On Wednesday night the Brooklyn Academy of Music kicked off its 4th annual BAMcinemaFest, a 10-day showcase of independent films culled from Cannes, Sundance, Toronto, Berlin, SXSW, and other festivals from around the world. Highlights from this year’s lineup include Sundance sensation “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” controversial true crime story “Compliance,” found-footage horror anthology “V/H/S,” psychosexual comedy “Nobody Walks” and many, many more. Check out the full line-up here. While some might have guessed ‘Beasts’ to be an obvious choice to open the fest as it's the film coming off the festival circuit with the most deafening buzz, BAM instead selected Mike Birbiglia’s “Sleepwalk With Me.” After seeing the film, which was set and filmed in Brooklyn, it was clear that it was the perfect choice. Based on Birbiglia’s autobiographical one-man show, the story follows Matt Pandamiglio (a proxy for the comedian), a struggling stand-up who moves in with his long-term girlfriend and develops a sleeping disorder that causes him to act out his dreams. Both hilarious and surprisingly sincere, the film is a triumph for Birbiglia who directed, co-wrote and stars in the film.
“This American Life” host (and co-writer/producer on the film) Ira Glass came out to introduce the screening, reminding the the audience that the film is set in Brooklyn. He told the audience that Birbiglia’s character’s apartment in the film is merely a few blocks from the very place we were sitting, which was the beautiful 150-year-old Howard Gilman Opera House. Glass remarked, “It’s an incredible thrill to be able to present our film here in this amazing room. Usually in my family, when we want to put up a show here at the BAM Opera House we go through the trouble to write an opera first.” (Composer Philip Glass is his cousin, once removed.) Later on Birbiglia cracked, “If I knew when I first dreamt of wanting to make a film that it would be premiering at an Academy of Music…I would just be so confused. I just don’t know why you would have it there? But this is going to work out great.” To assist in the hometown celebration, the picture also features a cadre of local comics including Eugene Mirman, Jesse Klein, Hannibal Buress, Wyatt Cenac, John Lutz and Kristen Schaal among others.
The occasion was also special because it was Birbiglia’s 34th birthday. To celebrate, his friend Glass surprised him with a cake shaped like a pizza (a salute to the numerous pizza eating sessions in the film). The cake was then brought upstairs to the afterparty along with other “themed” junk food including pizza, falafel and ice cream sandwiches that was served to the capacity crowd. Many of the film’s cast were in attendance for the screening including Birbiglia, Glass, David Wain (“Stella”), James Rebhorn (“The Game”), Loudon Wainwright III (“Undeclared”), Alex Karpovsky (“Girls”) and 'SNL' writer John Mulaney, (who wasn’t in the film but came out to support his friend) and they happily chatted with fans and friends afterwards. But the comedian made sure to remind the audience that the film would still need our help getting the word out for its August release.
“This film does not come out today. This is a festival,” Birbiglia deadpanned. “I’m just going to start from zero here. I’m going to build up from nothing. We are at a film festival. You are in a seat. This film does not come out until August 24th at the IFC Center. If you like the film, it’s you guys who will make it popular because you know how there’s all those shitty movies that we hate? And they’re everywhere? And they’re really annoying? And you want them to stop?” He then encouraged the crowd to bring friends when 'Sleepwalk' opened, which, judging from the reaction, many seemed to agree to.
The Brooklyn love-fest didn’t stop there. Before the screening Glass also told a story about producer/director Judd Apatow, whose own "Funny People" had covered similarly autobiographical territory on a much larger scale. “Judd Apatow saw a screener of the film a few weeks ago and sent a note to Mike Birbiglia afterwards. And after praising the work Mike did as the writer, director and star of the film, he closed his email by saying, ‘Also, your film looks great. Why are my films so expensive? I must be wasting money,’ ” he continued. “And our secret ingredient to make our million dollar film look like a multimillion dollar film is the incredible crew, many of them based in Brooklyn, most of them here tonight. It was my first film and Mike’s first film and they just made us look so good.”
BAMcinemaFest runs through June 30th.