Tyro helmers brew powerful punches

Grant nominees: Someone to Watch

Now in its 13th year, the Someone to Watch Award honors “a talented filmmaker of singular vision who has not yet received appropriate recognition.” In other words, the nominees listed below have been collecting awards and strong reviews on the festival circuit but most likely won’t be seeing their low-budget gems break weekend records at the box office. The prize, sponsored this year by IFC and Acura, comes with a $50,000 cash grant.

A teenage love story set in the Korean immigrant community, So Yong Kim’s quietly powerful debut feature, “In Between Days,” bears much in common with the director’s own childhood. Like her protagonist, Aimie, Kim was born in Korea and moved to the U.S. when she was 12 years old. Kim started working on the script while living in Iceland, where her boyfriend was making his first film. “I felt like an immigrant all over again,” she says of her two-year stay there. “All these memories and feelings came back from my years of growing up in Los Angeles. I simply wanted to share or communicate certain feelings I experienced as a teenager.”

Shot on DV for less than $100,000, the pic premiered at Sundance 2006, where it was awarded a special jury prize for independent vision. It also won the Fipresci critics kudo at Berlin. Kim’s follow-up, “Treeless Mountain,” will be shot on location in Korea this fall.

On her first foray into narrative feature filmmaking, Julia Loktev decided to take on a story of frightening proportions: the tale of a female teenager who decides to detonate a bomb in New York’s Times Square. With “Day Night Day Night,” Loktev delivers a film that is remarkable not just for what it reveals about the mentality of a suicide bomber, but also for what it refuses to explain — we never learn where the protagonist comes from or why she has decided to kill herself.

“I wanted to tell a story that begins with a point of conviction and then see how the real world interferes with that conviction,” says Loktev, who in 1998 won the director kudo at Sundance for her docu “Moment of Impact.” The low-budget “Day Night” was shot documentary-style on location in New York and includes a 40-minute sequence in Times Square. It has racked up a number of awards on the international fest circuit, including the youth prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Very few first-time directors can say they invented their own genre. But Richard Wong’s “Colma” may just be the first, if not the last, low-budget slacker musical. Wong first came up with the idea when his friend H.P. Mendoza emailed him a song to see if it might work for his MySpace page. But Wong had bigger ideas: Within weeks, he had convinced Mendoza to write a first draft of the “Colma” script and 12 additional musical numbers. Pic shot in August 2005 and made its world preem at the San Francisco Intl. Asian American Film Festival in 2006. It has since screened at a number of Asian and gay-and-lesbian fests. “I think ‘Colma’s’ success is a great story for those films that don’t get into Sundance or Toronto,” says Wong. “It shows that a film can get seen through smaller festivals, word of mouth and a lot of community support.”

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