The local selections in BAMcinemaFEST would deserve the title “New York Film Festival” if the name weren’t already taken. Instead, these works by younger, emerging filmmakers from the area ought to be grouped as the “New New York Film Festival,” for their collective status as an emerging crowd.
Most of them played earlier in the year at sizable festivals like Sundance, South by Southwest and Berlin—and yet take on new meaning by returning to their home turf.These New York stories lie firmly within a familiar tradition of urban narratives. Even Tze Chun’s Children of Invention and Dia Sokol’s Sorry, Thanks, both directed by New Yorkers but not set in the city, reflect its situational chaos.The literal New York stories, however, combine into a singular tale. Linked by their portraits of ambitious eccentrics, they form something close to an impromptu generational statement.
The festival’s opening night selection, Cruz Angeles’ post-9/11 Latino romance Don’t Let Me Drown, offers just one glimpse of a distinctly New York scenario. Director Jody Lee Lipes interrogates the process behind radical expression with Brock Enright: Good Times Will Never Be the Same, a simultaneously absurd, intriguing and almost relentlessly obscene look at the titular young artist’s uneasy preparation of an audio-visual exhibit that eventually went on display at the Perry Rubenstein gallery in 2007. Seemingly calculated, Enright also comes across as somewhat demented: He usurps money from his girlfriend and other investors as he constantly searches for what he wants his work to do, but pursues the unknown with shockingly steadfast determination. Painting himself white and cavorting nude through the woods near his female companion’s home—as Lipes’ camera quietly, beautifully sees all—Enright’s provocations are at once somewhat arbitrary and driven by cryptic inspiration. By no means a conventional non-fiction portrait, Lipes’ drama forces viewers to grow comfortable with Enright’s nearpsychotic visions so that his radicalism elicits sympathy even from those unable to understand it.
Though a real person authentically inhabiting New York’s underground art scene, Enright’s twisted avant-garde universe has a lot in common with that of the fictional subject of You Won’t Miss Me, and not only because she’s played by Julian Schnabel’s daughter. Directed by Ry Russo-Young, this weirdly compelling narrative follows Shelly (Stella Schnabel), a wannabe actress with a mean-streak.Though slow going at times, the movie finds its groove as Shelly’s conflated self-importance reaches its zenith and her steady breakdown begins. A final ensemble sequence built around one ill-fated audition suggests Robert Altman by way of mumblecore dynamics, although that reductive description shouldn’t put off those merely interested in improvisatory talent.While not fully formed, You Won’t Miss Me displays Russo- Young’s knack for crafting fully defined characters with uneasy attributes, never an easy task. She could have written Brock Enright.
From the angst-riddled actress, we shift to the doe-eyed hipster. Bradley Rust Grey’s The Exploding Girl focuses on fragile college student Ivy (Brooklynite Zoe Kazan) over the course of an aimless summer in the city. Kazan, granddaughter of famed director Elia— not that BAMcinemaFEST intentionally has a fame-in-the-family thing going on—opens her eyes wide and speaks softly about her relationship woes to lifelong platonic bud Al (Mark Rendall), whose intentions are probably not as pure as either of them would like to believe. Light on story, The Exploding Girl provides a constant feast for the eyes, with glorious shots of the city and rooftop scenery captured by the famed RED camera. Ivy’s epilepsy provides the movie with its namesake, but Grey’s visual language truly unearths her alienation by situating it in a world much larger than her miniscule personal concerns.
By contrast, Rob Siegel’s directorial debut, Big Fan, follows a man so completely lost in his own ambitions that he acts out to the detriment of everyone around him. Patton Oswalt stars as a lonely Giants fan whose sudden impulse to approach his athletic hero works against him, inadvertently turning a loser who lives with his mother into New York’s worst enemy. Siegel, the former editor of The Onion and the screenwriter of Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, crafts a compelling and fairly classical story of alienation and the pratfalls of singleminded obsession—with a third-act twist that outdoes M. Night Shyamalan by remaining grounded in reality even as it subverts our expectations. It’s an old-school delight, comfortably suggesting that not everything about New York is strange and new. Some of it is just strange.
June 17 through July 2, BAM Rose Cinemas, 30 Lafayette Ave. (at Ashland Pl.), Brooklyn, 718-636-4100, www.bam.org; times vary, $11 per film.