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Monday, April 30, 2012

BAM150—Boiling Down BAM's 150 Years on Film

Still of The Threepenny Opera from BAM150.

This weekend, my colleagues and I attended the Tribeca Film Festival premiere screenings of BAM150—a wonderful new documentary directed by Michael Sládek. Though BAM is steeped in risk-taking and adventurousness on stage, capturing this artistic spirit and institutional history on film was uniquely challenging (and, frankly, a little crazy considering a limited budget and the eight-month timeline).

I'm thrilled to say BAM150 is mesmerizing, due to both the drama and construction of the storytelling and the stunning camerawork by Room 5 Films' Greg Loser and Ramsey Fendall. BAM150 takes you backstage during a number of 2011 Next Wave Festival productions and "back-office" at a large performing arts organization. You hear from some of the artists who have not only helped make it great, but who also regularly sit in the audience. With moments from sublimely beautiful to slightly awkward, with a history of agonizingly difficult periods and giddy artistic successes, with laughs and gaffs and warts and all, this is BAM's story.

And there it was on a huge screen at Tribeca. The months of accompanying the filmmakers at odd-ball hours, the many artist agreements, the creative-budget-coding (just kidding, boss), helping to get things filmed that made no sense at the time—it had all paid off. In the theater I was surrounded by people who knew BAM, by people who didn't, and by film geeks who saw everything at the festival.

At a post-screening Q&A with the director, a woman from Manhattan said that BAM150 made her realize all she'd been missing by not venturing to Brooklyn (uh huh). Several others asked how a filmmaker could begin to sift through 150 years of history ("a film of subtraction," says Sládek). Another asked if the performers had issue with a film crew backstage (for the most part, no, but a German cast member in Threepenny Opera came offstage and tried to hand the film crew his props). As for the office cinema-verité scenes, eventually we did indeed—like the Loud Family—come to ignore the cameras following our day-to-night activities.

BAM took a leap of faith that what makes it unique and special would shine through in the hands of the right filmmakers and in a labor of love. And once again, the risk paid off.

—Sandy Sawotka

See BAM150 on Ovation TV on May 21 and 26.

Friends of BAM are invited to a screening and reception at BAM Rose Cinemas on Sunday, June 3, followed by a Q&A with the director.

A free public screening will take place at BAM Rose Cinemas on Monday, June 4 at 8:30pm, also followed by a director Q&A.

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