in Valladolid and an Audience Award in Luxembourg, seems to hit a sweet spot for programmers and viewers alike. Selected in January for Unknown Pleasures, Berlin’s festival of American independent cinema, the film screens on Wednesday at SXSW in Austin, on Saturday and March 20 at CPH:DOX in Copenhagen, and next month as part of the inaugural edition of the Los Angeles Festival of Movies. On Sunday, Gasoline Rainbow will close out First Look, the “annual festival showcasing adventurous new cinema” at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York.

The thirteenth edition of First Look will open on Wednesday with Sujo, Astrid Rondero and Fernanda Valadez’s follow-up to Identifying Features (2020). Days before Sujo won a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, the Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney wrote that it was “both a hypnotic mood piece and a shattering tragedy, a requiem for casualties of [Mexico’s] migrant crisis whose fates remain shrouded in mystery. Working in tandem as writer-directors on Sujo, Valadez and Rondero again mix grit and lyricism, this time to trace the coming of age of a boy growing up in a climate of lurking cartel violence. The new feature doesn’t match its predecessor’s distinctive spell or cumulative power, but its undertow of menace is expertly sustained, and its dread buffered by hope.”

There are two Showcase Screenings in this year’s program. In Tendaberry, the debut feature from Haley Elizabeth Anderson, Dakota (Kota Johan), a young Dominican American woman in Brooklyn, falls for Yuri (Yuri Pleskun), a Ukrainian who is called home when his father suffers a heart attack. “Its mostly free-flowing structure and sensual sensibilities make Tendaberry comparable to similarly conceived and thematically akin efforts,” suggests Carlos Aguilar in Variety: “the first-person documentary Beba, last year’s All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt, or Andrea Arnold’s American Honey. But Anderson’s film finds its own cadence in how cinematographer Matthew Ballard and editor Stephania Dulowski summon a feeling of raw immediacy and unforced progression.”

The Featherweight, the other Showcase Screening, is another first feature. As a cinematographer, Robert Kolodny has worked on Robert Greene’s Procession (2021), Laura Poitras’s All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (2022), and Sean Price Williams’s The Sweet East (2023). In The Featherweight, one of seven films in the First Look program recommended by Jordan Raup at the Film Stage, James Madio plays Willie Pep, a former champion boxer mounting a comeback in the mid-1960s. “Taking on a compellingly slippery conceit,” writes Raup, “the film is shot as if a documentary crew was following Pep’s every turn, including direct-to-camera confessionals from the boxer. The gamble offers a fascinating narrative bridge and one that, thanks to Adam Kolodny’s 60s-esque grainy cinematography, keeps us immersed in every step of his journey.”

Filmmakers Ekiem Barbier, Guilhem Causse, and Quentin L’helgoualc’h shot Knit’s Island in the virtual world of DayZ, a video game set on an Eastern European island where a zombifying virus rages. “Open-world gaming presents an alternative to reality, a nearly limitless frontier where the rules of gravity and society need not apply, where the term ‘simulation’ extends in every direction, from game mechanics to interpersonal intimacy,” writes Nicholas Russell for Reverse Shot. “In that sense, Knit’s Island takes as its subject not the potential addictiveness of DayZ’s immersion but its value.”

For Filmmaker, Lauren Wissot talks with Elizabeth Nichols about Flying Lessons, a portrait of punk painter and performer Philly Abe, and as Wissot describes it, “a beautiful ode to a New York City Lower East Side artist as well as to the larger ‘dying breed’ that once roamed the streets of Alphabet City, performing in its now extinct clubs. Importantly, it’s also a call to end rampant gentrification and a love story between director and character all rolled into one.”

Lois Patiño’s Samsara, which is set first in Laos and then in Tanzania, won a Special Jury Award when it premiered in the Encounters program in Berlin last year. Writing for Sight and Sound, Ben Nicholson noted that “the juxtaposition between the two halves—the philosophical and political, the metaphysical and the material—seems to celebrate the breadth of lived experience. The passage between them allows us to marvel at cinema’s miraculous capacity for the transportive and sublime.”

Patiño is one of many directors who will be in New York to present and discuss their films. First Look 2024 will offer workshops, an installation by Fiona Tan, and new short films by Kevin Jerome Everson, Nathaniel Dorsky, and others. “Over five days, our festival creates a space for active discovery, experimentation, dialogue, and possibility,” says artistic director Eric Hynes at Hyperallergic.

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