With the doors of the Tribeca Film Festival already closed, what are New York cinephiles to do in the long stretch of time between the next iteration of the Brooklyn or New York Film Festival? Well, they can certainly wet their whistle at Scene:Brooklyn, an independent film and media arts series put on by the Brooklyn Arts Council. Containing dozens of shorts, features (including “The Iran Job” by Till Schauder and Sara Nodjoumi and “Redlegs” by Brandon Harris), and other presentations/masterclasses, there’s plenty to chew on to keep the festival spirit going. Running from May 2-6 (check out the events here), the series kicked off with “Brooklyn In Brief,” a collection of over fifteen shorts broken up into two sets: 8 narrative and 7 documentaries.
Those who can barely stomach the generic micro-budget template will be happy to know that the burgeoning filmmakers represented here are aiming higher. Michael Tyburski’s “Angelfish” follows a somewhat shy, isolated man as he sails through New York’s East River, reminiscing over a past relationship while taking inspiration from another sea explorer’s short novel. Soundtracked with a soothing narration and showcasing a dear fondness for the open water, Tyburkski imbues his film with an adventurous spirit that’s highly contagious. “A Change in the Weather” is a very brief, hugely funny short by Adam Welz which involves a man watching a woman change her outfit — the catch is, she’s doesn’t notice his presence despite standing right in front of his window (even, at times, using it as a makeup mirror). In its three minutes, the movie really nails the essence of New York; its hustle-bustle behavior where people do their own thing without noticing another soul.
A tale of love unrequited is turned on its head for “The Other Girl” as teenager Eddie fails with one woman and quickly moves on to her best friend. Though it’s a highly conventional premise, director Kristan Sprague brings an overwrought tale some life with her excellent use of the urban setting. Similarly, “Redemption, For Colored Boys” mines drama out of the absent-father-returns scenario but gives the characters a genuine life and personality (the son records music passionately, his father has a warm encounter with a bodega clerk) before the histrionics start, so when they do, it feels realistic. Furthermore, the movie uses the short form to its advantage: the director cuts immediately after the altercation between father and son, suggesting that things can’t actually be repaired. It’s a much more honest, powerful statement than any gift-wrapped reconciliation you’d find elsewhere.
“The Air Inside Her” involves a child curious about death, but what’s most interesting are the everyday kid moments that helmer Darya Zhuk makes time for. The adolescent free-spirit is cultivated terrifically and, thankfully, lines never feel like they were shoved down the actor’s throat — they feel organic. “Made In China” is a quick gag with the punch line in the title — but that doesn’t mean it’s not a crack up, and the film serves as a nice whiskey shot between more involving films. Both “Try A Little Harder” and “Same Same” are comedies that take on the absurdities of creative professions — one’s an artist and the other a product designer — but both manage to stay consistently funny, eschewing soberness for chuckles.
The non-fiction section opens with “Up On The Farm,” a documentary set to surf-rock that unveils a prosperous local farm sitting on the roof of a building. Diane Nerwen details the deadening morning commute with a matter-of-fact eye; by contrast the farm is filmed with slower pans and static shots, offering a more peaceful tranquility. “Married Hair” is a highly insightful, insanely entertaining look at the tradition of “kosher wigs,” in which married Jewish women don various sorts of hairstyles to keep up with an old tradition. It’s an expensive practice (with wigs sometimes costing a couple grand a pop) but all seem pretty wild about it, and their enthusiasm is infectious.
Also a blast is “The Dentist,” Alex Mallis’s seemingly studious portrait of a hyper chatterbox that slowly reveals its subject to be much weirder than expected — the nerdy teeth cleaner also happens to have an indoor rock climbing gym in his office, and it’s only for his secret society. The filmmaker carefully peels back the layers with slow, pensive dolly movements, building up to the strange surprises well while giving them a mysterious tinge. Meghan Sims turned to a personal tragedy for “We Do Too” as she interviews her family about the death of her sister. Taken by leukemia at a young age, Sims creates something lyrical by laying the damaged interviews over a blend of footage involving her clan taking part various hobbies — while they have moved on, it’s a painful memory that will always follow them. Shot in an unpolished, gritty sort of way on 16mm stock, you can feel the longing nostalgia leaking from the print, not to mention the undeniable power that the film holds — it’s hard not to get choked up when Sims’s kid brothers expound on their deceased sibling. “We Do Too” gets away without being exploitative for many reasons (for one, it’s not our family, so who are we to even say), but it works the most because it’s so damn poignant.
“Newtown” and “Occupy Our Homes – Homeowners Speak Out” are the “issues” movies, but they work on a personal level that others of their ilk can barely fake. The former is an exposé of a damaging oil leak that began in Newton Creek (located in Greenpoint, Brooklyn) and managed to spread all the way to Long Island and Manhattan. Thankfully there are no cute cartoons or smug narrators to get the point across; Sarah Choi sticks to the people and their stories of deaths ultimately related to the scummy water. ‘Occupy’ shines a light on a different kind of person than we’ve generally seen to represent the movement (no bargain bin hippies or hipsters here — and thankfully, none of the redundant condescension often lobbed at them has a place, either): both subjects are middle aged parents trying to keep a roof over their heads despite the bank’s threats. Both stay optimistic and even have a good natured humor about their situation, smirking at the amount of time they spend on the phone just to get a straight answer. Neither documentary is bogged down with needless, endless, and pointless rhetoric — all subjects are knowledgeable about their issues but are mostly shown talking from a human standpoint. It’s a position that you can’t really argue.
The series comes to a fitting close with “Emerging Face of a Nationless World,” which details a number of artists from different countries all residing in New York City. Part of a multi-media campaign that connects communities around the world, it would almost seem that the entire showcase fits this mission statement given the different ethnicities behind and in front of the camera. Directed by Jie-Song Zhang, the film generates a massive amount of positive energy and will likely force audience members to jot down the many people it highlights (ranging from a Chinese fiddle master to a Chilean hip-hop activist) — it’s a quick piece eager to exhibit as many people as it can, and we’re interested to see the next step that this operation takes.