NewFilmmakers Still Makes Weekly Discoveries, 16 Years On
The weekly NewFilmmakers series is a prolific beast, screening more than 1,000 films — documentaries, shorts, features — a year. The program, which runs at New York's Anthology Film Archives, usually occurs on Wednesdays, when one can, for the price of a standard ticket, see upward of 10 movies, some of which are often connected to an individual theme or topic: The Sept. 3 program is memorably billed as "Christian Sex Night." The series is managed with an open-arms attitude, accepting roughly 30 percent of films submitted. (By contrast, recent estimates put Sundance's acceptance rate in the ballpark of 1 percent.)
For budding filmmakers, the benefit of the series is obvious: the opportunity to screen work in an ideal theatrical environment. For audience members, the appeal lies in the programming's diversity. Though the generous acceptance rate and the focus on showcasing inexperienced filmmakers mean quality levels vary, there aren't many other places to view, say, a doc on an Asperger's-diagnosed boy with a dazzling knowledge of animals (Tim O'Donnell's For the Love of Dogs); a comedy about an L.A. garbageman who is mistaken for a movie star (Barry Worthington's Hollywood Trash); and a portrait of obsessed John Grisham fans (Alex Nathanson and Dylan Neely's Letters to John Grisham) on a single Wednesday evening.
Since its inception in 1998 as the smallest of operations — a neat opportunity for NYU grad student Barney Oldfield and fellow students and friends to see their work projected in a theater on 35mm — NewFilmmakers has blossomed into a bicoastal, digitally capable operation, with a branch in Los Angeles and a website, NewFilmmakersOnline.com, where filmmakers can submit their work and potentially make a profit from online downloads. In terms of exposure, the series' breakthrough feature was probably David Maquiling's New Jersey–set Too Much Sleep, which opened theatrically in the United States at Anthology in October 2000. Among the film's most ardent fans was then-Voice critic Amy Taubin, who compared Too Much Sleep to Richard Linklater's Slacker and proclaimed it "so good it made me wish I had kept that workhorse phrase 'remarkably assured debut feature' just for it." Another find from NewFilmmakers' past: the microbudget horror sensation The Blair Witch Project. In a recent phone interview, Oldfield described Blair Witch's screening at Anthology's 72-seat Maya Deren Theater as technically rough — the famously scrappy-looking movie wasn't yet blown up to 35mm — but its eventual success speaks for itself.
Still, the series has never lost sight of its modest roots, with Oldfield and his volunteer collaborators — Bill Woods, who introduces each film and moderates postviewing Q&As, and program and marketing director Brandon Ruckdashel (Co-Ed Confidential) — remaining committed to seeking out talent in the most nascent stages of development. "We really are based in filmmakers — at the beginning point in their careers," Oldfield says. The August 20 lineup confirms this focus — The Beekeeper, which tackles the entertaining topic of New York City beekeeping, is just Susan Sfarra's second feature-length doc — while also revealing the series' taste for fun, creative programming: Three of the films scheduled to screen were shot with Google Glass. On Oct. 1, meanwhile, NewFilmmakers begins a string of 10 straight days of screenings — an occasional necessity for a series dedicated to showing as much new work as is logistically possible.
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