The BAMcinemaFest is the success story of the year, with imaginative programing by curators who hand pick the best indie films and documentaries. They cull these treasures from important film festivals like Sundance and SXSW, as well as from recent restorations. The curators also have a keen awareness of the emerging Brooklyn Film community who migrated there because of the high rents in Manhattan.
This year the film festival is in full bloom—premiering 35 movies in 12 days. After five years of building an audience, all the films I saw this year (the smart choices with engaged post screening Q&A’s) were sold out.
MoMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Tribeca better look over their shoulders because BAMcinemaFest this year outdid New Directors and had as many interesting documentaries as Tribeca. Many of the films will be released theatrically over the next few months and I will review them as they come out. Tangerine I already have.
The Human Rights Watch Film Festival at The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reed Theater was so strong that many a night it almost made my heart stop. I will tell you I learned things I did not know.
Burden of Peace taught me the holocaust that took place in Guatemala with over 200,000 Mayan Indians murdered. And the courageous Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz who went after the top political leadership responsible, including a former President. Also outstanding was the new film from Oscar nominated Gini Reticker—Pray the Devil Back to Hell. The Trials of Spring follows what happened after the Arab Spring through the eyes of Egyptian women. No Land’s Song documents a young Iranian composer and her fight to get women’s solo voices, banned since the installation of a religious state, back in public performance.
From Sundance came 3/12 Minutes, Ten Bullets; Cartel Land and The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (best doc yet on Panthers and it is not just about guns, defiance and death). Also, Tangerine (see review in June issue) and The Yes Men are Revolting have theater releases coming up.
Let’s Go to the Movies:
What Happened, Miss Simone? Director Liz Garbus
A hit for Netflix at Sundance comes first as a theatrical release. Oscar nominated Garbus holds nothing back and tells the story of a gifted classical piano-playing teenager and how she grew to be a unique blues singer. Simone came of professional age in the early ‘60s when black power and identity seized the stage…literally. Like Lena Horne, she was right in the thick of black power politics. Much more steeped in Fanon than King, she brought her politics right onto stage with her blues.
Troubled and triggered by racism and blacklisted for her outspoken political views, she, like other black Americans, left and found some relief and lots of recognition in Europe. But she was not a “back to Africa” kind of person although she was there with Stokely Carmichael and Miriam Makeba.
Garbus has the guts to not romanticize her. Simone becomes very human in her triumphs and tragedies. The film asks the question: can racism and surveillance make one sick physically and mentally. As strong as the real Nina story is and the answers that the film gives to the title’s question about “what happened,” she is most revelatory when she sits and sings. I say as strongly as possible, you should see this film—and try to see it in a theater with a good sound system. Trailer: https://youtu.be/moOQXZxriKY
Cartel Land Director Matthew Heineman
Cartel Land looks at both sides of the border and how citizens rather than government are fighting the cartel’s drug smuggling. Heineman walks a very taut tight rope and never falls into the sinkhole of justifiable advocacy. He goes back and forth introducing us to people caught up in being on the border where migration and drug commerce takes place. Mexico has a charismatic Che-like Doctor and Arizona has an ex-military vet patrolling the border. Vigilantes? heroes? You decide.
Love & Mercy: The Brian Wilson Story Director Bill Pohlad
This film deviates from the norm of music bio films. Pohlad chooses to not be chronological and his choice to mix the young Brian (Paul Dano) with the Brian of today (John Cusack) clears away a lot of the clutter. Paul Giamatti plays the psychologist who both saved and controlled Wilson’s life and Elizabeth Banks plays the car saleswoman who put an end to the 24/7 controlled environment and becomes his wife.
All the actors are interestingly cast and the delivery from minor to major roles was impressive. Wilson, no matter what his mental health issues were, was a musical genius. The most intensely gripping moments are when, in the middle of recording, Wilson gets auditory hallucinations. The extended scene in the studio complete with the studio band the Wrecking Crew including Carol Kaye is the anchor of the film. Not your typical rock star bio pic, but much more insightful into the surfer driven band. The script by the Director/writer is pitch perfect.
Jimmy’s Hall Director Ken Loach.
Jimmy’s Hall is set in Ireland in the 30’s. Jimmy Grafton went to America during the Irish famine and got US citizenship while keeping his Irish passport. He returned to Ireland after the Wall Street crash of ‘29 with a secular view of religion and politics formed by the Russian revolution. He worked organizing communities by building community centers where dances as well as labor discussions can take place—much to the concern of the Roman Catholic Church.
Perfect landscape for Loach and his humanity driven storytelling, Frank Capra meets Agnes Varda. Beautifully cast with the screen filled as usual with faces of actors so real looking you think you are watching a documentary. Based on a real person, its twists and turns have more in common with a Scottish jig than Irish Step dancing. Less didactic than the usual feel-good movie, it takes on both the Church and State and wears it on its sleeve. Like every Irish person I have known.
Spy Director Paul Feig
Yes Melissa McCarthy is fat, crude and hilarious. It is also clear that there is a very intelligent woman behind this in-your-face-fat-girl. Her willingness to not be held back from her comedic instincts by her physical self reminds me of the late Imogene Coca (Google Your Show of Shows (w/Sid Caesar) for a lesson in comedy history.)
Written and directed by Paul Feig, who knows exactly how to push Ms. McCarthy’s talent to the max without falling into a sinkhole of stereotype. He has his character use her physical bulk to make a statement and allows the audience to see the erotic desire and self-respect rare when presenting a non-physically conforming lead female character.
What I like about McCarthy’s humor is the absence of self-loathing despite the almost slapstick element. She uses her physicality in the same way Sacha Baron Cohen does—directly with an unstated, fierce “yes, what do you want to make of this” query.)
In Spy, McCarthy romps through what I’d imagine is every smart and /or “big girl’s” fantasy—“I can do that just as good as you slim women or handsome men”—and that could include a whole lot of overweight women in America.
The spoof on James Bond-type spy adventure films had the theater I was in laughing almost all the time. About ten minutes in, I stopped worrying about the health consequences of making a star out of an overweight women and just allowed myself to enjoy and get caught up in the laughs exploding around me. McCarthy is a very, very funny woman, and Spy is well done if not sticky.
Warning: Avoid The Wolfpack Director Crystal Moselle
Moselle is a young critic’s darling. This movie made me see red at Sundance. A young college student who wants to be a filmmaker sees on the street five long-haired young men walking in a pack and is fascinated by them, secretly following them to where they live in public housing. She continues to follow them whenever she hears they are out, which is extremely rare, as they have been kept inside by their parents sometimes for a full year.
Why is not ever made clear—nor is much actual information given to the viewer in order to understand who these boys are. We are titillated with some “facts.” They are home-schooled by their mother; they learn most of their social skills by play acting out Quentin Tarantino films. (Got that!) There is a sister, but we never learn anything about her. In fact, we never learn much about any of them except what we see.
This film should have stayed a film school project where Moselle could have benefited from scholastic critique. Instead, the film was snatched up at Sundance and the director, rather than learning from the mistakes she has made, becomes a festival celebrity. Oy!
(cc) Jim Fouratt jimfourattsmoviesthatmatter.blogger.com