“If you would like to see the most exciting films being produced in America today,” begins Calum Marsh in the Voice, “the BAMcinemaFest makes it almost too easy to do so. Now in its fifth year, the festival—which assembles something like a greatest hits of independent cinema by cherry-picking the standouts from bigger festivals the world over—enjoys a clear curatorial advantage over its competitors: quality over quantity.” And “the most interesting films of the 10-day festival—Jem Cohen’s stirring and mysterious Museum Hours, Sebastian Silva’s hilarious Crystal Fairy (see the Sundance roundup), Andrew Bujalski’s utterly bizarre Computer Chess (Sundance) among them—may not have the fest-circuit buzz of the biggest Sundance darlings, but they are vibrant and essential all the same. Zach Clark’s provocative comic melodrama White Reindeer is the best film of the festival and also among the most striking and original American films to emerge in some time.”
“The festival opens with David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, a lyrical Sundance hit about an escaped convict (Casey Affleck) trying to get back to his wife (Rooney Mara) and daughter,” notes Andy Webster in the New York Times. “Mr. Lowery displayed his exquisite visual sense in his 2009 feature St. Nick and 2011 short Pioneer; here he recreates the Texas Hill Country in the 1970s with the cinematographer Bradford Young (Pariah). The film will be screened, following a live introduction from the stars and director, on the spanking-new Steinberg Screen at the BAM Harvey Theater, a modern platform for brave new visions.”
Writing for the L, Henry Stewart notes that “there’ll also be many films from up-and-coming local filmmakers—at least nine of the 25 features—making it something of a hometown festival. We spoke to the writers, directors and producers of these movies and asked them about life in Brooklyn, what the local film community is like, and which of the borough’s movie theaters is the best.” The interviewees: Omar Mullick, who’s co-directed the outstanding These Birds Walk with Bassam Tariq; Lana Wilson and Martha Shane, co-directors of After Tiller; Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman, co-directors of Remote Area Medical; Lisa Kjerulff and Nick Bentgen, producer and director, respectively, of Northern Light; Darci Picoult, writer of Mother of George (see the Sundance roundup); Ben Nabors, director of William and the Windmill; Zach Clark (White Reindeer); Shaka King, director of Newlyweeds; and Sebastián Silva (Crystal Fairy).
And Henry Stewart reviews Museum Hours. “Mary Margaret O’Hara plays a Montréalaise who travels to Austria to visit a comatose cousin; broke, bored and lonely, she wanders the local art museum, where she meets a guard played by Bobby Sommer, and they slowly, gently, sweetly become friends…. Writer-director Cohen and his cast and crew seem animated by an appreciation for, and curiosity about, art—how it relates to our own experience while expanding our understanding.”
It’s one of the “five can’t-miss titles” Keith Uhlich has written up in Time Out New York: “The overall experience is invigoratingly heady and deeply moving.” Another one is This Is Martin Bonner, which “sidesteps almost every pitfall promised by its premise,” that premise being “two men form an unlikely friendship.” It’s directed by Chad Hartigan, who’s interviewed by Andrew Chan for BAM’s blog. And the other three are Remote Area Medical, the “divinely alien” Computer Chess, and Malcolm Ingram’s documentary Continental, about a “gay bathhouse, specifically the sexual-cultural mecca opened by opera singer turned entrepreneur Steve Ostrow in Manhattan’s Ansonia Hotel in 1968.”
At Filmmaker, Howard Feinstein‘s “five strong recommendations” are White Reindeer, This Is Martin Bonner, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, These Birds Walk (“the most beautiful documentary I can remember”), and Museum Hours.
Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn picks five as well. The two that haven’t yet been mentioned are Michael Bilandic’s Hellaware, a “satiric jab at the New York art scene” that “suggests what might happen if Jim Jarmusch directed an episode of Girls,” and Eliza Hittman’s debut feature, It Felt Like Love: “Set deep in the shadows of lower class Brooklyn neighborhoods, it turns the tropes of a coming-of-age drama into something close to visceral horror.”
Daniel Walber, writing for Film.com, likes that one, too, but for him, “no film on the program is quite as immediately electrifying as Andrew Dosunmu’s Mother of George.” Also: “The documentary shorts program is especially clever. Dustin Guy Defa’s Declaration of War is a surprisingly powerful recut of George W. Bush’s declaration of the war on terror, while the similarly minimalist Century adds an odd new perspective to the demolition of a car. The whole group, from the trippy Catnip: Egress to Oblivion to the bewildering Apes as Family, thrives on tossing out everything you might expect from a program of ‘documentary’ shorts.”
The festival’s on through June 28.
Updates: In a quick plug for the festival at Artinfo, J. Hoberman names his two must-sees: Computer Chess and Museum Hours. And Glen Helfand‘s interview with Jem Cohen has gone up today here in Keyframe.
Michael Tully‘s posted a big overview of the fest at Hammer to Nail and, as it happens, the trailer for James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now (see the Boston roundup) has appeared today: “After last year’s Smashed, which took a refreshingly honest approach to an otherwise familiar story of alcoholism acceptance and subsequent recovery, Ponsoldt tells another booze-soaked tale that is simultaneously frank and sweet. Ponsoldt has a rare knack for eliciting effortlessly natural performances from his young actors—in this case, Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley are remarkably good—resulting in a movie that seems ‘young adult’ on the surface—perhaps that’s because its source material is a young adult novel—but ends up resonating much more deeply than that.”
Updates, 6/22: “Even though the script for his new film was co-written, Porterfield has indicated that he considers I Used to Be Darker to be his most personal and collaborative film to date,” writes J.J. Murphy. “It’s also his best.”
“The two not-to-miss movies, Andrew Bujalski’s Computer Chess (opening in July) and Andrew Dosunmu’s Mother of George (opening in September), suggest that the once promising project of American independent film has not entirely devolved into Hollywood calling cards or Malick ‘homages,'” writes Amy Taubin near the top of her overview of the best of the fest for Artforum. “Less striking stylistically, Chad Hartigan’s This Is Martin Bonner and Destin Daniel Cretton’s Short Term 12 (see the SXSW roundup) are moving, honestly introspective narratives about halfway-house counselors who forge empathetic relationships with their troubled clients. The difference between the two films is that the fear of future in Martin Bonner is particular to middle-aged men, while in Short Term 12, traumatized teens are helped toward becoming independent adults. The ensemble cast of the latter film is so in sync and true to the experiences of their characters that at many moments, one might mistake fiction for documentary.”
Not only does Crystal Fairy have a new trailer, but David Poland interviews Cera, Silva, and Gaby Hoffmann (30’40”).
“Nothing happens in This Is Martin Bonner, and that’s the best thing about it,” writes Sam Adams at the AV Club. “In truth, that’s not quite fair: Chad Hartigan’s second feature, while not exactly packed with incident, has its share of decisive and revealing moments; it’s just that it’s left open what decisions have been made, and what’s been revealed…. It’s a brief wisp of a movie, but one that’s not easy to shake.”
For the New Yorker‘s Richard Brody, two of the films in the narrative shorts program “are among the most impressive films I’ve seen this year. I’ve reviewed Dustin Guy Defa’s Lydia Hoffman Lydia Hoffman in the magazine this week… Amy Seimetz’s When We Lived in Miami picks up the tone of her feature Sun Don’t Shine. This new film, too, is a Florida melodrama, and Seimetz (a superb actor who recently starred in Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color) captures a similar mood.”
Film.com‘s Jordan Hoffman on Hellaware: “This is a wafer thin movie, but there isn’t a scene in its brisk 75 minute runtime that isn’t developing its central characters in an almost surreptitious manner.”
At Twitch, Christopher Bourne presents an annotated photo gallery of highlights, among them, Remote Area Medical: “a powerful indictment of the shameful situation in the U.S. of millions of its citizens having no access to affordable healthcare. The people of Bristol, Tennessee, who line up for hours at a temporary clinic set-up in a NASCAR speedway to see a dentist, get glasses, or take care of life-threatening health issues, are the very real human faces of this tragedy.”
Interviews at BAM’s blog: Cynthia Lugo with Farihah Zaman (Remote Area Medical), Andrew Chan with Eliza Hittman (It Felt Like Love), Nathan Gelgud with Michael Bilandic (Hellaware), Claire Frisbie with Ben Nabors (William and the Windmill), Susan Yung with Zach Clark (White Reindeer), and Jessica Goldschmidt with Martha Shane and Lana Wilson (After Tiller).
Speaking of After Tiller, when it premiered at Sundance, Sam Adams noted in a dispatch to the AV Club that the documentary about late-term abortions “takes its name from Dr. George Tiller, who was murdered by an anti-abortion zealot, so it wasn’t surprising that the audience had to pass through a metal detector on their way in, and that instead of a security guard watching for contraband iPhones, the screening was monitored by a uniformed policeman.”
Keyframe editor Susan Gerhard called it “one of the most courageous pieces of filmmaking and programming I’ve ever seen.” Time Out New York‘s David Fear wrote that “the directorial duo are interested in profiling the four remaining third-trimester abortionists in America and how their lives have been affected, personally and professionally, by what they do. The result isn’t pro-choice propaganda so much as a re-evaluation of why this quartet have stuck with providing this service and how, given that many such procedures are performed due to serious-to-terminal fetal health issues, keeping this a legal option is actually humane compared to post-natal euthanasia.”
More from Duane Byrge (Hollywood Reporter), Anthony Kaufman (Screen), Eric Kohn (Indiewire, A-), Ray Pride (Movie City News), Scott Renshaw (City Weekly), Alissa Simon (Variety), Kim Voynar (MCN), and John Wildman (Film Comment).
“Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq’s These Birds Walk is a film that looks at life through the eyes of Omar, a young boy in Karachi who ran away from his family and has made his way into an orphanage filled with other boys like him,” wrote Gabrielle Lipton at the House Next Door when the film premiered at True/False earlier this year. “They’ve all endured some mix of abuse, neglect, or utter lack of adult care, and if it weren’t for this house run by the Edhi Foundation, the largest philanthropic organization in Pakistan, they would most likely be begging on the streets, as Omar has done before. The insecurity and despondency of the boys’ difficult childhoods is manifest in various ways: they pick fights with each other, they talk to each other about what their homes were like and why they left, and they pray. The boys all look under the age of 10, but their harsh realities have forced them into such early losses of innocence that their conversations about God and family contain far more life wisdom than kids their age should possess.”
“These Birds Walk‘s adolescents seem to find genuine solace in their religion; the film captures Islam as a religion of peace,” wrote Vadim Rizov for Filmmaker, where Nick Dawson‘s interviewed Mullick and Tariq. The film’s “more rough than tender but never gratuitous or exploitative, hard to shake, and a fine entry in cinema’s history of tortured male youth doubling—in the trips to return the boys home—as a travelogue of Pakistan’s least hopeful areas.”
“Drinking Buddies may have a cast full of popular film and TV actors, it might have a bigger budget and a more accomplished cinematographer, but it is still a Joe Swanberg movie through and through,” wrote Matt Singer at Screen Crush when this enjoyably laid-back comedy premiered at SXSW in March. “Kate [Olivia Wilde] works at [Jason] Sudeikis’s microbrewery, and spends most of her downtime on the job palling around with a scruffy co-worker named Luke (Jake Johnson). Their relationship is an endless parade of beer-fueled flirtation; shared lunches, inside jokes, giggles, hugs and smooches. But Kate and Luke aren’t a couple; in fact, they’re both committed to other people. After Kate and the boys from work drink the night away, she shacks up with Chris [Ron Livingston], while Luke lives with bubbly Jill (Anna Kendrick). Kate finally introduces Chris to Luke and Jill, and the foursome decide to take a vacation together. When the couples swap partners for an afternoon’s entertainment, the sexual tension begins to simmer.”
“Drinking Buddies plays as a kind of comic tap dance at the edge of an adulterous abyss, with human feeling hitting the wall of cultural expectations, most fascinatingly in the Kate/Luke relationship,” wrote Kenji Fujishima at the House Next Door. “Whereas Chris and Jill are more open with their feelings in the heat of the moment, Kate and Luke sublimate their romantic urges through alcoholic beverages and flirty banter without ever actually coming right out and expressing the feelings bubbling just under the surface—though a scene in which Kate implores Luke to go skinny-dipping with her comes perilously close. In short, the drama between them lies almost exclusively between the lines.”
Jesse Cataldo in Slant on Museum Hours: “One long section delves into a few of Brueghel’s pastoral paintings, which, despite their ostensible focus on religious figures, place those figures within grand, documentary panoramas of everyday life, the size and spectacle of which dwarf all the individuals within them. Museum Hours has that same sort of impact, and while the story at its core is lovely, it’s the delicate treatment of that story, and the deftness exhibited in incorporating a purposefully small narrative within an achingly expansive context, that makes the film a masterpiece.”
Update, 6/25: At BAM’s blog, Andrew Chan talks with Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq about These Birds Walk.
Updates, 6/29: With Museum Hours rolling out into theaters beyond BAM’s, reviews and interviews are popping up all over. See, for example, J. Hoberman at Artinfo, Max Nelson at Reverse Shot, and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at the AV Club. And for more: Critics Round Up.
For Jesse Cataldo, writing in Slant, Crystal Fairy is “a pleasant but forgettable comedy which ends up stifling its early potential.”
At Artinfo, David D’Arcy posts notes on the “hardheaded bluntness” of These Birds Walk and the “dead-pan recollections” of Continental.
Stephen Saito: “As Nate [Keith Poulson] learns, it’s one thing to create something attention grabbing, but quite another to say something. Hellaware does both.”
New interviews at BAM’s blog: Andrew Chan with Destin Cretton (Short Term 12) and Allison Kadin interviews Shaka King (Newlyweeds). Plus: A map of Brooklyn dotted with the locations of various filmmakers’ neighborhoods.