Brooklyn International Film Festival
April 29 - May 5
At the Brooklyn Museum of Art
Brooklyn Film Fest Blooms
The Brooklyn International Film Festival, previously known
as the Williamsburg Film Festival, is launching its 5th
year as an international draw including films from over
20 countries. The festival's popularity has even surprised
its director, Marco Ursino, who started the festival initially
to promote his own film. The boom of artistic activity in
Brooklyn over the past decade has augmented the quality
of work the selection committees have seen. At the same
time, digital filmmaking has increased the quantity of filmmakers
submitting to the festival. International attention to the
festival has increased its scope and popularity, making
it a powerful destination for filmmakers wanting their work
to be seen.
The change of name brings with it a change of venue - the
majority of the festival's films will be shown at the spacious
Cantor Auditorium at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. A new sponsor,
Stella Artois, the Belgian beer brand known for it's avid
interest in supporting the international independent film
market, signed on this year as well. The name change broadens
the scope of the festival from being an exclusively Williamsburg
event to what is expected to become a Brooklyn staple in
the years to come. Combining BMA and BIFF brings the art
and film worlds together in a uniquely outer borough fashion.
Festival director Marco Ursino sat down with me to talk
briefly about the festival and allowed me to screen a few
of the films being shown this year. While he reluctantly
only chose one from each category (feature, short, animation,
experimental and documentary), he made it very clear the
choices were made from a field of equally wonderful entries.
FW (Melissa Ulto): How many films will you be showing
BIFF (Marco Ursino): We have 80 films from 23 countries,
out of 1000 film submissions, from 63 countries.
FW: How do you select the films for the different
categories? Are there different criteria for each?
BIFF: Each category has a different panel, with
different curators. We have a few people watch all the shorts,
but it's difficult - we cannot have people in every day
watching all the films, so films are watched all year long.
Out of all the films that are viewed, we have the panelists
select their favorites to submit to the committees. The
criteria is different, of course, because we cannot have
people watch hours and hours of documentary. Panelists come
in and watch a few films at a time. We have the panelists
select their favorites to submit to the committees. The
selection process is broken down into categories - Absolutely
Not, Maybe and Definitely.
FW: How do you select the winners? Is there a
Grand Prize winner, followed by different winners in each
BIFF: First of all, the jury precedes the presence
of the festival, it's a panel judgment, meaning that we
invite four external judges and we have two judges from
the festival, two people who are working for the festival.
So, the panel is always in majority. The way we discuss
doing the screenings always results in trying to get a unanimous
decision on one film. We score the films and we put the
scores aside. Then we open a discussion and the films everybody
feels are the best wins. It is a very open discussion. If
we can't absolutely agree based on their opinions then we
go with the numbers, and let the numbers decide.
FW: How many times have you had to go to the
BIFF: We pretty much decide every time - even
this year, there was a debate over the shorts and we ended
up coming to a unanimous decision, it just took a while
- we finally found an agreement.
FW: Based on the films you have seen this year
one, not based on the score, basically based on your own
aesthetic, which films would you say are the highlights
of the festival?
BIFF: The films this year are very solid, technically
and in storytelling. For example, there is a film from Germany
I like very much - "Getting My Brother Laid" -
a very unique story, extremely honest. Another film, "Missing
Persons", is an animation done by two guys with a computer.
And this thing is beautiful. A film called "Invisible
Cities" is beautiful - it's a work of aesthetics. But
this a very short list, off the top of my head and really
not representative of all the great work in the festival
this year. Just a few of the films I found interesting.
FW: Do you have a requirement for projection
at the festival?
BIFF: We project HD, DVD, DV, 16, 35, etc
never put a restriction on the format. We will find a way
to the screen
whatever it takes
if we get a great
submission that is on IMAX, we will rent a projector show
it. The emphasis is on the films, not the format.
FW: How has the increase in digital filmmaking
affected the entries this year?
BIFF: There has definitely been an increase in digital
format entries, which is, like I always say, in a way good
because, you know, behind the camera is one of the best
filmmakers of tomorrow. But it is bad because you kind of
lose the standard of the style. You know, anyone can buy
it's about "I am a filmmaker"
there are certain rules in filmmaking. It can be great but
it can also mean, for the panelist, they have to sort through
a lot more entries to get to the best material.
FW: How did you become involved with the festival?
BIFF: I am a filmmaker, like most of the people
who work here, and basically in 1998 we were trying out
a feature film. We had sent the film out and it was rejected
at a few festivals. So we decided to start a festival to
show our film and the films of a few local artists. BIFF
is the result of that and it has grown must faster than
expected - it's a fulltime effort here to select the films,
set up the festival and put it on each year. We've created
a machine. The machine goes, its fine and the filmmaking
is put aside. We are part of the same clan, and this festival
is an excellent tool to create relationships and credibility,
an element you need as a filmmaker. And it's also a growing
process for me, regardless of putting my filmmaking career
on hold. The networking ability of the festival has created
projects between festival attendees and it is very much
a workshop environment.
FW: How would you gage the success of the festival
so far? Is the direction of BIFF going to include workshops,
screenplay readings and other elements of larger festivals
like the New York Film Festival?
BIFF: This festival, if you think about it, in
five years we have shown about three hundred and fifty films.
Great relationships were built out of this event so far.
A hundred and fifty good actors, thousands of people a week
coming to Brooklyn for this event, filmmakers, writers,
distributors, and artists. I really have a feeling we are
going in the right direction. I know we did a lot of good
for people in the realm of international filmmaking - getting
their work seen here and American independent films seen
abroad. I feel we have been very successful - beyond our
original expectations, and interest grows in this event
every year. We have been thinking about adding additional
elements to the festival, but we really want to focus on
what we do well - showing great films. Eventually, we might
add screenplay readings and structured workshops, but that's
not in our plans as of yet.
FW: Will you be streaming any of the festival
content this year off your website, www.wbff.org?
BIFF: We were the first festival in the US to
broadcast to the web. We did that in 1999 and we promoted
in countries where films came from - in Austria a film was
being streamed at a local party while it was screened here
at the festival. It was a very exciting time. We were the
first to do that, but then again, that is not our focus.
Eventually, we are hoping to decide on a self-distribution
model or co-sponsor with another site, and sell copies of
some of the films through the site. That a long way off,
but a discussion we are starting to have. This year, we
aren't streaming content or events - the growth of the festival
has really required a focused effort on the event itself.
Preview of the Festival
After the interview, I settled in to watch the following
films. I would highly recommend trying to see all of them
during the festival. Each was unique, unsettling, moving
and entertaining in its own way - the total experience was
One - Gas Up and Save!
Director: Anne Paas
United States, 2002, 25min
Screening: 35mm - Shooting: 35mm
It begins with a random smattering of interviews, very
much a slice of life on the roadsides of America. Jezebel
is the first interview, relating her fascination and love
of Liberace. And from there, the story winds around the
relationship of Jezebel and her dutiful son, Georgie, whose
strange antics include collecting his nail clippings for
safe storage. The narrative is a gentle look at the quirky
underside of Middle America that turns sharply to a gruesome
and bizarre end.
Beautifully shot, the film captures the wide landscapes
of highways, motels and the outer edges of Las Vegas. The
strong acting of the two lead characters, Jezebel and Georgie,
is balanced by the lighter documentary style interviews
spread throughout the film. Captivating and disturbing,
director Anne Paas creates a parable of insanity and obsession.
Film Two - Invisible Cities
Director: Julio Soto
United States, 2002, 6min
Screening: DigiBeta - Shooting: 16mm
Julio Soto's three part experimental film captures the
city in aspects of memory, the dead and desire. The muted
palette of grays, blues and browns, paired with the blurred
edges and unique method of pulling focus, give this work
a very dreamlike quality. The surreal nature of the items
Soto's camera focuses on switches from the grand scale of
buildings to the minute details of the dirt and detritus
of the city. The Hitchcock-like soundtrack of twanging guitars
and sudden, emphatic sounds, partner well with the unusual
imagery of Soto's city landscapes.
Three - Dog
Director: Suzie Templeton
England, 2001, 6min
Screening: 35mm - Shooting: DigiBeta
Suzie Templeton's animation stuns the viewer with its visual
richness of this melancholy tale. The stop motion animation
is astonishing - her characters emote and move deeply their
dark little world. The film lets the storyline unwind itself
slowly. It's a sad, mysterious piece, with imagery that
lingers in the mind long after viewing. A definite must-see
in the animation category.
Four - Getting My Brother Laid (Mein Bruder der Vampir)
Director: Sven Taddicken
Germany, 2001, 94min
Screening: 35mm - Shooting: 35mm
A coming of age tale for three siblings punctuated by scientific
facts about sex that romps delightfully around its German
town setting. The story opens with mentally handicapped
Josch, dressed as a vampire, being led around the rooftops
by his 15-year-old sister, Nic, as they watch their other
brother, Mike, have sex with his girlfriend. This scene
is full of the kind of sweet humor, honesty and visual lushness
found throughout the film. As the days count down to Josch's
30th birthday, the hunt is on for Mike and Nic to help Josch
become a man. Nic pursues her own desire for deflowering
in a local thug who lip-synchs to Eartha Kitt and hustles
school kids for money. From the start, the three amble toward
their first "Big Love", while madcap destruction
tumbles around them.
A poetic tale that rawly depicts the awkwardness of sex
and love, the movie is comical and weirdly wonderful. The
actors swing from deadpan to clowning and the rhythm of
the film is superbly buoyant. Colorful imagery punctuates
the scenery, while this average family struggles with the
ways of passion.
Updated: Additional Press Screening - Hotel
Dir: Mike Figgis
35mm, 93 min Feature
Friday, April 26
Festival Director: Marco Ursino
Mike Figgis' flick "Hotel", we follow a Dogma
95 filmmaking crew, as they shoot their DV production of
"The Duchess of Malfi", while an annoyingly precocious
video journalist Charlie Poo tries to capture impromptu
interviews on the side. Arriving in an Italian hotel, the
cast simulate the actual production of the filmmaking director
Figgis uses in creating this film - no script, limited character
outlines, everything improvised and captured with available
light and location. A subterranean story exists, dark and
deadly, with the hotel staff and their unusual hungers.
The lines between reality and nightmare blur as much as
The format being digital video, the images are striking
in their exaggerated color or muted tones. The cameras move
rapidly around the scenes, the nature of reality shows meets
cinema verité, and at times has a dizzying affect.
The usage of the infrared mode on the digital cameras gives
the basement and dark scenes an eerie green tone, the actors
becoming lupine beasts that loom out of the darkness.
The cast is incredible - from the cameo of John Malkovich
to the strong performance of Rhys Ifans, we are taken on
a gambol in and around the hotel, as the film jars from
vain good fun to downright scary at times. I hate to give
away any of the story here - it really is a must-see film
for the plot alone. Each storyline criss-crosses the other,
and friends switch masks as foes quite quickly and randomly.
Yet overall, there is an order here that feels inevitable
A great follow-up to "Timecode", Mike Figgis
seems to have really embraced the medium he chooses to work
in. The film will be shown at the Brooklyn International
Film Festival and will be released for distribution sometime
this spring across the country.
Click here to find out more:
By Melissa Ulto