A Decade Under the BAMfluence

06/17/2009 4:00 AM |

Some years back I lived close enough to the Brooklyn Academy of Music to roll out of bed and into a back-row BAMcinematek seat in under two minutes. Next to a theater full of temptations, it was hard to start any task at home lasting longer than the intervals between 4:30, 6:50, and 9:15, the usual showtimes. Conversely, in a moment of weakness and confusion I once ducked out of a movie to fetch an apple from home. Convenience breeds such wanton, heedless extravagance in a man.

Today, the inaugural BAMcinemaFEST opens, marking 10 years of the BAMcinematek and the diversity of repertory programming that, day to day, makes it hard for law-abiding New Yorkers to get work done. The theater’s gel-light-color foldout calendars may not smell quite so inkily intoxicating as they once did, but their contents reflect a continuing dedication to a layered variety of series big and small, foreign and domestic, thematic and auteurist. The FEST’s mix, partly absorbing the old Sundance at BAM series, pays tribute with premieres (like the new film by Andrew Bujalski), revivals (the eternal return of Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan), lush shorts programs and, as ever, a very 90s uppercase-lowercase-hybrid title.

BAMcinematek whirred into motion in the summer of 1999, about six months after the first-run cinemas, with a Brooklyn-friendly Spike Lee series pegged to Summer of Sam. That same year, a dorky-sounding outfit called Netflix sent out its first mailers ferrying the latest digital-video-disc technology to your doorstep. “We started 10 years ago with probably less competition,” recalls program director Florence Almozini, who had previously programmed at Ocularis. In the years since, the theater has comfortably taken its place in the rep rotations of cinephiles and among the entertainment options of moviegoers, and has strived to balance different enthusiasms.

Thus: everything from Imamura and Visconti retros to Portuguese and Czech cinema showcases, from (Brooklyn’s own) Barbara Stanwyck centennial to wild mobbed nights with Bill Murray (you know, the deadpan genius). Personal unrepeatable moments include a packed crowd squirming at operation scenes in Antonioni‘s unknown-entity China doc, and Arnaud Desplechin, in Q&A at BAM’s retro, earnestly avowing to an audience member the full extent of human physical diversity. Desplechin returns for the fest, in conversation with Kent Jones and presenting a Franco-American pair of features, Truffaut’s Mississippi Mermaid and The Royal Tenenbaums.

Especially in the post-Mondo Kim’s landscape, BAMcinematek’s variety and willingness to show one-offs or groupings like last November’s Punk’n’Pie series become more and more vital for putting hard-to-see films in front of curious eyes. Reprisals of traveling series like Nagisa Oshima also perform a valuable function of keeping a conversation going and giving that much-needed second chance (or first) to understand a director’s body of work. That is on top of vital selections from more familiar quarters: “I know everyone always wants to show something totally original that’s not available on DVD,” says Almozini. “But stuff that’s already available can also do really well on the big screen.”

As elsewhere, there’s also an effort at sharing the unknown pleasures of festival-going present and past, such as the New Crowned Hope and Directors’ Fortnight series (along with assorted specialty first runs). Almozini herself attends fests at Cannes, Toronto, Sundance, Locarno, Karlovy Vary, and elsewhere. Her international bent, which helps nurture partnerships like the annual contemporary Czech series, is complemented by the depth in American cinema (among other things) brought by associate programmer Jake Perlin, who of course also helps satisfy our Philippe Garrel jones (and runs his own distribution outfit The Film Desk).

It’s possible to talk abstractly about BAMcinematek programming in terms of international scope or auteurist focus, but sometimes it’s fun to spot the resourceful bull-session pairings that also turn up. “Shelley Winters vs. the Water” might take the cake but, unless I hallucinated, there was once also a two-pic presentation “Wiseman’s World of Animals,” which makes one imagine critter-loving tots getting unsentimentally educated by Primate and Zoo‘s lab chimps and no-nonsense vets. In the fest, this playfulness shines in the All Night line-up, where selections include Diana Ross Coming Out and Before They Were Scientologists.

BAMcinemaFEST runs through July 2, but the beat goes on as normal this summer, with weeklong runs for Mississippi Mermaid and Kurosawa’s Kagemusha, a look at the films of 70s stalwart John Cazale, and, of course, The Muppet Movie‘s 30th anniversary. “If I am interested in discovering more, I am sure I’m not the only one,” says Almozini, who’s plotting some Paraguayan cinema for the fall. And as BAMfans can attest, she’s most definitely not the only one.

One Comment

  • BAM ROCKS!! Can’t they have mini-Bams in other nabes. I wanna get an apple in the middle of the next David Gordon Greer release.