Now in its fourth year, the Brooklyn Academy of Music's BAMcinemaFest stands out as one of the few growing festivals not held down by a need to program world premieres. Like fellow New York summer screening series Rooftop Films, BAMcinemaFest mainly programs recent American indies that were already well-received on the festival circuit.
This year's installment, which begins tonight, opens with the recent Sundance-acclaimed "Sleepwalk With Me," the directorial debut of stand-up comedian Mike Birbiglia co-written by "This American Life" host Ira Glass. It also includes the Sundance/Cannes breakout hit "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and the Sundance midnight hit "V/H/S." These movies should be seen, but have already received a fair amount of exposure in addition to landing distribution. Consider the following options to find the current edition's true discoveries.
Musician-turned-filmmaker Cory McAbee's first two movie musicals, "The American Astronaut" and the episodically-distributed "Stingray Sam," brilliantly melded a concept album with expressionistic science fiction imagery for a unique form of pop art. At just under an hour and driven by the thinnest of stories, his third feature "Crazy & Thief" is stylistically distinct from the earlier efforts but still hails from the same enjoyable realm of musical fantasy. Shot on the cheap and co-starring his two very young children, "Crazy & Thief" is a gentle treat for McAbee enthusiasts. Adorable to the extreme, the movie centers around McAbee's children Vy and John, alternately identified by the titular names as well as "Johnny" and "Yaya," informal designations that fit their youthful spirit. McAbee scored the movie with his rock band the Billy Nayer Show and the jumpy rhythms endow his sweet vision with the giddy spirit of childhood fantasy.
The poetic directorial debut of Tim Sutton premiered to a small but warm reception at the South by Southwest Film Festival earlier this year. Putting tone ahead of plot, Sutton's fascinating character study follows an alienated teenager forced to abandon his serene lakeside home and move in with his father in a very different sort of desolation in suburbia. Gorgeously shot to accentuate individual moments, "Pavilion" unfolds on majestic lakes and empty parking lots with equal measures of lyricism. The movie has a mesmerizing pull that gradually pulls you into its hypnotic effect until the young protagonist's subjectivity has been transferred into the viewer's mind. A startlingly perceptive first feature.
"Take Me to the Balloony Bin!"
Sibling directors Josh and Benny Safdie have steadily established themselves as distinctively scrappy DIY filmmakers in a digital age with their various short film collaborations and the hugely entertaining dark comedy "Daddy Longlegs." This BAMcinemaFest program shows how their work falls into a significant tradition of cinematic playfulness by including their acclaimed short "The Black Balloon," which follows the titular object as it "dies and comes back to life, returning to the city cruising for a companion." Putting the short in historical context, the program also includes Albert Lamorisse's classic 1956 short "The Red Balloon" and Buster Keaton's "The Balloonatic."
"The Unspeakable Act"
Last year, Alex Ross Perry's "The Color Wheel" showed up at BAMcinemaFest shortly after its world premiere in Sarasota and began a journey to international acclaim. This year, film critic Dan Sallitt's "The Unspeakable Act" takes the Sarasota spot, and recently won the Independent Visions Prize there. Oddly enough, both "Color Wheel" and "Unspeakable Act" involve elements of incestuous urges and awkward comedy, but the new movie deserves to be seen in its own light: It follows a brother-and-sister pair coping with attraction to each other as they go through the usual coming-of-age hoops. Sallitt has been quietly making movies for a couple of decades but seems destined to boost his profile with this provocative work.
"Walk Away Renee"
Jonathan Caouette's landmark diary film "Tarnation" was not only a major event movie in 2003 because its director edited the entire thing in iMovie. Cobbled together from years of home movies, it placed the spectator directly inside Caouette's head as he endured his mother's debilitating schizophrenia while coming to grips with his homosexuality. A sequel of sorts, Caouette's long-awaited follow-up work revisits his mother's mental condition while also entering the realm of fantasy to explore the emotional core of his experiences. "Walk Away Renee" debuted last year at Cannes' Critics Week sidebar, but the director has since recut the film for its New York debut.