Report from the other side of the bridge: BAMCinemaFEST

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A Brooklyn Film Festival?

Why not?

Hell, there probably already is one given the pandemic of New York Film Festivals (TriBeCa, NYFF, NYUFF, ND/NF, Bushwick, NewFest, GenArt, NYIFVFF…), but still there is something tor be said for sticking the word BAM! in front of anything.

In addition to getting some fun, cartoony-sound effect giggles out of it, BAM represents the estimable caché of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, an institution that has, for quite some time now, provided Brooklyn with its claim to artistic meritricioussness. The Academy features a cinema, several theaters, an outdoor screening series as well as (what else) a venue for classical music and otherwise. Major stars pass through BAM regularly, inluding Sir Ian McKellan for “Richard III” and a star-studded Chekov revival of “The Cherry Orchard”with Ethan Hawke, directed by Sam Mendes.

Thus the question for a BAM film-fest might seem one more questioning of its absence than its existence, but now the question hangs no longer. BAMCinemaFEST is here, attempting the balancing act of “being Brooklyn” while still drawing those art-snooty Manhattanites.

***

Such a balancing act was evident at the opening-night screening of the festival, a film called Don’t Let Me Drown, the story of a latino teenage-romance in Brooklyn in the days following September 11th.

The director and the two main actors of the film got in front of the audience to introduce it. After some words by the director, thanking the audience for coming and professing his love for the city, the microphone was handed to the male lead.

“How many people here from Brooklyn?” he asked.

Some applause.

“So, not many,” he said and handed the microphone to his co-star.

Which should help to explain the intended audience and the contradictions inherent in Don’t Let Me Drown, a film which trusts neither its audience nor its actors.

The film is ostensibly what it sets out to be: Mexican-American Boy meets Dominican-American Boy, somewhere under the shadow of the J-train. We see them in high school, as they flit back in forth in affections, their friends fronting and wheeling on bicycles down the forsaken lanes of ungentrified Bushwick. Their situations are, understandably difficult. Lalo (E.J. Bonilla) lives with his uncle, whose job as a messenger still fails to pay enough rent when combined with his father’s salary. Stefanie (Glendyllis Inoa) lives with her over-emotional parents, having moved from the Lower East Side, who seem to place the burden of her older sister’s death square upon her shoulders.

Some people might think that’s enough to tackle in 90 minutes, but not the writer/director Cruz Angeles, who sees fit to weigh the whole thing down with September 11th. However, instead of using the tragedy like a bleary eye with which to perceive reality, like Spike Lee did in his excellent The 25th Hour, Mr. Angeles makes things too explicit: Lalo’s father works cleaning up the debris of the towers, literally poisoned by them everyday, while Stefanie’s father seems to beat his wife and just about anyone he can get his hands on in fits of post-traumatic rage. The film presents these facts to us, without really going into the characters head-space or using their experience to define a world.

***

Other films I’m planning to see at BAMCinemaFEST include Andrew Bujalski’s Besswax which is described as “a legal thriller” (Bujalski-legal-thriller, lol) and Big Fan, the new film by Robert Siegel (The Wrestler). I will update as I go along here, braving rain and, well, more rain to see my screenings and posting reviews.

Until then, wish me luck in Brooklyn. Because you know what they say about Brooklyn: only the strong survive.

Only the strong (and occasionally film critics).

-Nicholas Feitel, Contributing Editor

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