The Brooklyn International Film Festival (BiFF), once again, proved to be an impressive showcase of independent film for the 13th year in a row. From June 4th through June 13th, the festival presented more than 100 film premieres—all selected from over 2,400 submissions originating from 92 countries. Down on Kent Street in Williamsburg, sandwiched between a bar and a loud metal concert, I found indieScreen, a lovely new venue (opening night in November 2009) hosting many of this year’s festival screenings. The other venue was the Brooklyn Heights Cinema, a cinema that proudly boasts its shout-out in a Time Out column. Disappointed that I was unable to make the second screening of The Minutemen Movie (2010) the night before, I made my way to the screening of Cost of a Soul (2009). What a mistake.
Cost of a Soul, while compelling in intent and delivery, unfortunately does not have the same nuanced eye as that of HBO television series The Wire (2002). Director and writer Sean Fitzpatrick cleverly juxtaposes life on “the mean streets” of Philadelphia with an Iraqi war zone. Two veterans return home to Philadelphia, only to be drawn into another game of retribution and murder. The premise highlights the way in which the United States government neglects its soldiers—sending them to invade and fight in a country based on an expensive, misinformed, neo-conservative agenda, only to send them back to neighborhoods lacking access to vital resources and public services. Like The Wire, Cost of a Soul attempts to paint a human picture of those stigmatized as “criminals.” Gang leaders become real people who are interested in giving back to their communities. Yet, in its effort to portray gray, in the end, it becomes increasingly black and white. The “bad guys” soon turn evil and, in the end, almost none of the characters survive. While the film has many redeeming qualities, a bad ending can leave an unpleasant opinion in the mind of the viewer. One of the audience members, as our last protagonist died, shouted, “Damn, everyone gets shot in this movie!” Laughter ensued, further illuminating the film’s increasingly implausible plot twists and gratuitous violence.
The film that I unfortunately missed was The Minutemen Movie, a film that took home an award for Best Documentary, as well as BiFF’s highest honor, the Grand Chameleon Award. The Minutemen are a group of self-appointed watchdogs paroling the US/Mexican border. Unsatisfied with the government’s security of the border and fearful of an influx of illegal immigrants, they are armed and ready to take matters into their own hands. According to Steward Nusbaumer in The Huffington Post, director/co-producer Corey Wascinski and editor/co-producer Nicholas Weissman presents the Minutemen as “a complex and diversified group, as human beings instead of a political poster.” He continues that the purpose of the film is, hence, not to change minds but, rather, to open minds. I agree with Nusbaumer in that documentaries can easily fall into the trap of political bias. It is refreshing to hear that The Minutemen Movie has successfully presented a complex portraiture of a controversial group. As issues surrounding illegal immigration persist in the news, this documentary is a timely exploration of one of many perspectives on the topic.
Another favorite of the festival was Sebastian Conley’s Colin Hearts Kay (2010). Dubbed “charming” and “wildly inventive,” it received the Audience Award for Feature Narrative, along with the award for Best Editing. Park Slope-based cartoonist Colin Jenson invites us on a journey of discovery in an attempt to figure out why his three year relationship with food blogger Kay Ho has ended. Many accolades for the film could be heard after the sold-out showing on Friday, June 11th. Another noteworthy film is Gabi on the Roof in July (2010) by Lawrence Michael Levine, which took home Best Narrative Feature. BiFF describes the film as "an edgy character-driven ensemble comedy about ex-girlfriends, sibling rivalry and whipped cream set in a city that's constantly in flux." The film is one of the 12 festival selections set in Brooklyn.
Despite slight disappointment, BiFF certainly produced some gems. I highly recommend pursuing those films that you may have missed. To check-out the full line-up of this year’s Brooklyn International Film Festival, or for more information on any of the films featured in the festival, please see the BiFF website.