New Yorkers fled from the city in droves during the long Independence Day weekend, but for those left behind to deal with the heat had a few options on the film front. The 4th annual Afro-Punk Festival combined music and film with race awareness, and the documentary “Full Battle Rattle” showed off a bizzaro-Iraq where all the blood is fake. And for those looking for further entertainment, peruse the abbreviated guide to this summer’s outdoor movies.
The 4th annual Afro-Punk Festival got started at BAM, appropriately enough for a festival celebrating independence, on July 4, kicking off 10 days of music, skating and films for rockers of color. Ruby Dee showed up for a Q&A for her 1968 film “Up Tight!,” a story of black revolutionaries made in the aftermath of Martin Luther King‘s assassination, while at the neighboring parking lot, skaters and BMX bikers thrilled out on the ramps and half-pipes of the makeshift skate park (I saw three kids wipe out in 5 minutes and couldn’t watch any more), listening to the free shows by a bevy of bands.
The festival was founded by director James Spooner, after the tremendous response to his documentary “Afro-Punk” at BAM’s African Diaspora Film Festival. “We had been screening Afro-Punk around the country, along with band performances for about a year,” says Spooner, “When BAM gave me a weekend for a film festival, my partner Matthew and I came up with the idea of having a music festival independent of the films. We had bands at CBGBs, the Delancey Lounge. Ever since, this thing has really grown.”
“In a lot of ways, the film was my life story,” explains Spooner of the documentary that started it all, which featured in depth looks at the lives of four punk rockers, as well as interviews and performances from various musicians. “I grew up a dedicated member of the DIY punk and hardcore scene. There were a lot of issues dealing with race that weren’t being addressed in the scene… I wanted to critique the scene in the hopes that it would become a discussion point in a number of communities, and it really took off. In a lot of ways it became a voice for the ‘other’ black experience.”
Spooner has since gone on to make a mockumentary exploring much of the same territory, “White Lies Black Sheep,” about a black party promoter from Bed-Stuy suffering a break-down due to pressures from both the obnoxious white kids he hangs out with and his equally confining father. The full film line-up includes a slew of racially charged films, from “Passing Through,” the 1977 story of jazz musicians and revolutionaries by Charles Burnett collaborator Larry Clark (no, not that Larry Clark), to “The Landlord,” Hal Ashby‘s outrageous take on race relations in a gentrifying area of Brooklyn.
“I wanted to create a space where black people can really be honest with themselves about who they want to be,” says Spooner. “There’s not enough space in the world where that happens.”
The Afro-Punk Festival continues through July 13.
Insurgency in the Mojave
On Wednesday night, Film Forum patrons got a taste of ersatz Iraq with Jesse Moss and Tony Gerber‘s fascinating, frustrating documentary “Full Battle Rattle,” a portrait of Medina Wasl, a $1 billion recreation of an Iraqi Village in California, used by the US army to simulate current wartime conditions for troops training for combat. In footage that is almost indistinguishable from that shot in the actual Iraq, troops experience recreations of ambushes, kidnappings, inflamed local sensitivities, courtesy of a cast of 1,600, including hundreds of Iraqi refugees who play both insurgency and innocent townspeople.
“This was not a film that sought to answer the question ‘was this effective training or not?’,” said Gerber after the screening. “For us, it was about how this place is almost a diorama of the war, the war in miniature. Any time you look at a model of something, it tells you as much about the model makers as it does about the model.”
Which is all well and good, but this statement points to the central problem with the film; Gerber and Moss choose to have their film show the simulation as it is experienced by its participants, refusing to address the background of Medina Wasl or substantive results from it. Without this essential context, it is hard to know how to process a response to this strange spectacle — is it a colossal waste of resources, or a truly effective training mechanism that gives invaluable preparation to troops for the violent chaos and regional sensitivities they will find in Iraq?
Moss admitted that while filming, “I didn’t know any men or women in the armed forces, I didn’t know any Iraqis… This village was a real opportunity to bring together Iraqis with people back from the war, and people going to it,” said Moss. Indeed, the film is at its best when exploring the way these disparate groups interact with curiosity and humor, the menace of the conflict occasionally forgotten. The movie’s best moments have the Iraqi refugees (Shia, Sunni and Kurdish) laughing off their cultural differences during a pretend Sunni-Shia wedding, or the returning soldiers getting a little too excited about playing insurgents, or the staged funeral that results in real tears from the soldiers, already emotional after having received word of their imminent deployment.
The film will play at Film Forum through July 22.
Out and about in NYC
With the dog days of summer upon us, New York’s outdoor movies are in full swing. The varied programs and usually free admissions provide one of the big perks of being a New Yorker; even if noise and light pollution sometimes make it difficult to follow the films (I almost only go to movies I have seen before), the communal conviviality more than makes up for it.
Film blog The Reeler used to run an excellent annual column with an in depth review of all New York outdoor programming; in his absence, here are some highlight’s from this seasons offerings:
HBO Bryant Park: http://cityguide.aol.com/newyork/hbobryantparkfilm
The most popular outdoor film screening in the city, and one of the few whose projection and sound are good enough to get away with more challenging programming. Everything’s a classic, and most films are black and white, which seems to suit the large, varied crowd. Show up early. Highlights are “Arsenic and Old Lace” on 7/21, “The Apartment” on 7/28, and “Superman” on 8/18.
McCarren Park Pool, Williamsburg, Brooklyn: http://www.mccarrenpark.com/film.html
The programmers here have wisely stuck to cult favorites that much of the young audience can recite by heart. While the sound system has been vastly improved since last year, the films occasionally start before sundown (making it hard to see) and screen in the wrong aspect ratio. There is an eclectic program of live music which plays before the movies. This season’s highlights include “The Virgin Suicides” on the 7/15, “Desperately Seeking Susan” on 7/22, and “Blue Velvet” on 7/12.
Riverflicks at Hudson River Park: http://www.hudsonriverpark.org/events.asp
At the crowded Astroturf playground on the West Side Highway, this year’s focus is on music, featuring “Purple Rain” on 7/23, “Saturday Night Fever” on 8/6 and “The Blues Brothers” on 8/20. Personally, I’d rather go family-friendly with the Riverflicks for Kids series on Fridays, with screenings of “The Wizard of Oz,” 7/11, “E.T.” on 7/25 and “The Goonies” on 8/8.
The Museum of the Moving Image at Socrates Sculpture Park: http://www.socratessculpturepark.org/Film_Series/Film_Festival.htm
Probably the most esoteric outdoor program in town, MoMI has made some concession towards ‘easier’ cinema this year with screenings of “The Host” on 7/30, and “The Red Balloon” and “Persepolis” on 8/6, while continuing to feature quiet, intimate films such as “Chop Shop” on 7/23 and “Duck Season” on 8/20. Located on the Queens-side banks of the East river, the films are proceeded by live music.
Movies With a View at Brooklyn Bridge Park: http://www.brooklynbridgepark.org/go/programs-/-events/movies-with-a-view
Is it ever a view- projected right against the Brooklyn Bridge, with Manhattan in the background. Some of their programming is inspired; I imagine “Stand By Me,” on 7/10, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” on 7/17, and “Cabaret” on 8/14 will all work well, but with the noise and distractions, I have a harder time imagining “The Shining” on 8/28 having quite the same hypnotic pull.
“Cinema Sur L’Herbe”: http://www.frenchculture.org/spip.php?article1384
Organized by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, this outdoor mini-festival of Gallic films features three near-premieres in several different locations in New York, with screenings of “Not Here to Be Loved” on 7/11, “Nha Fala” on 7/18, and “We Aren’t Cheap Brands” on 7/25.
Central Park Film Festival
Wow, what a great New York-themed run of films, all perfect for the happy outdoors. “Working Girl” on the 19th! “The French Connection” on the 20th! “Strangers on a Train” on the 21st! “Moonstruck” on the 22nd! Lord Jesus, “August Rush” on the 23rd? Why you gotta go out like that, Central Park?
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