BAM has released the full lineup for its 11th annual BAMcinemaFest, a “platform for both emerging and established filmmakers as well as unconventional and often overlooked films,” which will run this year from June 12 — 23. This year’s 12-day festival includes 18 NY premieres, one U.S. premiere, and three world premieres.
Gina Duncan, Associate Vice President of Film, told IndieWire of the programming picks, “We have the same goal every year: to present the best American independent cinema being made today. But this is the first year that I’ve felt the films fit together as a cohesive whole; they are linked by a naturalness, an intimate focus, and boundless creativity. As the larger film conversation continues to focus on record-breaking box offices, it feels defiant to present a program that centers film as art.”
This year’s festival will open on June 12 with the New York premiere of Lulu Wang’s lauded family dramedy “The Farewell,” starring Awkwafina. The film debuted at Sundance earlier this year to massive critical acclaim, and A24 will release it later this year. The festival will close with Diana Peralta’s “De Lo Mio” on June 22, which follows the “story of ride or die New York sisters who reunite with their estranged brother in the Dominican Republic following their father’s death.”
Other highlights include Centerpiece Film “Give Me Liberty,” from Kirill Mikhanovsky and Hilary Brougher’s “South Mountain,” which will be featured as this year’s Spotlight Film. The festival will host a range of other breakouts, as well, including Ben Berman’s “The Amazing Johnathan Documentary,” Cristina Ibarra & Alex Rivera’s “The Infiltrators,” Jeremy Teicher’s “Olympic Dreams,” Tayarisha Poe’s “Selah and the Spades,” Rashaad Ernesto Green’s “Premature,” and Rick Alverson’s “The Mountain.”
Popular on IndieWire
Tickets go on sale to the general public on Thursday, May 16 at 10AM. BAM members receive early access starting on Thursday, May 9 at 10AM and $5 off tickets.
The complete BAMcinemaFest 2019 slate includes the following, with all synopses provided by the festival.
“The Amazing Johnathan Documentary” (Ben Berman) NY Premiere Documentary
In documentary filmmaking, the line between what’s real and constructed can often be blurry. But when your subject is a magician—a master in the art of illusion—can you believe anything you see? That’s the conundrum filmmaker Ben Berman finds himself facing when he sets out to make what he thinks will be a straightforward documentary about the comeback of renowned magician-comedian The Amazing Johnathan, whose career—built on often-macabre humor—has been on hold since he was diagnosed with a fatal heart condition. But when a shocking revelation leaves Berman questioning everything about the project, he must ask himself: how far is he willing to go to find out the truth? A wild ride investigation into the nature of documentary ethics, this playfully entertaining meta-puzzle has more than a few tricks up its sleeve.
“Caballerango” (Juan Pablo Gonzales) NY Premiere Documentary
Death haunts a close-knit Mexican community in this evocatively spare, slow-burn documentary spellbinder. With a remarkably unobtrusive camera, director Juan Pablo González chronicles the everyday rituals and rhythms of life in a small, struggling rural town in the state of Jalisco where daily conversation turns again and again to one topic: the recent suicide of a young caballerango (horse wrangler) whose death, we soon learn, is only the latest in a rash of suicides that have plagued the village. Finding stirring poignancy in seemingly quotidian moments, Caballerango is a transcendentally sad and beautiful reflection on vanishing traditions and disappearing lives.
SCREENS WITH: “Ghosts of Sugar Land” Dir. Bassam Tariq. A mystery hangs over a group of young Muslim-American men in Sugar Land, TX: what happened to their missing friend “Mark”? And could he really have joined ISIS?
“The Cancer Journals Revisited” (Lana Lin) World Premiere Documentary
“I have cancer, I am a black feminist poet. How am I going to do this now?” So asks womanist icon Audre Lorde in her fearlessly vulnerable memoir The Cancer Journals, in which she reflects intimately on her own body and experiences while undergoing treatment for breast cancer in the late 1970s. In this poetic rumination on Lorde’s work, a chorus of current and former breast cancer patients read aloud and react to the poet’s words. Their responses and the stories they share are candid, cathartic messages about what it means to be a woman dealing with illness in American society. Honoring the writer’s intersectional spirit by exploring the unique ways cancer affects women of color, The Cancer Journals Revisited is a powerful work of healing that continues the conversation Lorde started.
“De Lo Mio” (Diana Peralta) World Premiere Narrative
Sibling bonds are both rekindled and tested in the achingly alive feature debut from Diana Peralta. Rita (Sasha Merci) and Carolina (Darlene Demorizi), two high-spirited sisters raised in New York, travel to the Dominican Republic to reunite with their estranged brother Dante (Héctor Aníbal) and to clean out their grandparents’ old home before it is sold and knocked down. As they rifle through the remnants of their family’s legacy, shared joys, pains, and traumas resurface that they must confront once and for all. Sensitively attuned to the intricacies of sibling relationships—from the playful teasing to the way a favorite childhood song can trigger an impromptu dance party—De Lo Mio is a richly human look at cherishing the past while learning to let go.
“The Farewell” (Lulu Wang) NY Premiere Narrative
Based, we are informed, “on an actual lie,” Lulu Wang’s wonderfully warm, bittersweet look at the intricacies of family dynamics features a bravura breakout performance from Awkwafina as a writer living in New York who travels back to her hometown in China for a wedding celebration. The lie? The wedding is really just a pretext for family members to say goodbye to their beloved grandmother who, as everyone but the old woman herself knows, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. What plays out is a by turns gently humorous and achingly tender reflection on home, heritage, and the ways in which family bonds can stretch across cultures, distance, and generations. An A24 film.
“Give Me Liberty” (Kirill Mikhanovsky) NY Premiere Narrative
Vic (Chris Galust) is a medical transport driver in Milwaukee whose day goes from hectic to off-the-rails over the course of this breathlessly freewheeling portrait of American dreams and disenchantment. As the hapless Vic shuttles a dizzying array of passengers—including a gaggle of Russian funeral goers, an Elvis super-fan, a meddlesome boxer, and Tracy (Lauren “Lolo” Spencer), a headstrong young woman with ALS—across the city, his journey becomes a window into American society in all its richness and complexity. Shot through with a wry humor and stylistic spontaneity, this stirringly compassionate shaggy-dog tale heralds the arrival of Kirill Mikhanovsky as one of independent cinema’s freshest and most distinctive voices.
“The Hottest August” (Brett Story) NY Premiere Documentary
How do you feel about the future? That’s the question filmmaker Brett Story (The Prison in Twelve Landscapes) posed to dozens of New York City residents—ranging from an Afrofuturist performance artist to stoner skateboarders to Hurricane Sandy survivors—during the sweltering summer of 2017. The answers she received reveal the deep-seated insecurities and anxieties underpinning life in an era when global warming and late stage capitalism have seemingly set us on an apocalyptic path of no return. Balancing the engaging humanity of its subjects with an eerie science-fiction dread, The Hottest August is an urgent, provocative look into our future as seen from the perilous present.
SCREENS WITH: “Best Picture” Dir. Jay Giampietro. Upsets abound when a movie-obsessed firefighter hosts an Oscars-viewing party.
“The Infiltrators” (Cristina Ibarra & Alex Rivera) NY Premiere Documentary/Narrative
Through an electrifying mix of documentary interviews and narrative reenactment, The Infiltrators brings to life the incredible true story of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, a group of young undocumented activists who, in 2012, embarked on a mission of extraordinary daring: allowing themselves to be arrested by ICE in order to infiltrate a for-profit Florida detention center and help rescue fellow undocumented immigrants being held there. Charged with the crackling suspense of a thriller, this true life tale of courage and resistance is equally enthralling and galvanizing as it exposes the injustices and inhumanity of America’s deeply broken deportation system.
“It Started as a Joke” (Julie Smith Clem & Ken Druckerman) NY Premiere Documentary
Chronicling the decade long run of the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival through its farewell show in 2017, It Started as a Joke is a warm and generous inside look at Brooklyn’s alternative comedy community. Begun as, yes, a joke by Mirman in 2008, the festival went on to become a beloved annual tradition, a refreshingly DIY, anything-goes (one’s year’s theme: “The Drunk Show”) showcase for some of New York’s brightest comic talents, including Mike Birbiglia, Wyatt Cenac, Jim Gaffigan, Janeane Garofalo, Kumail Nanjiani, Kristen Schaal, Michael Showalter, and many others. Interweaving priceless standup sets from the festival alongside Mirman’s candid reflections on his creative process and his family’s personal struggles, this delightful documentary is a hilarious and heartfelt ode to the end of an era in New York City comedy.
“Jawline” (Liza Mandelup) NY Premiere Documentary
Sixteen-year-old Austyn Tester has not had an easy life, growing up poor in an industrial Tennessee town, but what he does have—teen idol good looks, an outgoing personality, and an internet connection—are enough to make him an object of adoration for the thousands of teen girls who tune in to his social media livestreams. Determined to make something of his life, Austyn dreams of moving to LA and taking his stardom to the next level—but in a world where everyone wants to be insta-famous, what does it take to stand out? Unfolding in a millennial pink, vaporwave haze, Liza Mandelup’s disquieting documentary offers a sobering look at teen dreams and disillusionment in the age of the “social media gold rush.”
“Leave the Bus through the Broken Window” (Andrew Hevia) NY Premiere Documentary
Reeling from a recent breakup, American expat Andrew Hevia headed to Hong Kong where he intended to make a documentary about the contemporary art fair Art Basel. What he ended up with instead is something far funnier, rawer, and more woundingly personal than a mere art world exposé. As nearly everything relating to the project goes awry, Hevia finds himself alone and adrift in the glimmering, skyscraper-and-shopping mall wonderland of Hong Kong, turning the camera on his own bewilderment, loneliness, and fear of failure. An at once wryly humorous and emotionally naked record of alienation in the age of globalization, Leave the Bus Through the Broken Window turns an artist’s personal crisis into a brilliantly meta self-portrait.
“Midnight in Paris” (James Blagden & Roni Moore) NY Premiere Documentary
In recent years, Flint, Michigan has become a byword for American urban blight, spoken of mostly in terms of its crime rate, lagging economy, and ongoing water crisis. This warmly human documentary serves as a refreshing reminder that for many, Flint is also home, a community where residents strive, struggle, and dream like anywhere else. Profiling the 2012 graduating class of the majority-black Flint Northern High School as they get ready for prom, Midnight in Paris (the theme of that year’s dance) captures the elaborate preparations for the big night—from the high-stakes search for the perfect dress to the fretting parents who inevitably worry about “kids these days”—with humor, vitality, and a subtle but powerful political conscience.
“The Mountain” (Rick Alverson) NY Premiere Narrative
Outsider provocateur Rick Alverson (The Comedy, BAMcinemaFest 2012) returns with another hypnotic, surreal odyssey into the dark side of the American psyche. Set in a despairing, Edward Hopper-esque vision of 1950s America, The Mountain follows Andy (Tye Sheridan), a taciturn teenage Zamboni operator who, following the death of his father, begins working with the mysterious Dr. Wallace Fiennes (Jeff Goldblum, weaponizing his idiosyncratic charm to sinister effect), a libidinous lobotomist who peddles a most ghoulish “cure.” Featuring synchronized ice skating routines, spacey xylophone-set dance numbers, and supporting turns by cult icons Udo Kier and Denis Lavant, The Mountain is an eerie, enigmatic fable that envisions postwar America not as a land of promise but as a graveyard of dreams. A Kino Lorber film.
“Olympic Dreams” (Jeremy Teicher) NY Premiere Narrative
Shot on location during the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, Olympic Dreams invites viewers inside the Athlete Village, where a heart-racingly intimate tale of human connection plays out amidst the pressure-cooker environment of the games. Penelope (Alexi Pappas) is a cross country skier who, following a disappointing finish, finds herself adrift with no clear purpose. Ezra (Nick Kroll) is a volunteer dentist who leaves behind his fiancée in New Jersey searching for adventure in South Korea. Over the course of the games, the two forge a surprising bond—but is it love, or just mutual loneliness? Featuring a supporting cast of international athletes, Olympic Dreams is a by turns funny and bittersweet tale of two lost souls learning to embrace the unknown.
“Premature” (Rashaad Ernesto Green) NY Premiere Narrative
Ayanna is making the most out of her last summer in Harlem before heading to college. She’s bold, confident, and not really looking for love—until she meets the slightly older Isaiah. After one of those rare first dates that lasts for hours, she knows there’s something different about him. Ayanna finds herself at an intimidating crossroads: one foot is still under her mother’s roof, while the the other is primed to step out on her own with Isaiah. Premature is an outspoken portrait of a young woman in transition, anchored by the relationships that shape us, the friendships that bolster and push us, and the love that has the power to change everything. An IFC Films film.
SCREENS WITH: “Music From the Edge of the Allegheny Plateau” Dir. Kevin Jerome Everson. Rap and gospel intertwine in this stirring musical portrait of two talented residents of Mansfield, OH inspired by William Klein’s documentary, The Little Richard Story.
“Selah and The Spades” (Tayarisha Poe) NY Premiere Narrative
The impressive feature debut from Tayarisha Poe is a hyper-stylish immersion into the competing cliques that control an exclusive Pennsylvania prep school. As head of the Spades, the the most powerful faction which exerts its influence through peddling illicit drugs and alcohol, Selah (Lovie Simone) is a Type A overachiever who relishes her status as queen bee of the campus’ social hive. When her authority is called into question, Selah reveals just how far she is willing to go to hold onto her dominance. Driven by a commanding performance by Lovie Simone as the alternately ruthless and vulnerable title character and awash in subtly surreal images, Selah and the Spades is a potent look at the dark side of the teenage drive to be “perfect.”
“So Pretty” (Jessie Jeffrey Dunn Rovinelli) US Premiere Narrative
A film bracingly of the moment that also somehow already feels like an indispensable time capsule of contemporary queer Brooklyn, the luminous sophomore feature from Jessie Jeffrey Dunn Rovinelli is a radical act of meta-adaptation that transposes an unfinished novel by gay German writer Ronald M. Schernikau from 1980s West Berlin to 2018 New York. Centered on the intertwining lives of a group of trans and genderqueer artists and activists, So Pretty traces the couplings that form and are quietly strained as the group attempts to carve out a utopian space for themselves in an increasingly hostile world. Shot with documentary-like intimacy in both digital and 16mm, this delicate tale of love, literature, and collective struggle finds truth and beauty in human connection.
“The Sound of Silence” (Michael Tyburski) NY Premiere Narrative
Peter Lucian (Peter Sarsgaard) is a man obsessed by silence—or, more precisely, the hundreds of barely detectable ambient sounds that comprise silence. Working as a New York City “house tuner”—an acoustic guru who adjusts the subtle soundscapes of his clients’ homes in order to improve their emotional well-being—the ultra-meticulous Peter leads an almost hermit-like existence according to his own carefully ordered logic. But when he takes on the case of Ellen (Rashida Jones), an anxiety-ridden woman whose problems can’t be solved simply through sound, Peter must confront the messy realities of an often dissonant world. Anchored by a quietly compelling performance from Peter Sarsgaard, the feature debut from Michael Tyburski is a revelatory tale of human connection that will leave you listening to the cityscape anew.
“South Mountain” (Hilary Brougher) NY Premiere Narrative
Family ties become a trap from which a woman must find a way to escape in the absorbing, emotionally layered new drama from Hilary Brougher. Lila (Talia Balsam) is an artist and mother living in the Catskills who has selflessly devoted herself to everyone around her, often at the expense of her own happiness. When her husband (Scott Cohen) announces he is leaving her for another woman with whom has already fathered a child, Lila finds herself plunged into an existential crisis that unfolds with simmering tension and a series of unexpected twists. Built around an extraordinary performance from Talia Balsam—at once tightly wound and achingly vulnerable—South Mountain is a fearlessly honest portrait of a woman coming apart in order to become whole.
“Sunrise/Sunset” (Jong Ougie Pak) World Premiere Narrative
After failing his university entrance exams for the third year in a row, Min Suk (Kwangmin Lee), a directionless twenty-something Korean man, travels to New York to visit his long-distance girlfriend Yeon Jae (Woohyun Kim). Over the course of a rollercoaster week, he experiences both the thrill of losing himself in a new city and the bitter realization that his relationship is gradually imploding. A romantic, outsider’s view of New York shot in elegiac black and white, Sunrise/Sunset perfectly captures the wonder and disorientation that comes with being a stranger adrift in a strange land.
“The World is Full of Secrets” (Graham Swon) NY Premiere Narrative
What’s the scariest story you know? An elderly woman—seemingly addressing us from the future—looks back on a harrowing night in the 1990s when she and a group of teenage girlfriends gathered for a sleepover to swap spooky tales and dabble in some occult mischief. But what begins as seemingly harmless adolescent fun is only a prelude to a horror that remains tantalizingly unseen and unspoken. Unfolding in a trancelike haze of dreamy dissolves, spectral double exposures, and audacious long takes—including a staggering thirty-minute, single-shot direct address—this visually sublime fusion of avant-garde aesthetics and classic old-dark-house atmospherics bristles with the hushed, candlelit air of a séance.
“Vision Portraits” (Rodney Evans) NY Premiere Documentary
What does it mean to have vision? As filmmaker Rodney Evans (Brother to Brother) confronts the loss of his sight due to a rare, irreversible condition, he turns to three visually impaired artists—photographer John Dugdale, dancer Kayla Hamilton, and writer Ryan Knighton—for guidance. Though each offers unique insights into how they have adapted their creative processes, what they all share is a refusal to let their blindness limit them and a belief that vision is more than just physical sight: it is also imagination, emotional wisdom, and inner light. Through a poetic visual style that evokes his own increasingly sightless world, Evans crafts an inspiring and thought-provoking philosophical journey that redefines what it means to truly see.
“Days of Black and Yellow” Dirs. Lotfy Nathan, co-directed by Willie Meismer and Ray Levé. A galvanizing eulogy for Douglas Schifter, the New York City taxi driver who saw his life and industry destroyed by the rise of ride-sharing apps.
“Easter Snap” Dir. RaMell Ross. Oscar-nominated director RaMell Ross (Hale County This Morning, This Evening) finds unexpectedly rich resonances in a hog processing ritual in rural Alabama.
“I Snuck Off the Slave Ship” Dirs. Lonnie Holley & Cyrus Moussavi. An ecstatic Afrofuturist tone poem set to the music of visionary folk artist Lonnie Holley.
“It’s Going to Be Beautiful” Dir. Luis Gutiérrez Arias & John Henry Theisen. A dystopian meditation on the building of the US-Mexico border wall as government workers test the ominously imposing steel and concrete prototypes.
“Neighborhood” Dir. Ben Garchar. The lives of three strangers—a pigeon keeper, a webcam model, and a man haunted by ghosts—intertwine mysteriously against the backdrop of a rapidly gentrifying Bushwick in this ethereal documentary.
“Walker’s” Dir. Kyle Myers-Haugh. This immersion into a black barbershop in Wilmington, NC unfolds as an almost abstract symphony of straight razors and straight talk.
“Yves & Variation” Dir. Lydia Cornett. A New York City doorman wears many hats—father, art curator, and erstwhile violinist—as he works tirelessly to give back to his community in Haiti.
“Edge of Red” Dir. Callie Mae Nichole Lyons. An eight-year-old girl journeys through joy, sadness, compassion, confusion, and enlightenment in this gorgeously impressionistic, richly textured blend of narrative and dance film.
“Liberty” Dir. Faren Humes. Two teenage girls find their friendship tested as their Miami public housing complex is redeveloped in this study of community and displacement charged with an electrifying experimental edge.
“Mr Parker” Dir. Alex Ashe. Soul legend Lee Fields and Janet Mock star in this stirring look at the last days in the life of a struggling singer.
“Suicide By Sunlight” Dir. Nikyatu. A day-walking black vampire struggles to keep her bloodlust under control while attempting to reconnect with her estranged daughters in this stylishly disturbing loss-of-innocence tale.
“Things That Happen in the Bathroom” Dir. Ed Hancox. An aching tale of intimacy and heartbreak unfolds entirely within the confines of a young queer man’s bathroom.