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First Time Fest Makes Auspicious Debut

You never forget your first. The First Time Fest, which launched March 1 to 4, 2013 in New York City, no doubt took this maxim to heart in slating debut features that are also memorable finds.FirstTimeFest

A dozen films from first-time directors contended for a grand prize that entails theatrical distribution by Cinema Libre Studio. Diego Rougier's Southern Cone Western Sal beat out the competition, while road movie Headfirst earned kudos both for the directorial efforts of Amélie Van Elmbt and for the performance of star Alice de Lencquesaing. Summertime also caught the jury's attention, honoring director/writer Max Weissberg for his screenplay set in Manhattan's Lower East Side.

Alongside the novice works screened in competition, FTF also programmed a First Exposure roster of initial features from such burnished names as John Huston (The Maltese Falcon), Stanley Kubrick (Killer’s Kiss) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (Jack Goes Boating). Darren Aronofsky figured in this lineup as well, and Martin Scorsese presented the Pi director with the John Huston Award for Outstanding Achievement in Cinema at a ceremony emceed by Ellen Burstyn.

First Time Fest

Panels with industry brahmins plus confabs with novas from thesp Michael Shannon to crooner Harry Belafonte further garnered positive buzz for First Time Fest's first time.

First Time FestThe brainchild of Johanna (daughter-of-Tony) Bennett and Mandy Ward, FTF managed in four quick days to stake out its place in New York's crammed festival docket. Credit in no small part goes to programmer David Schwartz, of Museum of the Moving Image fame, and to festival producer Mitch Levine, but beyond the screen and sheen, the welcoming, congenial atmosphere endeared itself to festgoers and conferred that intangible thing that makes year two an event to look forward to.

First Time FestFor one, it remains to discover next year's wild card in the vein of Urban Tale, an exhilarating display of chutzpah from Eliav Lilti. Tel Aviv is the backdrop for this spiky saga about an incestuous brother and sister who are seeking the father who abandoned them as children to tell him about the recent death of the mother and to reconnect with him.

Not since August Strindberg's The Stronger has monologue so carried a drama, and possibly not since bad girl Catherine Breillat -- whom along with Godard Lilti acknowledged as an inspiration -- have acts of the flesh come off as such a seduction and turn-off at the same time.

First Time FestDuring Q&A, the Israeli director explained that the film is based on a a true story. Yet with its taboo theme, raw sexcapades and convention-busting narrative, Urban Tale requires the risktaking of a forum like First Time Fest that can tread where more rooted marquees might not dare. (JCCs and Jewish Film Festivals come to mind.)

Their loss is FTF's gain. Though Urban Tale isn't for everyone, this nano-budget indie maverick adds ballast to a developing trend in Israeli cinema -- think Nadav Lapid's Policeman or Eran Kolirin's The Exchange -- of films out to shake up what passes as kosher topics, storytelling techniques and aesthetics.

First Time FestUp-ending tradition seems a fine tradition for FTF.

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