Brooklyn is giving Gotham’s big-boy cinema galas a run for their money with the return of the annual BAMcinemaFest. Now in its fourth year, this indie-flick jubilee is as tightly programmed (22 features) as the New York Film Festival, with less of the intensely variable quality of Tribeca. You can catch deafeningly buzzed-about properties like Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild or Craig Zobel’s Sundance cause célèbre Compliance. But here are six more off-the-grid titles that you should quadruple-circle in your brochure calendar.
In the spellbindingly unsentimental character study Francine (June 22 at 7pm), Melissa Leo plays an introverted woman—half spinster, half savant—fresh out of prison, with a mysterious affinity for animals. She doesn’t wander so much as float through the misty, hyperreal setting (a rural small town), forging tenuous connections with people, pets and sanity. This is heightened verisimilitude at its finest, something documentary-trained writer-directors Melanie Shatzky and Brian M. Cassidy clearly honed in their preceding nonfiction feature The Patron Saints (June 25 at 7pm). There’s a bit of a Werner Herzog vibe to this dreamy, disturbing look at a U.S. nursing home where the residents seem perpetually suspended between lucidity and delirium.
Keith Miller’s moody and mesmerizing Welcome to Pine Hill (June 23 at 4:30pm) begins with a blunt-force sequence in which a white Brooklynite out walking his dog runs into a hulking black man who insists the canine belongs to him. But their argument doesn’t go in the simplistic directions one would assume. Miller (who plays himself) based this interaction on an actual incident that happened to him, and he convinced the other party, Shanon Harper, to act as a scene partner in the filmed re-creation. After the adroit curtain-raising sequence, this deeply human feature follows only Harper’s character, Abu, as he receives some life-altering news and makes a spiritual pilgrimage to his upstate hometown.
The teenage protagonist of The Unspeakable Act (June 24 at 9:30pm) is also in crisis, for a reason most would find repellent: Jackie (the superb Tallie Medel) is madly in love with her brother, Matthew (Sky Hirschkron). Rest assured, it’s not that kind of movie, as this revelatory third feature by Dan Sallitt (full disclosure: a friend) is about dealing with the unsettling emotions raised by unconsummated desire—a uniquely bracing take on the coming-of-age drama.
No less sui generis is the foreigner-abroad antiromance The International Sign for Choking (June 26 at 9:30pm). Writer-director Zach Weintraub stars as an American journalist in Argentina, searching for a lost love and neglecting the new girl (Sophia Takal) he takes up with. The film upends expectations at every turn, from the defiantly nontouristic views of Buenos Aires to the tough, unsparing conclusions the story reaches about its adrift protagonist. Much more enchanting, though just as incisive, is Tim Sutton’s Pavilion (June 28 at 7pm), a lyrical look at a teenage boy (Max Schaffner) who flits through an eventfully uneventful summer in both a wooded upstate New York paradise and an arid Arizona suburb. It’s suffused with poignant, lazy-day melancholy—the half-audible closing line is a killer—and like many of the discoveries one makes at BAMcinemaFest, is a deceptively small movie that feels larger than life.
BAMcinemaFest runs from Wed 20 to July 1 at BAM Rose Cinemas.
Follow Keith Uhlich on Twitter: @keithuhlich