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Review: Brooklyn Film Festival’s 20th Anniversary Offers a ‘Fresh Perspective’

By Mercedes Vizcaino, Contributing Writer, June 14, 2017

The Brooklyn Film Festival recently celebrated its 20th anniversary and this year’s film roster was brimming with edgy and thought-provoking subject matter. With over 122 features and shorts from 32 countries, the talented filmmakers selected showcased their acclaimed work in 7 venues throughout Brooklyn. Topics ranged from the effects of mental illness, to climate change, love and loss, to the nuances of living in New York. The stories succeeded in evoking compassion, semblance and laughter from audiences, and all told with a fresh perspective.

Jess Weixler and Thomas Middleditch in ‘Entanglement;’ courtesy of BFF.

Opening the festival was the movie, Entanglement. It stars Silicon Valley’s Thomas Middleditch and Teeth’s Jess Weixler. Middleditch’s character, Ben Layten, discovers he almost had an adopted sister from his parents, and after suffering from a mental breakdown from a life-changing event. Ben is on a quest to find his close, but not-quite, sibling, Heather Weathers, realizing the idyllic relationship he’d hope for falls short. The film does a specular job of transposing the audience’s perception of Ben’s reality with colorful underwater scenes, comedy and romantic pursuits. We get a glimpse of Ben’s mental condition through director, Jason James’ vivid imaginative lens, making us root for Ben’s happiness and well-being.

Image from ‘Maniac;’ courtesy of BFF.

On the other side of the storytelling spectrum, there’s Manic, an award-winning documentary by filmmaker, Kalina Bertin. Bertin tackles mental illness with a gripping authenticity that channels a slew of emotions: anger, empathy and hope. The filmmaker’s narrative explores her family’s history with mental illness. Raised by her mother, and having lived with her father up until the age of 4, she used the film as a coping mechanism to seek out answers on her sister and brother’s bipolar conditions after enduring several manic episodes. Through her interviews with family members and her father’s friends, she learns that her father (George Patrick Dubie) was part of a religious cult in Hawaii. Dubie assumed various identities, had multiple partners, fathered numerous children, and had symptoms of bipolar disorder, similar to those of her siblings. A poignant and raw documentary not to be missed.

Leah Rudick and David Bly in ‘Sweet Parents;’ courtesy of BFF.

Brooklyn Pride Award-winning film, Sweet Parents, comically delves into the trials of a young couple moving to New York City, settling in a less-than perfect cramped apartment, struggling to make it as chef and sculptor. When they encounter a friend that lives well by the generosity of an older “guardian” and supplementing his luxurious lifestyle, protagonist and director, Will (David Bly), ponders whether he and his girlfriend, Gabby (Leah Rudick) should start side relationships with a successful older man and woman; jeopardizing true love for ambition. The narrative is a twist on classic stories of dreamy-eyed transplants paying homage to New York. This film debunks the myth of chasing your dreams in the Big Apple with originality.

Image from ‘Rhonna & Donna;’ courtesy of BFF.

The Brooklyn Film Festival’s short narrative Spirit Award winner, Rhonna & Donna takes a comedic and intriguing approach to the story of 15-year-old conjoined twins’ Rhonna and Donna’s life, and the ongoing bickering over their high school’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Croatian director, Daina O. Pusić emphasizes the dynamic of the girls’ relationship and personalities versus their disability, which seems to be a non-issue in their world. We don’t pity them, rather we relate to their longing to establish their identity in the world, as all teens do.

Robert D’Esposito and Jon Titterington in ‘Shut Up Anthony;’ courtesy of BFF.

Director and writer, Kyle Eaton’s Shut Up Anthony tells the story of a neurotic creative man from Portland that manages to lose his job, girlfriend and purpose in life within a week. Anthony flees to his family’s co-shared timeshare and encounters estranged family friend, Tim, an alcoholic theology professor, wrought with his own quirky hang-ups. Both men are forced to deal with their issues head-on, and ultimately mayhem ensues. The dialogue is crisp and effortless in this film; actors Robert D’Esposito (Anthony) and Jon Titterington (Tim) have a chemistry that’s evident. It could be that these non-seasoned actors are long-time friends, but their on-screen performance generate a type of chemistry casting directors crave. This Spirit Award narrative feature winner is worth seeing.

In Vindravand India, located on the banks of the Yamuna River (major tributary to the Ganges), is considered highly holy. With over 2000 ashrams, people come to the river daily to bath and even drink despite open sewage lines pouring into the river unchecked. Industry in Delhi upstream have added heavy metal toxins to the flow creating a dead river in many areas causing some Hindu to avoid bathing.

Image from ‘Holy (Un)Holy River;’ courtesy of BFF.

The documentary Holy (Un)Holy River follows the most iconic river in the world: the Ganges River of India. Filmmakers Jake Norton and Pete McBride trek through the river’s massive routes from source-to-sea, to explore its origins and complexities that surround 500 million people’s dependency on the river to bathe, drink and bury their dead. They interview scholars, locals and spiritualists with varying perspectives on the river’s condition. The filmmakers conduct their own tests of the river’s toxicity levels revealing the river’s damaged state; a fascinating look at one of the most revered rivers through powerful cinematography and reporting.

For more information and to watch trailers on the Brooklyn Film Festival’s selections, click here.


Cover: Thomas Middleditch in ‘Entanglement;’ courtesy of BFF.


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