Filmmaker Magazine’s New Faces of Independent Film, by Craig Schroeder
Each summer, Filmmaker Magazine compiles a list of the “25 New Faces of Independent Film”, in hopes of “provid[ing] a snapshot of the young independent filmmaking community”. Past years have seen the likes of Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow), Miranda July (Me and You and Everyone We Know and The Future) and Craig Zobel (Compliance). Filmmaker Magazine has begun a national screening tour (times and locations are available on their website) showcasing short films by three of the twenty-five filmmakers: “Needle” by Anahita Ghavinizadeg, “Refuge” by Mohammad Gorjestani and “Surveyor” by Scott Blake.
Needle, dir. Anahita Ghavinizadeh
“Needle”, from writer and director Anahita Ghavinizadeh and winner of the Cinéfondation’s Prize for Best Student Film at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, is about a young girl, Lily (Florence Winners), pressured into piercing her ears by her overbearing and controlling mother, Ellie (Moe Beitiks). It’s a meditative story about growing up as an American teenager, living in the shadow of your parent’s expectations.
The film succeeds on the shoulders of its young star, Florence Winners. The camera often lingers on Winners as she attempts to explore and understand the strange world around her. When Winners finds a small victory over her mother, it’s the long reaction shot on Lily that proves to be the most haunting and memorable moment of the film.
The interactions between Lily and her mother are at once the best and most distracting parts of the film. The smart dialogue conveys the emptiness of their relationship without ever being obvious or dull. But their interactions suffer from a pair of strange affectations: Lily plays with her chewing gum and Ellie wears a pair of white cotton gloves that she’s constantly removing. If presented organically these affectations could be subtle insights into the nature of the characters. Instead, they feel like deliberate and transparent attempts to make already interesting characters more interesting; thus revealing them only as characters and making them less relatable.
Anahita Ghavinizadeh is a promising director and “Needle” offers a mostly sobering commentary on the lives of suburban America.
Refuge, dir. Mohammad Gorjestani
“Refuge” is the most ambitious of the three films. Sonia (Nikohl Boosheri) is an Iranian immigrant living in the United States in the year 2020, amidst an increasingly ugly digital war between the U.S. and Iran. Sonia, an activist and blogger, is called to appear in front of an American counsel, where she, and a number of other Iranian immigrants, are informed that they’ve been identified as potential dangers to the United States. With the looming threat of deportation, Sonia’s options are limited and, in some cases, frightening.
Director Mohammad Gorjestani, an American transplant from Tehran living in San Francisco, creates an unnerving atmosphere that is hard to shake. “Refuge”’s America doesn’t look all that different from today’s America, despite being a disturbing vision of the future. Gorjestani is to be praised for making a film that is simultaneously contemporary and apocryphal in its depiction of the United States.
Like Florence Winners in Needle, Nikohl Boosheri is charged with carrying most of the film and she does so quite convincingly. Her performance is evocative but subtle, a hard balance to strike for a character asked to represent a large sect of the population in only twenty-one minutes. In a film that is so conceptual, the characters could easily become shallow background, but Boosheri’s performance keeps Sonia’s humanity, and that of the film, intact.
For all it’s prognosticating, “Refuge” is a deeply personal film about xenophobia and assimilation. Where a lesser filmmaker would have made “Refuge” overtly professorial and silly, director Mohammad Gorjestani never loses sight of the compassion that makes the film work.
Surveyor, dir. Scott Blake
“Surveyor” is a simple film; and one with a chaotic history of rejection and revival (read Scott Blake’s bio on Filmmaker Magazine’s website for more on the film’s bumpy voyage). The film follows a turn-of-the-century, government surveyor as he begins his long journey home and encounters thieves, comanches and the ills of humanity.
Described by Filmmaker Magazine as an anti-western, “Surveyor” is a visually arresting film, comprised of meticulous, meditative shots of the vastness of the American west that serve as a stark contrast to the violence that Surveyor encounters and causes on his journey. Director Scott Blake has a keen eyes for beautiful shot composition, a talent that allows him to tell more of the story than the sparse screenplay.
The film is meandering by it’s very nature, but when Surveyor interacts with peripheral characters (and less capable performers), the stiff acting and staccato dialogue slows the pace dramatically. Luckily, David Kulscar’s portrayal of Surveyor, stoic but violent (a la Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name), is strong enough to salvage some of the more rigid interactions.
“Surveyor” is beautifully composed and photographed. Writer and director Scott Blake has an eye for aesthetics and I’m excited to see what he’ll put on the screen in the future.