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Thursday, June 14, 2018

BAMcinemaFest 2018

Madeline’s Madeline. Photo courtesy of Visit Films.
June 2018 sees the 10th edition of BAMcinemaFest, an essential selection of new American independent cinema from emerging and established filmmakers. The annual festival, which originally began as a partnership with the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, has blossomed into a force of its own, with critics describing it as “the best barometer of the climate of independent filmmaking in America” (The Village Voice).

Drawing inspiration from BAM’s flagship Next Wave Festival, BAMcinemaFest proudly reflects the institution’s overarching aim to be the home for adventurous artists, audiences, and ideas across all art forms. Speaking to the programming of this year’s edition, Gina Duncan, associate vice president of cinema, says: “We thought a lot about Next Wave, whose name evokes the French New Wave. This enduring, influential movement in cinema history saw filmmakers break away from established forms of storytelling to create personal, experimental and socially conscious work. These traits are apparent throughout our line-up, which engages with and connects to our contemporary social and political climate.”

Sorry to Bother You. Photo courtesy of Annapurna.
Few recent films have provided more electric and eccentric social commentary than Opening Night comedy Sorry to Bother You, the debut feature from accomplished artist Boots Riley. It stars Lakeith Stanfield—currently shining in hit FX TV show Atlanta—as Cassius Green, a frustrated Oakland telemarketer sucked into a neo-Orwellian odyssey of bizarre occurrences, oddball characters, and, in the shape of Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), one of cinema’s all-time great evil capitalist overlords. Sorry to Bother You is fresh, funny, original, and proudly anti-establishment. Equally contemptuous of the status quo yet, conversely, deadly serious, is Stephen Maing’s jaw-dropping documentary Crime + Punishment (screening in a Spotlight slot), an investigation into the New York Police Department’s outlawed practices of quota-driven policing and officer retaliation.

Rebellious forces pulse through Closing Night film Madeline’s Madeline, an immersive and moving drama directed by BAMcinemaFest alum Josephine Decker (Thou Wast Mild and Lovely, 2014; Collective: Unconscious, 2016). The titular Madeline (16-year-old Helena Howard, astounding) is a performing arts student locked in a battle of wills with her brittle single mother (Miranda July) and her overbearing teacher Evangeline (Molly Parker). Madeline might well find a kindred spirit in the shape of young Tom (Thomasin McKenzie), the focus of Centerpiece film Leave No Trace. This heartbreakingly empathetic tale from Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone) follows Tom and her grizzled veteran father (Ben Foster) who opt to live off the grid, rejecting the traditional parameters of family and home. A more prosaic experience defines the days of awkward teen Kayla (Elsie Fisher) in Spotlight selection Eighth Grade, Bo Burnham’s beautifully-observed, howlingly funny study of a girl who struggles to finish her last week of classes before embarking for high school.

BAMcinemaFest’s line-up is further populated by a range of form-stretching, unconventional and experimental treats from the worlds of fiction and nonfiction. These include future cult classic Relaxer (dir. Joel Potrykus), a Millennium Bug-era fever dream that manages to be at once profoundly moving, nail-bitingly gripping, and seriously disgusting; controversial artist Leigh Ledare’s The Task, a riveting blend of observational documentary and psychoanalysis which can’t help but conjure Sartre’s famed aphorism “Hell is other people”; and Sandi Tan’s unique Shirkers, a poignantly personal journey of cinephilic obsession. “It’s crucial that we’re sharing with audiences things they haven’t seen before,” says BAM Senior Programmer Ashley Clark. “We see BAMcinemaFest as a platform for both the present and future of cutting-edge, unconventional American independent cinema.”

In addition to featuring the cream of work from esteemed festivals like Berlin and Sundance, BAMcinemaFest’s line-up also boasts three world premieres: Feast of the Epiphany (dirs. Michael Koresky, Jeff Reichart, and Farihah Zaman), a metaphysical narrative-documentary hybrid; Chained for Life (dir. Aaron Schimberg), a self-reflexive, cinema-drunk drama featuring a heartbreaking central performance by Adam Pearson (Under the Skin); and Two Plains & a Fancy (dirs. Whitney Horn and Lev Kalman), a baroquely funny spa-Western-comedy shot on gorgeously grainy 16mm.

“We’re thrilled to be given the honor of sharing these films with the world for the first time,” says Programmer Jesse Trussell. “They are moving, hilarious, and startlingly original works from teams of artists that we’ve been supporting for some time. Championing this kind of defiantly personal cinema,” concludes Trussell, “is exactly what BAMcinemaFest is for.”

BAMcinemaFest runs June 20—July 1. For tickets and to see the full line-up, please visit

© 2018 Brooklyn Academy of Music, Inc. All rights reserved.

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