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12 Must-See Films at BAMCinemaFest 2016

This month, Brooklyn plays home to BAMCinemaFest, featuring some festival favorites and some brand-new standouts. Here's the best of what's on offer.

This month, Brooklyn plays home to the annual BAMCinemaFest, featuring both some tried and true festival favorites (imagine if Sundance just happened to take place in New York City in the summer) and some brand-new standouts. Here’s the best of what’s on offer, as curated and culled by the IndieWire film team.

Little Men

"Little Men"

“Little Men”

New York City-centric filmmaker Ira Sachs has long used his keen observational eye to track the worlds of the city’s adult denizens with features like “Love is Strange” and “Keep the Lights On,” but he’s going for a younger set of stars (and troubles) in his moving new feature, “Little Men.” The new film debuted at Sundance earlier this year, where it pulled plenty of heartstrings (including mine) with its gentle, deeply human story of two seemingly different young teens (Theo Taplitz as the worldly Jake, Michael Barbieri as the more rough and tumble Tony) who quickly bond when one of them moves into the other’s Brooklyn neighborhood. Jake and Tony become fast friends, but their relationship is threatened by drama brewing between their parents, as Jake’s parents own the small store that Tony’s mom operates below the family’s apartment.When Jake’s parents (Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Ehle) are bothered by looming money troubles, they turn to Tony’s mom (Paulina García) and ask her to pay a higher rent, a seemingly reasonable query that has heart-breaking consequences for both families and both boys. It’s a small story that hits hard, thanks to wonderful performances and the kind of emotion that’s hard to fake. – Kate Erbland

Kate Plays Christine

"Kate Plays Christine"

“Kate Plays Christine”

Sean Price WIlliams

It’s usually easy enough to find common themes cropping up at various film festivals, but few people could have anticipated that this year’s Sundance would play home to two stories about Christine Chubbuck, a tragic tale that had been previously unknown by most of the population (the other Chubbuck story to crop up at Sundance was Antonio Campos’ closely observed narrative “Christine,” a winner in its own right). In 1974, Chubbuck — a television reporter for a local Sarasota, Florida TV station — killed herself live on air after a series of disappointing events and a lifetime of mental unhappiness. Robert Greene’s “Kate Plays Christine” takes an ambitious angle on Chubbuck’s story, mixing fact and fiction to present a story of an actress (Kate Lyn Sheil) grappling with her preparations to play Chubbuck in a narrative feature that doesn’t exist. Sheil is tasked with playing a mostly real version of herself, a heightened version of herself as the story winds on and even Chubbuck in a series of re-enactments. The concept is complex, but it pays off, and “Kate Plays Christine” is easily one of the year’s most ambitious and fascinating documentaries. – KE

“Suited”

"Suited"

“Suited”

This eye-opening documentary focuses on Brooklyn-based tailoring company Bindle & Keep, which designs clothes for transgender and gender fluid clients. Produced by Lena Dunham and her “Girls” producer Jenni Konner, the HBO Documentary looks at fashion through the eyes of several people across the gender identity spectrum, including a transitioning teen in need of a suit for his Bar Mitzvah and a transgender man buying a tuxedo for his wedding. The film has a deep personal connection to Dunham, whose gender nonconforming sister Grace has been a vocal activist within the transgender community. “Suited” is the first solo-directing effort from Jason Benjamin, who previously co-directed the 2002 documentary “Carnival Roots,” about Trinidad & Tobago’s annual music festival. – Graham Winfrey

Wiener-Dog

"Wiener-Dog"

“Wiener-Dog”

Todd Solondz’s first directorial effort since 2011’s “Dark Horse” is literally about an animal this time. “Wiener-Dog” follows a dachshund that goes from one strange owner to the next, serving as a central character in four stories that bring out the pointlessness of human existence. The offbeat comedy’s stellar cast includes Greta Gerwig, Danny DeVito, Julie Delpy and “Girls’” Zosia Mamet. Amazon nabbed all domestic media rights to the film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, while IFC Films is handling the theatrical release. Financed by Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures and produced by Christine Vachon’s Killer Films, the film marked Solondz’s first movie to play at Sundance since 1995’s “Welcome to the Dollhouse.” – GW

“Last Night at the Alamo”

last-night-at-the-alamo

“Last Night at the Alamo”

Eagle Pennell has become lost to film history, despite making two of the most important films of the modern indie era. His 1978 film “The Whole Shootin’ Match” inspired Robert Redford to start Sundance and his 1984 classic “Last Night at the Alamo” has been championed by Tarantino and Linklater, who along with IFC Films and SXSW founder Louis Black is responsible for the restoration that will be playing at BAM. “Alamo,” which tells the story of a cowboy’s last ditch effort to save a local watering hole, is credited for having given birth to the Austin film scene and for laying the groundwork for the rebirth of the American indie that came later in the decade. Pennell’s career was cut short by alcoholism, but “Alamo” stands tribute to his incredible talent, pioneering spirit and the influence he’s had on so many great filmmakers. – Chris O’Falt

READ MORE: Indie Legend Who Inspired Sundance, ‘Reservoir Dogs’ And More Will Have Classic Films Restored

“Author: The J.T. LeRoy Story”

Author: The JT Leroy Story

“Author: The J.T. Leroy Story”

J.T. Leroy was an literary and pop culture sensation, until it was revealed that the HIV-positive, ex-male-prostitute teenage author was actually the creation of a 40 year old mother by the name Laura Albert.  Jeff Feuerzeig’s documentary, starring Albert and featuring her recorded phone calls from the hoax, is the best yarn of 2016. You will not believe the twist-and-turns of the behind the scenes story of how Albert pulled off the hoax and cultivated close relationships (with her sister-in-law posing at JT) with celebrities like filmmaker Gus Van Sant and Smashing Pumpkins’ Bill Corgan, both of whom play key supporting roles in this stranger-than-fiction film. Trust us, “Author” will be one of the most entertaining films you see this summer. – CO

“Dark Night”

Dark Night Movie

“Dark Night”

Cinelicious Pics

Loosely based on the 2012 shooting in Aurora, Colorado during a multiplex screening of “The Dark Knight,” Tim Sutton’s elegantly designed “Dark Night” contains a fascinating, enigmatic agenda. In its opening moments, Maica Armata’s mournful score plays out as we watch a traumatized face lit up by the red-blue glow of a nearby police car. Mirroring the media image of tragedy divorced from the lives affected by it, the ensuing movie fills in those details. Like Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant,” Sutton’s ambitious project dissects the moments surrounding the infamous event with a perceptive eye that avoids passing judgement. While some viewers may find this disaffected approach infuriating — the divisive Sundance reaction suggested as much — there’s no doubting the topicality of Sutton’s technique, which delves into the malaise of daily lives that surrounds every horrific event of this type with a keen eye. It may not change the gun control debate, but it adds a gorgeous and provocative footnote to the conversation. – Eric Kohn

“A Stray”

A Stray Movie

“A Stray”

Musa Syeed’s tender look at a Somali refugee community in Minneapolis puts a human face on the immigration crisis through the exploits of Adan (Barkhad Abdirahman), a young man adrift in his solitary world. Kicked out by his mother and unwelcome at the local mosque where he tries to crash, Adan meets his only source of companionship in a stray dog he finds wandering the streets. Alternating between social outings and job prospects, Adan’s struggles never strain credibility, even when an FBI agent tries to wrestle control of his situation to turn him into a spy. Shot with near-documentary realism, Syed’s insightful portrait of his forlorn character’s life recalls the earlier films of Ramin Bahrani (“Man Push Cart,” “Chop Shop”), which also capture an oft-ignored side of modern America. With immigration stories all too frequently coopted for political fuel, “A Stray” provides a refreshingly intimate alternative, which should appeal to audiences curious about the bigger picture — or those who can relate to it. – EK

“Goat”

"Goat"

“Goat”

Courtesy of The Film Arcade

After making a blistering impression at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, Andrew Neel’s fraternity psychodrama “Goat” comes to BAM with great acclaim and sky high anticipation. Starring breakout Ben Schnetzer and Nick Jonas, the film centers around a 19-year-old college student who pledges the same fraternity as his older brother, only to realize the world of hazing and endless parties is darker than he could ever imagine. In lesser hands, “Goat” would be a one-note takedown of hedonistic bro culture, but Neel’s slick direction brings you to the core of animalistic behavior and forces you to weigh the clashing egos of masculinity. By cutting underneath the layers of machismo, Neel creates a drama of insecurities buried beneath the war between predator and prey. It’s an intense and intelligent study of a world the movies have always been obsessed with. – Zack Sharf

READ MORE: Sundance: How Robert Greene and Kate Lyn Sheil Made the Festival’s Most Fascinating Documentary

“The Childhood of a Leader”

"The Childhood of a Leader"

“The Childhood of a Leader”

IFC Films

Brady Corbet has been one of the most reliable supporting actors in films like “Funny Games,” “Force Majeure,” “Clouds of Sils Maria” and more, and he even broke through as a lead in the great indie “Simon Killer,” but it turns out Corbet’s real skills are behind the camera. In his directorial debut, “The Childhood of a Leader,” the actor creates an unnerving period psychodrama that evokes shades of “The Omen” by way of Hitchcock. Set in Europe after WWI, the movie follows a young boy as he develops a terrifying ego after witnessing the creation of the Treaty of Versailles. Cast members Robert Pattinson and Berenice Bejo deliver reliably strong turns, but it’s Corbet’s impressive control that makes the film a tightly-wound skin-crawler. His ambition is alive in every frame and detail, resulting in a commanding debut that announces him as a major filmmaker to watch. – ZS

“The Love Witch”

"The Love Witch"

“The Love Witch”

Oscilloscope Laboratories

Meet your new obsession: A spellbinding homage to old pulp paperbacks and the Technicolor melodramas of the 1960s, Anna Biller’s “The Love Witch” is a throwback that’s told with the kind of perverse conviction and studied expertise that would make Quentin Tarantino blush. Shot in velvety 35mm, the film follows a beautiful, sociopathic, love-starved young witch named Elaine (Samantha Robinson, absolutely unforgettable in a demented breakthrough performance) as she blows into a coastal Californian town in desperate search of a replacement for her dead husband. Sex, death, Satanic rituals, God-level costume design, and cinema’s greatest tampon joke ensue, as Biller spins an arch but hyper-sincere story about the true price of patriarchy. – David Ehrlich

“Morris From America”

"Morris from America"

“Morris from America”

Coming-of-age movies are a dime a dozen (and the going rate is even cheaper at Sundance), but Chad Hartigan’s absurdly charming follow-up to “This Is Martin Bonner” puts a fresh spin on a tired genre. Played by lovable newcomer Markees Christmas, Morris is a 13-year-old New Yorker who’s forced to move to the suburbs of Germany when his widower dad (a note-perfect Craig Robinson) accepts a job as the coach of a Heidelberg soccer team. It’s tough being a teen, but Morris — as the only black kid in a foreign town that still has one foot stuck in the old world — has it way harder than most. But there’s a whole lot of joy here, as Hartigan’s sweet and sensitive fish out of water story leverages a handful of killer performances into a great little movie about becoming your own man. – DE

BAMCinemaFest 2016 runs from June 15 – 26.

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