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15 Under-the-Radar Highlights at the 55th New York Film Festival

Written by on September 25, 2017 

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Considering the esteemed level of curation at the New York Film Festival, which begins this Thursday at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, a comprehensive preview could mostly consist of the schedule.

There’s the gala slots (Last Flag Flying, Wonderstruck, and Wonder Wheel), Main Slate selections (featuring Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird, The Square, Mudbound), two films from Film Twitter phenom Hong Sang-soo, and much more, as well as a 24-film Robert Mitchum retrospective and a delectable line-up of restorations.

So rather than single all of these out for our yearly preview, we’re looking at a handful of under-the-radar highlights from across the festival. Check them out below and return for our coverage.

Before We Vanish (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)

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There are few directors who would choose to take a semi-sincere approach to a lengthy pseudo-philosophical science-fiction film — especially not one that lightly pries into our fundamental psychological foibles — but there are few directors quite like Kiyoshi Kurosawa. The prolific Japanese filmmaker behind such varied genre gems as Pulse and Tokyo Sonata has constructed a sort of skittish and overlong, albeit pleasantly existential oddity in Before We Vanish, an alien-invasion B-movie packed with A-grade ideas and craft. Nail down your windows. Lock your doors. It’s the invasion of the concept snatchers. – Rory O. (full review)

BOOM FOR REAL The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat (Sara Driver)

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It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, but I imagine the experience of seeing Sara Driver’s new documentary in New York will be a whole different thing –especially if one grew up in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Tracking artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and the performance world to which he was so integral, it promises to be an ode to a long-lost Lower East Side.

Cielo (Alison McAlpine)

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While we await a proper release of Terrence Malick’s Voyage of Time, another documentary that looks at the awe and wonder of our earth (and beyond) is world-premiering at the New York Film Festival. Cielo, the feature debut from Alison McAlpine (Second Sight), explores the heavens above the Andes and the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. The first trailer showed stunning skyscapes and introduces the astronomers, fishermen, miners, and cowboys that take us on this journey.

Convergence

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We’ll concede that this is a bit of a cheat, as it’s an entire section of the festival, but if you’re in-between movies during NYFF’s first weekend, there’s no better place for cutting-edge virtual-reality exhibits and more boundary-pushing technology than these free events. Of perhaps the most interest is Lucasfilm and its visual-effects division, Industrial Light & Magic, publicly debuting a Virtual Production toolset, which allows “filmmakers to build and scout a virtual set, manipulate props, puppeteer characters and vehicles, even compose shots to create virtual storyboards.”

Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? (Travis Wilkerson)

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Earning acclaim since debuting his project at Sundance, Travis Wilkerson gets personal in his latest documentary. Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? explores the story of his white-supremacist great-grandfather, S.E. Branch, who murdered an African-American man in his small town of Dothan, Alabama in 1946. Playing as both an investigation of this (uncharged) crime and a look into his own family, it looks to be an unfortunately essential documentary.

Félicité (Alain Gomis)

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A wild and adventurous fourth feature from French-African director Alain Gomis, Félicité find ourselves in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one of the world’s most dangerous places and a hard place in the best of times to make a living. Gomis, alongside cinematographer Céline Bozon, photograph the city as a wild, confused metropolis, unspooling over new-money concrete blocks, dirt tracks and a make-shift hazardous slums. It’s where Félicité, played with style and jazz by Congolese theatre actor Vero Tshanda Beya, works hand-to-mouth as a singer in raucous night clubs. The opening scene shows Félicité in full voice in a dive bar, where men drunkenly brawl and wads of notes are sent her way in reckless abandon, shot with an explosive energy. – Ed F. (full review)

Filmworker (Tony Zierra)

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There’s perhaps no filmmaker at the center of more documentaries than Stanley Kubrick, but a new one coming to NYFF proves that not every angle about his legendary filmography and life has been explored. Filmworker takes a look at the life of Leon Vitali, who first met Kubrick playing Lord Bullingdon in Barry Lyndon and would go on to become a close assistant to the director, even overseeing restorations of his films after his passing. With interviews from Vitali himself and many others in Kubrick’s close circle, hopefully this brings more insight to a unique relationship.

Four Sisters (Claude Lanzmann)

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Not one, not two, not three, but four new films from Claude Lanzmann will world-premiere at the New York Film Festival. While that sounds like a daunting undertaking from the director of the essential epic Shoah, these four films are, understandably, a bit shorter. Four Sisters consists of interviews from around the Shoah shoot featuring “four women from four different areas of Eastern Europe with four different destinies, each finding herself unexpectedly and improbably alive after war’s end.”

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