It can be a little overwhelming - even for people who make their living writing about movies - to find and celebrate talented up-and-coming talented filmmakers. Dozens of movies come out every week in theaters and on streaming services, and it can be tricky to find the gold among the dross.
That’s why I love the New Directors/New Films festival, which has been happening in New York every March for nearly half a century. It’s a joint venture between the Film Society at Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art, whose curators select some of the most intriguing films of the year so far from emerging filmmakers. Often, its movies previously appeared at Sundance or the Berlin Film Festival. And while the mix can be a little messy, it’s always interesting.
This year’s festival was no exception - and if you like movies, you’ll want to keep an eye on these. Here are seven films, both fiction and nonfiction, from the 2019 edition of New Directors/New Films worth your notice.
Alfre Woodard stars in Chinonye Chukwu’s Clemency.
Bernadine Williams (Alfre Woodard) has worked as a warden at a maximum-security prison for years, and it’s clearly been wearing on her health, her marriage, and her soul. She sees her work as important - caring for the inmates and quietly supporting them as they approach their execution dates. But then a lethal injection goes awry, and as the date for the next one approaches, she finds herself reaching a breaking point.
Clemency won the Dramatic Competition Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2019, and it’s easy to see why. Director Chinonye Chukwu crafts a heavy, deliberate film, with rich, widely framed shots and dark colors that make the emotional toll on not just Williams but her coworkers, their families, the inmates, and the inmates’ loved ones extra clear. Anchored by an absolutely stunning performance from Woodard, it’s an unusual way to expose the injustices of the capital punishment system without forgetting the individuals who are stuck in its gears.
Clemency will be distributed in the US by Neon.