BAM’s June festival of new releases, recently a funnel for the previous winter’s Sundance, is becoming something like an indie New York Film Festival, introducing consensus picks from the domestic festival circuit. Unsurprisingly for an era of D.V. filmmaking nurtured by regional fests and scenes—like Austin, where SXSW has also supplanted Sundance as the prime lookout for BAMcinemaFEST’s scouts—the selection is an arrangement in shades of local color.
Both Matthew Porterfield’s Putty Hill and Martha Stephens’s Passenger Pigeons are Appalachian tone poems skimming the wake of an early death. Porterfield observes his nonpro cast in paintball fields and tattoo parlors outside Baltimore, and, from offscreen, engages with their connection to a (fictional) overdose victim. The film ambles, melancholically, around memories; a bluesy tint also suffuses the autumnal coal-country air of Passenger Pigeons, where four sets of characters respond to a fatal mine collapse in hollowed-out Eastern Kentucky (a solitary protest sign asks: “Where have all the mountains gone”). Stephens casts herself as an outsider, but understands the spaces filled by country and gospel singalongs.
A more personal immersion experience is Tiny Furniture, from web-videographer Lena Dunham (Oberlin ’08), who stars, alongside her sister and their mother, photographer Laurie Simmons, as a recent grad who reads aloud from the comments mocking her self-exposing YouTube videos (Dunham’s own), and is haltingly attracted to a douche from work and a diffident fellow-filmmaker (fellow SXSW scenester Alex Karpovsky). Funny—scenes end on retweetable punchlines—and compulsively self-aware, it’s a work-through of postcollegiate issues of a very recent vintage, though set in Manhattan rather than the BK.
Even closer to home, Wah Do Dem began when filmmakers Ben Chace and Sam Fleischner won cruise tickets, and brought singer-songwriter Sean Bones along to star in a movie also featuring songs and cameos from MGMT and Yeasayer. The aggressive W’Burg signifiers—porn ‘staches and flat-brimmed caps, Bushwick Inlet Park and Pete’s Candy Store—persist after Bones, with no one to appreciate his ironic enjoyment of the cruise, packs up his (secondhand, obvs) tourist-trap t-shirt in search of an “authentic” Jamaican experience. Even wandering the wilderness, his bubble of hipster privilege goes unpunctured: he earns much respeck from the natives for joining their soccer game and for Obama’s election, and is such a not-ugly American that he befriends a would-be mugger.
Aaron Katz, writer-director of platonic Park Slope Before Sunrise remake Quiet City, meanwhile returns home to Portland, Oregon with Cold Weather, a casual-dress brother-sister Thin Man. This DIY film about amateur detectives again showcases Katz’s feel for everyday beauty (benevolent thunderheads shelter the action) and fuzzily defined relationships, like that of siblings still figuring out how to talk to each other as the adults they’ve become.
Katz’s fellow mumblecore alums Mark and Jay Duplass open the fest with star-powered Cyrus (like Wah Do Dem, opening theatrically on June 18), a comically frank emotional tug-of-war between doughy-squinty sadsack John C. Reilly and overgrown mama’s boy Jonah Hill, son of Reilly’s second-chance love Marisa Tomei. Hill’s taunting deadpan is funny, but Tomei, nervously generous with her affections, belongs in a bolder, blacker comedy. Mark Duplass also plays one of the rotoscoped bedheaded astronauts in Mars, whose slackeriffic jokiness and deadpan existentialism betrays its very terrestrial origins, on an Austin soundstage. All independent film is local, even sci-fi.
June 9-20 at BAM