BAMcinemaFEST 2011

David Hudson

Updated through 6/26.

"The golden age of New York moviegoing is now," argues AO Scott in the New York Times. "Two events in the coming days offer confirmation of this hunch." Tonight "in Brooklyn the BAMcinemaFest opens with Weekend, Andrew Haigh's bracing, present-tense exploration of sex, intimacy and love, the first of 26 features that will play, along with 24 short films, over the next 10 days. And Friday is the official opening night of the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, a charming two-screen jewel box carved (by the architect David Rockwell) out of garage and office space at Lincoln Center." He touches on the Museum of the Moving Image and the reRun Gastropub Theater as well, before returning to BAMcinemaFEST: "Not everything in the lineup is quite so perfectly realized as Weekend, but the range and generosity of the sampling make it hard to go wrong. Even the misfires and train wrecks are interesting, and the odds of discovering something new and wonderful are good. (Check out Dragonslayer, Tournée, Septien, The Catechism Cataclysm and The Color Wheel with your friends and then quarrel about which is brilliant, which is boring, which is charming and which is unbearable.) Among the documentaries, Last Days Here, about a heavy-metal singer fighting addiction and trying for a comeback, and The Redemption of General Butt Naked, about a former Liberian warlord looking for forgiveness, are fascinating character studies."

In the Voice, Seth Colter Walls spells out his problems with Matthew Lessner's The Woods and Sophia Takal's Green as well as what it is he admires about "a pair of knockout docs about war zones and how they change American landscapes, rural and urban," Charlie Ahearn's Jamel Shabazz: Street Photographer and Heather Courtney's Where Soldiers Come From. He also endorses Weekend and one more narrative feature: "As the Forest Service–working protagonist in Letters From the Big Man says from her prime perch within Oregon's Cascade mountain range, the woods are a place where 'disconnected city people come to get connected again.' Her character levels this as a criticism, but oddly enough she's in one of the few films at the festival that has some compassion for the conflicted urban outsider. Big Man mashes a few genre moves (the title refers to a soulful Sasquatch) against complex political concerns (forest conservation and logging) to cross-pollinate a field in which some new form of emo-indie intimacy can take root. Even when unsure of whether a climax absolutely requires rising action, director Christopher Munch's hybrid winds up feeling like an authentic discovery of indie territory left unexplored since John Sayles's 1984 Brother From Another Planet."

"For me, it was one of the high points," agrees Ed Champion. Alex Ross Perry's The Color Wheel, however, "plays like the mentally handicapped love child of Kevin Smith and Diablo Cody." He does put in a good word, though, for Where Soldiers Come From: "Courtney is after the bigger and little discussed picture of how sharp young people, attracted by the money and a desire to serve their country, don't entirely comprehend the consequences until they're in too deep."

IndieWIRE's Eric Kohn picks five must-sees and Time Out New York's David Fear recommends eight titles, noting, "With a stronger-than-usual mix from both [Sundance and SXSW] and top-notch strays from other big-name events, 2011 could be the year this Brooklyn festival finds its footing."

Viewing. Reverse Shot is producing shorts that it's calling trailers, and why not. See, for example, Michael Tully ride a horse. David Fear calls his Septien "equally disturbing and moving, with an oddball sensibility that's leagues apart from the usual hi-def hipster dross." Todd Rohal talks religion; let me again recommend Catechism Cataclysm, which has only grown on me since I caught it at SXSW. And "Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and Marie Losier Talk Friendship." The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye has picked up a full shelf of awards since premiering in Berlin.

Updates, 6/17: "Like the brief relationship it portrays, Weekend's gut-punch emotional impact depends on just how unexpected its final trajectory is," writes Paul Brunick at Alt Screen. "With its locations from and references to Karel Reisz's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, the 1960 classic of kitchen-sink realism, Weekend starts within stomping distance of its predecessors' caustic character studies and downbeat social determinism. But its pitch starts to build, slowly but with geometric progression, climaxing in an affective register that's so tear-jerkingly romantic it might seem to come from another film entirely. The near-final scene could have been a perfunctory cliche of formulaic love stories if it weren't so entirely earned by its talented young leads, so seamlessly integrated by its director, so inevitably, devastatingly, perfect."


"Like Weekend, some of the best movies in the BAMcinemaFest — Asif Kapadia's Senna and Azazel Jacobs's Terri — are scheduled to open later this summer," notes Amy Taubin, writing for Artforum. "The latter is a beautifully observed, radiantly photographed, occasionally hilarious depiction of a misfit teenage boy coming of age with the help of a clumsy but hopeful guidance counselor (John C Reilly, subtle at last). Senna is a documentary portrait of the Brazilian racecar driver, a three-time Formula One world champion who became a martyr for the sport that consumed him when, at the age of 34, he was killed behind the wheel of a car about which he had grave misgivings…. One doesn't need to know or care about racing to be thoroughly moved and shaken by Senna, or to realize that the miracle of the movies has allowed us to see a genius at work."

The L's Mark Asch talks with Alex Ross Perry and his co-writer Carlen Altman about their film, The Color Wheel, in which they play Colin and JR, "differently directionless semi-estranged siblings road-tripping to pick up JR's things from the house of the professor (indie filmmaker Bob Byington in a memorable cameo) with whom JR's just broken up. Along the way, they banter and bicker incessantly, drawing out each others' insecurities, which are further flayed by everyone they meet (including a number of familiar faces from the microindie festival circuit, and New York City in particular, like Kate Lyn Sheil, Chris Wells, and Ry Russo-Young)." Julia Yepes talks with them, too, for Interview. For indieWIRE, Bryce J Renninger gets a few words with Perry alone.

Marshall Curry's If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front "tells the story of what happens to a group of sexy eco anarchists, once the sex clears, the bellies bulge, and the reality of life starts to cock block their dreams." Jon Reiss for the New York Press: "It's a wildly successful and engaging documentary." More from John Anderson in the NYT, James van Maanen and Lauren Wissot for Slant.

Updates, 6/19: The Color Wheel is becoming one of the most talked about films at the festival. Ignatiy Vishnevetsky here in The Notebook: "Schooled in film history but not beholden to it, treating style as expression rather than a given, taking its ambitions seriously, willing to explore unexplored or marginalized territory: the cinema of the future, I hope." Interviews with Perry: John Lichman and Vadim Rizov at the House Next Door and Miriam Bale for Slant.

Steve Dollar at GreenCine Daily on Michael Tully's Septien: "The writer-director casts himself (in full Jeremiah Johnson beard) as Cornelius Rawlings, a high-school football star who disappeared mysteriously in the middle of a game 18 years earlier. The prodigal returns to the family homestead, a farm outside an unnamed Nashville, where he finds his two brothers: Amos (Onar Tukel), a recluse who spends his days penning grotesque illustrations of sexual acts like a sub-Ivan Brunetti, and Ezra (Robert Longstreet), a religious nut and crossdresser who flutters about like an obsessive mother hen. Within a few moments, it's obvious why Cornelius might leave. The deep dark secret is why the hell he would ever come back?… The lazy passing of time is an essential quality of life in the South, though not every moment can be lensed with the lingering observance that cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier (Putty Hill) brings to Super 16mm. Shit busts loose, in a big way, as the story progresses, beyond brilliantly acted gothic kookdom into a kind of ecstatic revelation." And John Lichman and Vadim Rizov talk with Tully at the House Next Door.

Updates, 6/20: The New Yorker's Richard Brody on Green: "Sophia Takal's shrewdly psychological first feature is anchored in the milieu of young creative strivers and the emotional strains arising from their ambitions…. Takal's tensely panning, long-take camera style suggests a microbudget version of Otto Preminger's dialectically balanced framings, and the voices heard, as if in closeup, over distant shots of the characters in the lavish landscape evoke a jagged inner disarray, which the insistent music reinforces. She coaxes melodrama from first-person naturalism and smartly blends the allure of genre with do-it-yourself intimacy." And in The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye, "P-Orridge is revealed as an innate artist who inflects and illuminates every aspect of existence, high and low, humble and exalted, with a singular sensibility; [Marie] Losier's film captures the poignant paradoxes, the ecstasies and burdens, of the transformation of life into art." The L's Mark Asch interviews Losier.

Blogging for the New York Press, Leslie Stonebraker on The Color Wheel: "The very spring from which the comedy springs — Colin and JR's infighting — is the film's downfall. After an hour of bickering and awkward dramatics, it is extremely difficult to muster the emotion to care that the film has, as director and star would like you to think, flipped on its head."

But the New Yorker's Richard Brody agrees with Ignatiy: "I think that directors in the front lines of American independent filmmaking are finding a new and surprising approach to cinematic style. First, the best of their immediate predecessors, far from eschewing style, have sought a more organic approach to it, a way to style that arises directly from experience. Whether it's Joe Swanberg's way with masks and screens within screens, Matt Porterfield's luminous panoramas, Andrew Bujalski's ironic glances, the Duplass brothers' weirdly controversial zooms, Frank V Ross's agile camera eye, Ronald Bronstein's roughed-up textures, or his shambling yet commanding performance in the Safdie brothers' Daddy Longlegs, the points of aesthetic delight and presence of the physical touch are as crucial to these first-person works as in a film by Max Ophüls."



Update, 6/23: Tom Hall at Hammer to Nail on The Color Wheel: "The pace and tone of [Perry and Altman's] banter and the intimacy of their performances is so in synch, so perfectly attuned to the inevitability of the next barb, that the familiarity of the characters as brother and sister is beyond doubt. This is crucial to Perry's narrative strategy; every sequence, every line in the film seems to be thinking two to three moves ahead, which not only secures the natural rivalry of the sibling's relationship, but also engages the audience on an almost literary level; think Franny & Zooey tuned upside down and inside out."

"In the fertile but drab rural environs around Burnley in Lancashire, a man tosses a sack of kittens into a creek," writes Justin Stewart for the L. "Three spying siblings wait for him to leave, then hurriedly rescue the litter. The opening scene establishes [Bryan Forbes's] Whistle Down the Wind's [1961] simple conflict — the cruel, sensible adult world, in which unwanted kittens are a nuisance to be rid of, versus the compassionate child world, in which you help things in trouble. Wiser than some summer camp rebellion, 'Adults Suck!' tract, by film's end, Whistle Down the Wind has exposed the blindsides and virtues of both worlds, and called into question who deserves to be called naïve. It can be classified as a film for children because it both concerns and stars them, and because the story and morality have a simple, fable-like clarity. But it might be a richer experience for adults, who will find their basic identification with the young protagonists complicated by understanding for that grim grownup pragmatism."

Updates, 6/26: Steve Dollar talks with Mathieu Amalric for GreenCine Daily and L Caldoran posts another roundup at Cinespect.

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BAMcinemaFESTAndrew HaighChristopher MunchHeather CourtneyMichael TullyTodd RohalMarie LosierAlex Ross PerryNewsFestival Coverage
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