New York is not all about pancakes, donuts and bagels, despite what my new waistline says. Inbetween (and sometimes during) mouthfuls, I was lucky enough to participate in some of the best film events I’ve ever been to, all around the city and at all times of the day, the stand-out of which was, of course, the still young, innovative and above all fun-loving Art Of Brooklyn Film Festival.
Deep in the heart of Brooklyn, strategically pumping out groundbreaking content through the city’s many capillaries, striving to be as far-reaching as possible, AoBFF sets itself apart from the traditional Brooklyn film scene in many ways, the main one to me being in its perspective. The way we, the public, are targeted by art institutions determines how we react to them and it was refreshing to hear over and over again that AoBFF sets its ambition on openness to all first and foremost.
“We are a local scene with global influence.”
The festival appeared to me as a rebellion against false public images of ‘New Brooklyn’ that perpetuate tired hip stereotypes, excluding most of the people living there, and ignoring what is actually going on in the borough on a daily basis. But the tone was that of celebration, not negative protest, and that’s what made the weekend experience so enjoyable. Film Festivals should be fun! Every screening was accompanied by Q&A’s with those who had been involved with the filmmaking process (mostly directors but actors, writers and producers all spoke too), which connected what we’d just seen with the people behind the concepts, who were most of the time from or living in Brooklyn.
Brooklyn is just so beautiful. The people who live there are overbimming with stories about it, how it’s changed, how it has survived and adapted from being Manhattan’s weedy little brother into a flourishing force of cultural stability in its own right, and how its energy attracts people ceaselessly to live there. To celebrate it for what it really is at the core, and not because it’s cool to do so, is an equally beautiful thing.
Content ranged from sweet comedies to gory horror features to beautiful ‘Film As Art’ shorts (an interesting category in the festival that again works to expand the scope into art made in video form), documentaries, mockumentaries and music videos. There was something for everyone, which reflected the ever changing and diverse audience, and made for interesting, sometimes challenging, questions and debates after the screenings.
My preference being drama, I was sucked in to the screenings that dealt with painful subjects that may have flowered in Brooklyn but spoke outwardly to the world. La Ultima Noche by Felipe Vara de Rey used the recognizable, casual premise of after work drinks and drunken takeaway food on the street to accommodate the serious reality of a Spanish immigrant who was being forced to leave the country and his friend there. The short was so instantaneously intimate and at the same time cannily relatable (the wait for fast food on a belly full of alcohol is the longest wait ever) I didn’t know where to stop laughing so I could cry. It conjured a nostalgia for the city as it is now, as a place to live and work and meet people, not a caricatured version of it, and ultimately made a wider gesture towards issues of loneliness that speaks to a universal audience.
Also deserving a special mention is Brooklyn-based Eddie Shieh’s short ‘n’ sweet Mr. Chavan. I have a weakness for unexpected friendships and stories about people finding solace in unusual places so this one, focusing on a home-aid worker tending to an elderly man, got me instantly. In 6 minutes Shieh has managed to create two characters of depth and warmth who although deal with polar opposite issues, are connected by circumstance like so many in a busy city are.
It’s safe to say we had a ball as AoBFF’s guests at their wonderful, challenging, community-outreaching festival that if summed up in cartoon form would be a bear standing on its hind legs with its arms spread wide, welcoming all the forest creatures into its hug, who would be skeptical of such a friendly creature bearing the ominously elitist-evoking teeth called ‘film festival’. There’s no need to fear; as long as you can prove your film relates to Brooklyn, it will be watched. Roll on next year!