What Do We Mean by ‘New Director?’

Posted by Richard Peña on 3.16.2012


Djinn Carrénard filmling his debut feature Donoma (2011)

Probably the two questions I’ve been asked most often during my 24 years on the Selection Committee for New Directors/New Films have been, “What do you mean by ‘new director,’” and “What’s the difference between New Directors and the New York Film Festival?” The first is relatively easy to answer: the vast majority of films each year in ND/NF are by first- or second-time filmmakers. Informally, you remain “new” as long as your work has not had two commercial releases or has appeared in major international film festivals. Like just about everyone else, we can be flexible, but these are the guidelines by which we measure possible films for the programs.

The second question is perhaps trickier and somewhat more personal; since Wendy Keys left the Film Society, I’ve been the only one who has served on both committees. The New York Film Festival does show first- and second-time films, although usually not too many. The difference, it seems to me, is where each of our respective committees for New Directors/New Films and the New York Film Festival places its major emphasis. Because a good portion of the NYFF is usually composed of works by established, well-known filmmakers, audiences are generally expecting very completely realized works, films that show their artists working at the height of their powers. While many films presented in New Directors are just as completely realized, I think that over the years we’ve also shown our good share of films that are in various ways rougher, more tentative or even more reckless, more willing to take wild chances. While this might result in works that are, for some viewers, less than completely satisfying, whatever perceived shortcomings in these films are more than made up by the thrill of witnessing the emergence of new artistic voices.

For over 40 years, we’ve been able to present a festival like New Directors/New Films because of our audiences. Our audiences seem to instinctively understand the experimental, innovative character of our selections, and know that one of the great aesthetic pleasures of New Directors is having the chance to discover tomorrow’s auteurs today, a claim our track record more than bears out. Working on New Directors/New Films has been a joy, and a privilege, and I’m deeply grateful to my colleagues on the selection committee over the years for their wisdom, friendship and support. I’m delighted that our selection for 2012—my last year on the ND/NF committee—is, in my opinion, one of our very best.

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