BAMcinemaFest, BAM’s annual survey of independent film, is among New York’s highest-quality, best-curated film festivals, period—its concentrated, diverse program of mostly NYC premieres is sort of an alternative kick-off to the summer blockbuster calendar. The eighth annual BAMcinemaFest runs from June 15-26, and the main feature program was announced yesterday. (Shorts and special events are still to be announced.) We’ll have much more to say about the festival next month, but for now, here’s a few highlights. The full program can be found here.
Kate Plays Christine (Dir. Robert Greene)
BAM says: “In 1974, Florida newscaster Christine Chubbuck made headlines (and became an inspiration for Sidney Lumet’s Network) when she committed suicide on live television. In this Sundance Special Jury Award-winner, actress Kate Lyn Sheil (House of Cards, The Girlfriend Experience) heads to Sarasota to investigate the facts as she prepares to star in “a stylized cheap ’70s soap opera” version of the story that may or may not be in production. Questioning the assumptions that often fuel cinematic recreations of the past, Robert Greene’s latest film is a mercilessly self-interrogating nonfiction thriller that explores the ethical pitfalls of media representation.”
We say: Writing on Greene’s previous film, similarly focused film Actress, in 2014, Emma Myers reported on a post-screening Q&A where Greene reflected on his interest in performance and reality: “The initial idea was an experiment. My previous two films explored what it’s like to perform yourself. [I wanted to] elevate that by making a film about a great actor [simply] living her life.”
Weiner Dog (Dir. Todd Solondz)
BAM says: “Two decades into a career of mining the varieties of human dysfunction, celebrated independent filmmaker Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness) casts new light on the grotesque suburban landscape through the eyes of man’s best friend. As a hapless female Daschund makes her way through a series of troubled owners—including a failed screenwriter (Danny DeVito), an embittered octogenarian (Ellen Burstyn), and the resurrection of Solondz’s cult heroine Dawn Wiener as a veterinary assistant (Greta Gerwig)—Solondz crafts an outlandish, sometimes surreal portrait of all-American malaise. Elegantly shot by Oscar-nominated cinematographer Edward Lachman (Carol), the latest comedy from one of American cinema’s most uncompromising artists is rich in existential despair, scatological humor, and unexpected compassion.”
We say: Writing from Sundance in January, John Oursler called it “[Solondz’s] best film in almost 20 years, which features an inspired cast including Ellen Burstyn, Julie Delpy, and Zosia Mamet, a highlight in a rare dramatic role.”
Little Men (Dir. Ira Sachs)
BAM says: “One of American independent cinema’s most perceptive filmmakers delivers an achingly empathetic drama that confronts the complexities of gentrification. After the death of his father, struggling actor Brian (Oscar nominee Greg Kinnear) inherits a Brooklyn house and moves in with his family. His artistically inclined teenage son Jake finds an inseparable friend in his neighbor Tony, but the strength of their bond is tested when Brian decides to raise the rent on Tony’s mother (Paulina Garcia, who won the Silver Bear for her performance in 2013’s Gloria), a Chilean immigrant who runs a dress shop on the ground floor. Suffused with hard-won compassion and honesty, this follow-up to 2014’s acclaimed Love Is Strange captures the joy and pain of coming of age in a rapidly changing neighborhood.”
We Say: Reviewing Sachs’s Love Is Strange in 2014, Elina Mishuris wrote, “There’s been a lot of lamenting lately about the dearth of American films made for grown-ups. Budgets are either micro-minis, which only look good on, and to, those new New Adults, or looming monuments to Mammon, thundering with the power of Almighty Dolby: ENJOY. OR ELSE. Who’s got the eardrums for that kind of entertainment? So here’s a movie written and directed by Admitted Adult Ira Sachs, about mature and married love, family relations, and an apartment search in New York that doesn’t involve a meet-cute.”
In a Valley of Violence (Dir. Ti West)
BAM says: “Master of slow-burn, retro-cool indie horror Ti West (The House of the Devil) offers his typically gonzo take on the classic revenge Western. Ethan Hawke stars as a mysterious drifter en route to Mexico with his trusty canine companion, who wanders into the desolate desert mining town of Denton. There, a run-in with a smarmy gunslinger (James Ransone)—who happens to be the son of the local marshal (John Travolta)—escalates into increasingly bloody and berserk violence that consumes the entire community. Laced with nigh-surreal touches, a splashy Leone-esque opening credits sequence, and an Ennio Morricone-inflected score, this offbeat, grandly entertaining neo-Spaghetti Western is supremely stylish pulp with a black comic heart.”
We say: Writing about West’s 2009 House of the Devil last fall, Elise Nakhnikian said, “with pitch-perfect clothes, hair and props, The House of the Devil earns its screams with integrity, building slowly to a strobe-lit, blood-slimed, twist-ending final few minutes.”
Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World (Dir. Werner Herzog)
BAM says: “Indefatigable chronicler of curiosities grand and modest, Werner Herzog sets his latest sights on the most awe-inspiring wonder of our times: the Internet. The virtual world grows exponentially larger—and more invasive, interactive, and dynamic—each day. Comprising interviews with an eclectic selection of subjects—victims of online harassment, video game addicts, advanced robotics engineers, and brilliant pioneers who envision life on Mars—Lo and Behold contemplates the greater implications for humankind. These fascinating snapshots offer avenues through the endless digital expanse, allowing Herzog to ask the big questions about love, morality, and the future.”
We say: The common denominator of the universe is not harmony; but chaos, hostility and murder.