Staff Pick: BAMcinemaFest 2017
This week brings the start of BAMcinématek’s ninth annual BAMcinemaFest, a consistently bright spot in New York City festival programming. With an ambitious (and eclectic) lineup featuring premieres from both new and familiar figures in independent cinema, this year’s festival opened last night with Aaron Katz’s suspenseful new film, Gemini, and will run through June 25, closing with Alex Ross Perry’s Golden Exits.
For those familiar with the area surrounding BAM, Perry’s Golden Exits feels a bit like a homecoming. Shot in the adjacent neighborhood of Park Slope, the film captures the distinct burnt reds and browns of the area’s architecture with textural accuracy, providing a lolling backdrop to the mental and spatial anxiety that courses through the narrative. This sense of space also helps to ground the film’s vaguely-related characters as they work through a disturbance that comes by the way of a young Australian assistant (Emily Browning). As an outsider, Browning’s character reveals the tenuous connections between the rest of the ensemble, which includes Adam Horowitz, Jason Schwartzman, Mary Louise Parker, Lily Rabe, Analeigh Tipton, and Chloë Sevigny (in addition to a cameo by NYC programmer Jake Perlin). The result is as unnerving as it is humorous.
Presenting a different side of Brooklyn is Jim McKay’s En el Séptimo Día, the festival’s centerpiece and McKay’s first feature in north of a decade. Following a group of undocumented workers from Puebla, Mexico in the days leading up to soccer championship, the film is set between Brooklyn’s Sunset Park and Carroll Gardens, establishing a subtle contrast between the moneyed patrons of the restaurant where Jose (the film’s main character) works and the members of his team. The film’s sensitive, and often funny, portrayal of how the characters navigate their daily struggles being undocumented workers far away from their families reveals the vital role of community.
A Spotlight selection alongside David Lowery’s A Ghost Story, Gillian Robespierre’s Landline takes us across the East River to Manhattan, where sisters Dana and Ali (Jenny Slate and Abby Quinn, respectively) deal with infidelity and familial bonds. A comedy set in the 1990’s, the film engages place in the more abstract notion of home—both in its evocation of another place in time (populated, as the title suggests, plenty of landline phones—long, curly cords included) and Dana’s return to her childhood home. A tender observation how relationships change over time, Robespierre’s treatment of sisterhood and family foils the domestic partnerships in the film in a way that speaks to how we idealize such bonds, often failing to take into account the possibility of all-too-human shortcomings. Finn Wittrock, John Turturro, Edie Falco, and Jay Duplass round out the cast.
But lest I lead you to think all of the festival’s films are New York-centric, there are several standouts, including Gemini, that feature other locales. Take for example, Kogonada’s stunning feature film debut, Columbus, which takes place in the architecturally rich town of Columbus, Indiana. The mastermind behind the Supercut video essays, Kogonada turns his talents toward the small, Midwestern town that is known for holding great examples of modernist architecture from designers such as Eero Saarinen and I. M. Pei. Here, Columbus, too, uses place as a way to further the examination of identity, making the film—though set in a very specific (and strange) place—feel universal.
You can find a full list of films here. Be sure to look out for dates featuring Q&As with special guests.