How Brooklyn's BAMcinemaFest Became an Important Stop on the Festival Circuit

Boyhood Berlin Film Festival - H 2014
Berlin Film Festival

Boyhood Berlin Film Festival - H 2014  

The Brooklyn Academy of Music's adventurous program showcases the best in American independent cinema with East Coast premieres of "Boyhood," "Snowpiercer," "I Origins," "Happy Christmas" and "They Came Together."

The BAMcinemaFest programming team is very clear about their mission.

After hundreds of indies and docs are introduced at Sundance, Berlin, SXSW and True/False, they pick what they believe are the year’s best American independent films to showcase with a New York premiere. It is a smaller festival – this year’s lineup only consists of 27 films – that has the stated goal of making sure every film in their highly curated program gets a piece of the spotlight.

“Every film is showing once, with very few exceptions. There are not screenings going on simultaneously,” programmer Nellie Killian tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Each film screening is its own unique event, and because the lineup is so selective it's possible for the films to get equal attention. That's why we are interested in keeping the lineup tight. We want to be a great showcase after all the noise of the festivals has died down.”

VIDEO: Boyhood Trailer

BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) programmer Ryan Werner, who is the former senior vp marketing and publicity at IFC and now with John Sloss’ Cinetic Media, knows firsthand how vital this type of platform can be for indies struggling to attract attention.

“Traditionally, one of the reasons the New York premiere is so important is the publicity,” Werner tells THR. “The press and critics really pay attention to our festival, especially since so many of them are regulars at BAM throughout the year.”

The BAM programming team emphasizes that they, unlike many other festivals, don’t simply grab the biggest titles they can score. While their lineup does have some buzzy films like Boyhood, it largely consists of films that got lost in the bigger festivals.

“We didn't take all the competition films we could have taken,” explains Werner. “We do pay attention to films that we didn't feel got enough attention at places like Sundance and that we feel are important to highlight.”

One of the principal reasons BAMcinemaFest has the luxury to take this approach is the loyal audience they cultivate throughout the year by showing the best of new and old cinema on BAM’s five screens.

“I think we have the advantage that the festival started with an existing film program,” explains David Reilly, the third member of BAM’s programming team. “We already had a sense of who our audience was and what our role was within the N.Y. film ecosystem.”

Reilly explains that it is BAM’s young and diverse audience that is central to the festival’s programming freedom. “I think we have a younger audience that is more adventurous than other places. It definitely allows us to show a lot of discovery films and take more chances because we know the BAM audience will respond.”

VIDEO: The Mend Sneak Peek

The growing role of BAMcinemaFest is mirrored in the growing role Brooklyn is playing in the New York indie world. Not only has Brooklyn increasingly become a home for filmmakers, it has a flourishing art house scene led by BAM and new cinemas in Williamsburg. “I think more and more people are starting to realize that when you release a movie now, you have to set up Brooklyn as much as Manhattan,” explains Werner. 

BAMcinemaFest  runs June 18-29. See the full lineup below.

Opening Night—Richard Linklater’s Boyhood

Centerpiece—Bong Joon Ho’s Snowpiercer

Spotlight—David Wain’s They Came Together

Closing Night—25th anniversary of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing with Lee and cast reunion

The rest of the film screenings:

10,000KM (Carlos Marques-Marcet) NY Premiere Narrative

Approaching the Elephant (Amanda Rose Wilder) NY Premiere Documentary

Appropriate Behavior (Desiree Akhavan) NY Premiere Narrative

Concerning Violence (Göran Hugo Olsson) NY Premiere Documentary

Ellie Lumme (Ignatiy Vishnevetsky) NY Premiere Narrative

Evolution of a Criminal (Darius Clark Monroe) NY Premiere Documentary

For the Plasma (Bingham Bryant and Kyle Molzan) World Premiere Narrative

The Foxy Merkins (Madeleine Olnek) NY Premiere Narrative

Happy Christmas (Joe Swanberg) NY Premiere Narrative

Happy Valley (Amir Bar-Lev) NY Premiere Documentary

The Heart Machine (Zachary Wigon) NY Premiere Narrative

I Origins (Mike Cahill) NY Festival Premiere Narrative

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (David Zellner) NY Premiere Narrative

L for Leisure (Lev Kalman & Whitney Horn) US Premiere Narrative

Life After Death (Joe Callander) NY Premiere Documentary

Low Down (Jeff Preiss) NY Premiere Narrative

Memphis (Tim Sutton) NY Premiere Narrative

The Mend (John Magary) NY Premiere Narrative

The Notorious Mr. Bout (Tony Gerber, Maxim Pozdorovkin) NY Premiere Documentary

Other Months (Nick Singer) NY Premiere Narrative

Something, Anything (Paul Harrill) NY Premiere Narrative

Thou Wast Mild and Lovely (Josephine Decker) NY Premiere Narrative

Wild Canaries (Lawrence Michael Levine) NY Premiere Narrative