Arts & Style

Bushwick Film Festival

About the Festival

After receiving more than 1,300 submissions — a record-breaking number — the annual Bushwick Film Festival screened for its 11th straight year on Oct. 10-14, with over 40 events ranging from feature and short film screenings to special events, red carpets to talks with industry leaders. Seconds after getting off the L train and hiking up the stairs to Morgan Avenue, there is an almost instantaneous realization that Bushwick is the epicenter of Brooklyn’s artistic community, with gigantic graffiti murals prominent on the walls as the film festival red carpet nears. Over the last decade, BFF has screened the works of nearly 500 independent filmmakers from Brooklyn and over 40 different countries, proudly shining a spotlight on everything that Bushwick is about.

The Best of All Worlds

In The Best of All Worlds, Adrian Wachter, a 7-year-old Austrian schoolboy, appears before the audience as a gentle, curious and young soul. He enjoys playing with his toy bow and arrows, fighting off monsters in his imaginary world and proclaiming to all that one day he’ll become an adventurer. All seems normal; many young children have the same vivid imagination. However, as Adrian’s mother, Helga, battles with a heroin addiction, it seems all the more likely that Adrian’s imagination is a route of safe escape, where Adrian can live — even if it’s for a short while — in a world of his own, oblivious to the fear in his real world.

After a year on a jampacked festival tour, director Adrian Goiginger, screened his based-on-a-true-story feature at the BFF, highlighting the unfortunate and all-too-common world of the children who are affected by their parent’s addiction. Although the film is entirely in German, there seems to be no problem communicating the emotionally packed script through subtitles. The writing team repeatedly makes bold statements with choices to include rather graphic scenes, many of which explore the relationship between childhood behavior and the temptations of drugs. These scenes are hard to watch but incredibly important to the integrity and depth of the story.

It is clear that Goiginger did not necessarily care about how uncomfortable his truthful displays make viewers feel, as the importance of his work is in its creation of a meaningful dialogue around issues affecting innocent children around the world. As the pacing rolls on, the importance of family values is placed under a microscope, specifically with the stark use of contrast in the film’s exploration of the Wachter family’s conventions. Without the establishment of these conventions, there would be nothing to compare them to, rendering the film disconnected to the emotions of real life. The precision and intensity with which Goiginger establishes these modes in his film sets a stage for meaningful dialogue, truly setting itself apart from ordinary films.

Are You Glad I’m Here?

This bilingual comedy-drama follows Nadine, a Lebanese woman, and Kirsten, an American girl, as they become friends in a story of self-discovery and loyalty. Nadine is a resilient housewife, even though years of taking care of a husband sinking into alcoholism have nearly crushed her vivacious spirit. Kirsten is a quirky, self-assured post-graduate who moves to Beirut to teach English and gain life experience. As Kirsten becomes increasingly involved in Nadine’s personal life, tensions begin to simmer — until one night they find themselves becoming partners-in-crime.

Displaying the clashing of Western and Middle Eastern values, director Noor Gharzeddine prioritizes her debut feature film’s focus on the role of women in society, using the unlikely friendship formed between Nadine and Kirsten as her vehicle. Using two women, from two different backgrounds and on the opposite sides of the gender-role spectrum, is a thoughtful, well-played experiment on Gharzeddine’s part. The characters are carefully crafted by writer Samuel Cyrenius Anderson, with Kirsten — representing the freedom and liberation that feminism can grant to a contained, trapped housewife — struggling to find her happiness in her current arrangement. While the material and character quality are certainly there, the pace of the movie is quite slow, struggling to captivate the audience as it focuses a little too much on rather mundane aspects of life.

Although the mundane has an importance in truth value and the grounding of a story, these aspects would have been better if they were balanced with scenes that display more intensity and tension. Although danger is faced by characters in various scenes, this danger struggles to grab the viewer from the screen and take them on an emotional roller coaster. Although depth like this may not be required in all movies, it should’ve been considered more in this drama infused with domestic violence. However, as a wave of feminist political reform gains momentum in the Middle East, a film like this certainly has a place in modern society.

Lost in Apocalypse

Lost in Apocalypse, a debut feature film for director Sky Wang, is a perfect example of a classic Hollywood zombie movie infused with Chinese culture. With Asian actors not receiving much representation in the major American film industry, a cast entirely of Chinese actors and actresses speaking their native tongue is a refreshing sight. Unable to differentiate itself from typical American zombie movies script-wise, the film is written with classic “chases through building” hallways, inches away from being infected at any given moment, as survivors ruthlessly kill to live another hour. However, an important difference from any American zombie movie lies in the cinematography style with which scenes are approached.

A tell-tale sign of the Chinese influence in the film, Wang adopts harsher, more abrupt panning techniques in the filming of action and fight scenes, which closely resemble classic karate movies — the same legendary, standard-setting style that filmmakers on set with Bruce Lee made famous. Void of Hollywood’s flashy, explosion- and artillery-filled action scenes, the actors only use household items that are around them to fight, speaking to the resourceful nature of the director, who mentioned that the crew’s limited budget forced it to rely on single-take shooting quite often. A scene that involves the group escaping from zombies while trapped in a parking garage, for example, required the back window of a car to be broken and climbed into so that the car could be driven away. Since the single window is the only window the cast could afford to break, the scene in the movie was instructed to be filmed in one take, placing tremendous pressure on the actors to get the crucial scene right on the first try.

Although resourceful, both negative and positive aspects of this are on display. On the lighter notes, the stage crew’s creativity in fully embracing all resources shows in certain unconventional approaches to what can be possible, such as glass bottles being used as weapons instead of knives or guns. However, this same scrappy resourcefulness begins to work against the actors when scenes grow downright corny, with the exaggerations of the power of certain makeshift household weapons sometimes appearing childish in the process. Aside from cinematography, the film doesn’t have much as it struggles to captivate the audience and separate itself from the zombie genre that tends to box filmmakers in.

Midnight Peep Show

Speaking to the versatility of the BFF curating panel, short films that are considered controversial and dark were showcased in a midnight screening on Friday, Oct. 12. The range of these outrageous short films stretches from a film that portrays the Trumps as members of a privileged, wealthy family that engages in incest, to a gay man who wants to learn how to be able to be “the best bottom ever,” resulting in him going to outrageous measures to ensure that he can be a partner to the largest man in the community. It’s important to understand that these are only two examples of the six short films that showcased in this series, the others of which are equally as uncomfortable.

However, the film festival deserves praise for lending a screen to these questionable forms of art. When viewing these particular types of pieces, it is important to understand that art requires certain levels of bravery. Digging deep into society’s dark caverns of socially forbidden activities, in an effort to take a closer look and examine these forms, helps viewers to learn to challenge themselves and grow as humans. When seeing artists who go against the grain, apathetic to the vast criticisms they’d face for the material they chose to produce, it is only fair for audiences to champion them as heroes for the art world. In these short films, directors truly went above the bar and beyond the normal conventions of film.

October 22, 2018

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Erik Kantar


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