BAMcinemaFest begins June 18, and the festival of American independent film feels more full-fledged than ever before. Here, its director Gabriele Caroti fills us in on how the 12-day, 30-film festival has grown over the past six years, his standout picks for this year’s programming, and how BAM’s film fest stacks up in a city with no shortage of cinematic showcases. Note that while a few of the screenings for this year’s program are already sold out, BAM does release standby tickets on a first-come, first-served basis at the box office at most shows.
Brooklyn Based: Six years in, can you tell me a bit about how BAMcinemaFest has evolved since its inaugural season in 2009?
Gabriele Caroti: BAMcinemaFest is a young festival–in six short years, in possibly the city in the world with the most film festivals, we’ve grown–not in amount of films, but in the profile of the festival. We’ve had some great champions in the press, and our audiences have consistently grown, but one main difference is the focus of the festival. We now exclusively concentrate on American independent work. This has been the main thrust of the festival from the beginning, but in the last few years, it’s been the sole concentration. Our retrospective titles are the same as well.
BB: What are some of the things you are most proud of in regards to this year’s programming?
GC: I am very proud of bookending the festival with two true titans (I love that word, “titan”) of American independent cinema and both films are landmarks—the opening night, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, a triumph of this year, and the other, Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, arguably the best film of the 1980s. Both filmmakers have been inspirations to many of the younger, up-and-coming artists of the lineup.
I am very proud of the eclecticism of the slate–there are Brooklyn-set comedies, Lawrence Levine’s screwball whodunit Wild Canaries, starring Alia Shawkat and Desiree Akhavan’s Appropriate Behavior, taking a page from Annie Hall, but also nonfiction work such as Joe Callander’s Life After Death (what I think will be the sleeper hit of the festival) and Goran Hugo Olsson’s Concerning Violence–a radical film if there ever was one– [with] Lauryn Hill reading Frantz Fanon’s critique of colonialism set to archival footage of African revolution.
Stations of the Elevated, by Manfred Kirchheimer will be a true revelation to many; shot in the late ’70s, and first premiering at the New York Film Festival in 1981, this has be the holy grail for graffiti heads: the first film about the form, a document of vanishing New York, a city symphony, set to the most American of musics–jazz, and specifically Charles Mingus. Artists Public Domain/Cinema Conservancy have funded the restoration and were in touch with the Mingus estate to clear the music. We took the opportunity of getting the Mingus Dynasty, the original Mingus band formed by Sue Mingus to continue the jazz titan’s (there I go again with titan!) legacy, [to] do a live prelude to the film.
BB: NYC is home to a prolific number of film showcases, festivals and forums, from world-class to up-and-coming. How do you feel BAMcinemaFest fits into the city’s film landscape? What do you consider its position to be within this bigger picture?
GC: There are so many amazing festival in this town–starting with, of course, the crown jewel, the New York Film Festival. There’s also of course the vibrant Tribeca Film Festival, and the Film Society and MoMA’s other major festival, New Directors New Films, and a personal favorite, Film Comment Selects. First Look at MoMI is another great series of world cinema of the year. The main difference of BAMcinemaFest is [that is is] the only festival dedicated to American independent work in New York City. We’re still young (in human terms we’d be in first grade!) so we’re still getting our footing, and look to our teachers as both inspirations and aspirations.
BB: How are films selected for BAMcinemaFest?
GC: We have a programming team which consists of Nellie Killian and David Reilly (BAMcinématek’s programmers who also curate the year-round program) and Ryan Werner (programmer at large, who consults for BAMcinématek on the festival and on year-round programming), as well as the indispensable aid of Jesse Trussell. David, Nellie and Ryan cull films from every major festival from Sundance and Berlin, to submissions (e.g. our world premiere, Bingham Bryant & Kyle Molzan’s For the Plasma).
BB: What is your take on the current state of American independent filmmaking based on the works reviewed for this year’s event?
GC: As vibrant, innovative, fresh, daring, and funny (a lot of comedies in the lineup this year!) as ever.