The 2017 edition of BAMcinemaFest, the city’s premier indie-film showcase, begins June 14, and continues through Sunday, June 25. Below, we’ve listed our picks through the festival’s opening weekend.


Gemini

With his latest film, Aaron Katz returns to the mystery-thriller realm of his 2010 film Cold Weather. This time, Katz centers the intrigue on Jill (Lola Kirke), a personal assistant in Los Angeles who is forced to carry out her own investigation into who killed Heather Anderson (Zoë Kravitz), the Hollywood starlet she works for, when police suspect her of committing the crime. As was the case with Cold Weather, though, genre takes a backseat to character. During its leisurely first 20 minutes, Katz takes his time simply hanging out with Jill and Heather, observing their interactions, basking in their sense of camaraderie, and establishing the emotional stakes that fuel the genre elements that overtake the rest of the film. And yet, even as he has his plucky and resourceful main character donning disguises, sneaking into hotel rooms and tailing people on her motorcycle, Katz never loses sight of this crucial relationship, skillfully building to a climactic reveal that doubles as a test of their loyalty to each other. (Opening Night screening June 14, 7:30 p.m., with introduction by Aaron Katz, Lola Kirke, and Zoë Kravitz before screening; NEON will release the film theatrically)


Princess Cyd

It’s a grandiose title for what is ultimately yet another intimate coming-of-age tale from Stephen Cone (whose Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party was a highlight of BAMcinemaFest’s 2015 edition). But when the eponymous Cyd (Jessie Pinnick) first appears on-screen, one can immediately sense something special about her: a high-wattage life-force spirit, a seemingly boundless curiosity about herself and the people around her, and a youthful optimism that belies her troubled past—in particular, a traumatic shooting incident she witnessed as a child that left her mother dead. She’s not the only major character in Princess Cyd. Cone’s film is also Cyd’s aunt, Miranda (Rebecca Spence), a successful writer with whom Cyd stays for a summer, and who is dealing with her own middle-age troubles; plus, Cyd’s budding relationship with genderqueer Katie (Malic White) becomes a major thread in the film. But even more than Cone’s empathy for all his characters and his wisdom about people in various states of transition, it’s Cyd herself that will linger in the memory, especially as brought to luminous life by Pinnick, for whom this ought to be a star-making performance. (Screens June 17, 1:30 p.m., followed by Q&A with Cone, Pinnick, Spence, cast and crew; Wolfe Releasing will release the film theatrically)


Columbus

Traces of the cinema of Yasujiro Ozu are everywhere in Columbus, from its stationary camera set-ups, still-life compositions and unhurried pace, to the story it tells of two characters—Jin (John Cho) and Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), the former an expat visiting the titular small Indiana town, the latter a life-long resident—grappling in part with their devotion to their parents (or lack of it, in Jin’s case). And certainly, if you know his previous video-essay work well—in particular, these two inventive assemblages—you’ll go into the debut fiction feature of writer/director Kogonada aware of his fascination with the films of the Japanese master. But Columbus never feels like a mere imitation. With Casey, an architecture fan, spending a fair amount of the film showing Jin the many architectural marvels around town, Kogonada’s film is, more subtly, about art—the ways art appreciation can be as much about channeling one’s own inner emotional states through the work of others as it can be about escaping them. Among recent films, only Jem Cohen’s Museum Hours (a distinguished member of BAMcinemaFest’s 2013 lineup) has been as insightful about the messy intersection between art and life, and like Cohen’s film, Kogonada finely balances this covertly academic angle with intimate personal stories that eventually sneak up on you in emotional power. (Screens June 17, 4:15 p.m., followed by Q&A with Kogonada; Superlative Films/ Depth of Field will release the film on August 4)


Dina

Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini’s vérité documentary is essentially a love story—albeit one between two mentally disabled people, both somewhere on the autism spectrum. But there’s no trace of the sickly sweet sentimentality of, say, Garry Marshall’s The Other Sister here. Instead, Dina is an unsparing yet warmly affectionate chronicle of the difficulties Dina Buno faces in trying to forge a lasting romantic connection with fiancé and eventual husband, Scott Levin, whose Asperger’s-based reluctance toward overt physical contact occasionally frustrates Dina in ways that are connected, to some degree, to her own troubled romantic past. The film is noteworthy in wading deeply into the kinds of relationship difficulties that most films, fiction or nonfiction, either refuse to acknowledge or treat with jokey kid gloves. But above all, Dina is distinguished by the lovable Buno herself, whose generally sunny and optimistic disposition makes her a magnetic camera subject. (Screens June 18, 1:30 p.m., followed by Q&A with Sickles, Santini, Buno and Levin; Orchard will release the film in theaters October 6)


En El Séptimo Día

This new film from Jim McKay—whose last feature was Our Song way back in 2000 (and which will be playing at a free outdoor screening at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 1 on June 22)—distinguishes itself in the way it marries two seemingly incompatible genres: working-class neorealist drama and sports movie. Much of En El Séptimo Día simply observes José (Fernando Cardona), an undocumented Mexican immigrant, during a week in his life in Sunset Park as he juggles both his restaurant-delivery job, his desire to provide a way for his pregnant wife to join him in the U.S., and his loyalty to his soccer teammates in an upcoming championship game. By its last half-hour, though, the film becomes a straight-up sports drama, complete with big-game suspense and last-minute heroics. It’s a measure of how well McKay, in his own understated way, establishes José’s emotional stakes in the build-up to this climactic sequence that this shift feels seamless and organic rather than abrupt. Plus, McKay’s refreshingly warmhearted and good-humored perspective on the lives of José and other illegal immigrants is a welcome alternative to the kind of grinding miserablism that is usually de rigueur with such narratives. (Centerpiece screening June 18, 5:30 p.m., followed by Q&A with McKay; currently without distribution)

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