BAMcinemaFest 2019 to Open With Lulu Wang’s ‘The Farewell,’ Announces Full Lineup — Exclusive

BAM has released the full lineup for its 11th annual BAMcinemaFest, a “platform for both emerging and established filmmakers as well as unconventional and often overlooked films,” which will run this year from June 12 — 23. This year’s 12-day festival includes 18 NY premieres, one U.S. premiere, and three world premieres.

Gina Duncan, Associate Vice President of Film, told IndieWire of the programming picks, “We have the same goal every year: to present the best American independent cinema being made today. But this is the first year that I’ve felt the films fit together as a cohesive whole; they are linked by a naturalness, an intimate focus, and boundless creativity. As the larger film conversation continues to focus on record-breaking box offices, it feels defiant to present a program that centers film as art.”

This year’s festival will open on June 12 with the New York premiere of Lulu Wang’s lauded family dramedy “The Farewell,” starring Awkwafina. The film debuted at Sundance earlier this year to massive critical acclaim, and A24 will release it later this year. The festival will close with Diana Peralta’s “De Lo Mio” on June 22, which follows the “story of ride or die New York sisters who reunite with their estranged brother in the Dominican Republic following their father’s death.”

Other highlights include Centerpiece Film “Give Me Liberty,” from Kirill Mikhanovsky and Hilary Brougher’s “South Mountain,” which will be featured as this year’s Spotlight Film. The festival will host a range of other breakouts, as well, including Ben Berman’s “The Amazing Johnathan Documentary,” Cristina Ibarra & Alex Rivera’s “The Infiltrators,” Jeremy Teicher’s “Olympic Dreams,” Tayarisha Poe’s “Selah and the Spades,” Rashaad Ernesto Green’s “Premature,” and Rick Alverson’s “The Mountain.”

Tickets go on sale to the general public on Thursday, May 16 at 10AM. BAM members receive early access starting on Thursday, May 9 at 10AM and $5 off tickets.

The complete BAMcinemaFest 2019 slate includes the following, with all synopses provided by the festival.

“The Amazing Johnathan Documentary” (Ben Berman) NY Premiere Documentary
It begins as a documentary about “The Amazing Johnathan,” a uniquely deranged magician who built a career out of shock and deception in the 1980s—but becomes a bizarre story about the unravelling of his documentarian. After Johnathan is diagnosed with a terminal heart condition and given one year to live, he’s forced to retire his act. Cut to three years later: Johnathan is not dead, much to everyone’s amazement, and documentarian Ben Berman films the illusionist on an epic comeback tour. But as their mutual journey kicks off, Johnathan drops a bombshell that sends the film spiraling into uncertainty. Embracing this unforeseen obstacle, Ben delves deeper to determine what is truth and what is illusion.

“Caballerango” (Juan Pablo Gonzales) NY Premiere Documentary
A man disappears in the Mexican state of Jalisco under the watchful eye of its inhabitants. Caballerango retraces the trail of his ghost and contemplates the last day anyone saw him. Nando was the youngest apprentice of his father, Jose, a lifelong horse wrangler. The film’s magnificent, melancholic tone forms the backdrop for interviews capturing familial loss and longing. This chorus of voices also tenderly explores the community’s daily rituals. Evocative cinematography grasps the landscape, the ranches, and the pair of white horses to which Nando and his father tended, painting an eerily patient portrait of an inexplicable tragedy.

“The Cancer Journals Revisited” (Lana Lin) World Premiere Documentary
The Cancer Journals Revisited is prompted by the question of what it means to re-visit and re-vision Black lesbian feminist poet Audre Lorde’s classic 1980 memoir of her breast cancer experience today. At the invitation of the filmmaker, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, twenty-seven writers, artists, activists, health care advocates, and current and former patients recite Lorde’s manifesto aloud on camera, collectively dramatizing it and producing an oration for the screen. The film is both a critical commentary and a poetic reflection upon the precarious conditions of survival within the intimate and politicized public sphere of illness.

“De Lo Mio” (Diana Peralta) World Premiere Narrative
Two “ride or die” sisters raised in NYC reunite with their estranged brother in the Dominican Republic to clean out their late father’s childhood home. The siblings laugh, brawl, and face their demons as they come to terms with letting go of their last connection to their motherland.

“The Farewell” (Lulu Wang) NY Premiere Narrative
After learning their beloved matriarch has terminal lung cancer, a family opts not to tell her about the diagnosis, instead scheduling an impromptu wedding-reunion back in China. Headstrong and emotional writer Billi rebels against her parents’ directive to stay in New York and joins the family as they awkwardly attempt to rekindle old bonds, throw together a wedding that only grandma is actually looking forward to, and surreptitiously say their goodbyes. Writer/director Lulu Wang imbues The Farewell with warmth and knowing wit, while the uniformly excellent ensemble cast (anchored by a breakout performance by Awkwafina) invites us to share this extended clan’s joy and sorrow—and to feel, for the length of this remarkable film, like a part of their family. An A24 film.

“Give Me Liberty” (Kirill Mikhanovsky) NY Premiere Narrative
Vic, a hapless young Russian American, drives a handicapped transport in Milwaukee, where he shares an apartment with his grandfather. Already late on a day when street protests break out, Vic reluctantly agrees to ferry his grandfather and a dozen elderly Russians to a funeral, but they’re distressed when he stops first in a predominantly African American neighborhood to pick up Tracy, a black woman with ALS. On the verge of being fired, Vic’s day goes from bad to worse. Kirill Mikhanovsky’s hilarious, heartbreaking debut feature draws from personal experience to create—with writer Alice Austen—a raw, inventive “day in the life” story about marginalized characters encountering literal and figurative roadblocks, the American dream nowhere to be found.

“Olympic Dreams”

“The Hottest August” (Brett Story) NY Premiere Documentary
Set in a sizzling New York City, The Hottest August is Brett Story’s visionary look at a culture on the precipice as both climate change and disaster capitalism eclipse our future. Despite an edgy undercurrent of anxiety, the film locates a warm humanity in interactions with a cross section of New Yorkers expert at “rolling with the punches,” as one Staten Island couple says outside of their garage. The rich set of characters includes a futuristic Afronaut, Hurricane Sandy holdouts, a Zumba instructor, and 1920s-style dancers who could be deckhands on the Titanic. While this smart, incisive essay taps into passages by Zadie Smith, Karl Marx, and Annie Dillard, Story’s presence can be felt strongly throughout: she acts as free-ranging poet/meteorologist with a farsighted ability to forecast our uncertain destiny.

“The Infiltrators” (Cristina Ibarra & Alex Rivera) NY Premiere Documentary/Narrative
Without warning, Claudio Rojas is detained by ICE officials outside his Florida home. He is transferred to the Broward Transitional Center, a detention facility used as a holding space for imminent deportations. Terrified of never seeing him again, Claudio’s family contacts the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), a group of activist Dreamers known for stopping deportations. Believing that no one is free as long as one is in detention, NIYA enlists Marco Saavedra to self-deport with the hopes of gaining access to the detention center and impeding Claudio’s expulsion. Once inside, Marco discovers a complex for-profit institution housing hundreds of multinational immigrants, all imprisoned without trial. Directors Cristina Ibarra (in her Sundance debut) and Alex Rivera (Sleep Dealer, 2008 Sundance Film Festival) design a hybrid cinematic language, combining familiar documentary form and scripted narrative to map an uncharted domain: inside an Obama-era immigration detention system. Based on true events, The Infiltrators is both a suspenseful account of a high-stakes mission and an emotionally charged portrait of visionary youth fighting for their community.

“It Started as a Joke” (Julie Smith Clem & Ken Druckerman) NY Premiere Documentary
It Started as a Joke is a feature documentary that chronicles the decade-long run of the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival – including a final farewell show. The film celebrates Eugene’s unique brand of humor and his role in the alternative comedy movement, offers a bittersweet goodbye to an era, and reminds us of the healing properties of comedy – even in the most challenging of life’s circumstances. The film includes interviews with Michael Ian Black, Kirsten Schaal, Wyatt Cenac, Ira Glass, John Hodgman, Kumail Nanjiani, Reggie Watts, and Michael Showalter, along with performances by Janeane Garogalo, Jim Gaffigan, Jon Glaser, Mike Birbigia, Bobcat Goldthwait, and more.

“Jawline” (Liza Mandelup) NY Premiere Documentary
Austyn Tester—handsome and 16—feels oppressed by the confines of life in his small hometown in Tennessee. But in the online-streaming world, Austyn is adored by thousands of young girls, all eager for his “likes,” his attention, or just to hear him say their name. For Austyn and many like him, a big enough fan base could mean a ticket out of rural America and into a new life of wealth and fame—quite the undertaking when you’re coming of age. Austyn may be separated from his fans, but the emotions his viewers feel are just as real as anything we feel “IRL.” Jawline delivers us into this burgeoning online world as Austyn is discovered by a manager and sets off on a U.S. tour to build his following and make his dreams come true.

“Leave the Bus through the Broken Window” (Andrew Hevia) NY Premiere Documentary
An American expat arrives in Hong Kong to make a documentary about an international art fair but finds himself out of his depth. He turns the camera on himself and the film becomes a deeply personal and unexpectedly comedic story about authenticity, heartbreak and that time he got lost in a shopping mall.

“Midnight in Paris” (James Blagden & Roni Moore) NY Premiere Documentary
In the week leading up to prom seniors at Flint Northern High School chatter about their plans and get ready for the big night. The woebegone school band provides the soundtrack, the cast is full of cheeky characters, and the filmmakers spend far more time outside of school than in. On prom day, some students’ procrastination causes other ones to break down, and after the spirited prom night, during an after-party, the ghost of proms past makes a humorous appearance. Shot in 2012, two years before the water crisis, this charming and festive film is by filmmakers James Blagden and Roni Moore, whose sister attended Flint Northern. Their film is both a corrective of the media narrative of life in Flint and also a delightful romp through halcyon days. It will simultaneously make you nostalgic for high school and be thankful that those days are over.

“The Mountain” (Rick Alverson) NY Premiere Narrative
The year is 1953. Andy, a young, introverted teenager, works as a Zamboni driver at an ice rink where his father is a flamboyant skating instructor. Andy’s mother is institutionalized. When Andy meets Dr. Wallace Fiennes, a famous lobotomist now in the sad decline of his career, the shy young man joins the doctor on a tour of rural mental hospitals. As Fiennes desperately evangelizes for the lobotomy procedure to drum up business, Andy becomes infatuated with a patient and her father and immerses himself in the surreal, burgeoning New Age movement of the American West. Pushing his peculiar vision to new heights of design, sound, and story, Alverson captures another standout performance from Tye Sheridan while mixing things up with new players like Jeff Goldblum, Denis Lavant, and Udo Kier. A Kino Lorber film.

“Olympic Dreams” (Jeremy Teicher) NY Premiere Narrative
In the highly exclusive Athlete Village at the Olympic Winter Games, Penelope (Alexi Pappas), a young cross-country skier, befriends Ezra (Nick Kroll), a volunteer dentist, after a disappointing finish in her competition. Penelope and Ezra share a special but limited time together. Starring Pappas and Kroll, alongside real Winter Olympic athletes including Gus Kenworthy, Olympic Dreams is the first scripted film ever shot in an Athlete Village during the Olympic Games.

“Premature” (Rashaad Ernesto Green) NY Premiere Narrative
Ayanna is making the most out of her last summer in Harlem before heading to college. She’s bold, confident, and not really looking for love—until she meets the slightly older Isaiah. After one of those rare first dates that lasts for hours, she knows there’s something different about him. Ayanna finds herself at an intimidating crossroads: one foot is still under her mother’s roof, while the the other is primed to step out on her own with Isaiah. Premature is an outspoken portrait of a young woman in transition, anchored by the relationships that shape us, the friendships that bolster and push us, and the love that has the power to change everything. An IFC Films film.

“Selah and The Spades” (Tayarisha Poe) NY Premiere Narrative
In the closed world of an elite Pennsylvania boarding school, the Haldwell, the student body is run by five factions. Seventeen-year-old Selah Summers runs the most dominant group, the Spades, with unshakable poise, as they cater to the most classic of vices and supply students with coveted illegal alcohol and pills. Tensions between the factions escalate, and when Selah’s best friend/right hand Maxxi becomes distracted by a new love, Selah takes on a protégée, enamored sophomore Paloma, to whom she imparts her wisdom on ruling the school. But with graduation looming and Paloma proving an impressively quick study, Selah’s fears turn sinister as she grapples with losing the control by which she defines herself. This searing character study encapsulates just how intoxicating power can be for a teenage girl who acutely feels the threat of being denied it.

“So Pretty” (Jessie Jeffrey Dunn Rovinelli) US Premiere Narrative
The lovers are reunited at the airport and soon they’re together in the white bedroom. The camera glides through the space, passing by desk, wardrobe, window and two bodies entwined, the first wonderfully languid pan in a film full of them. One reads to the other, in German, from Ronald M. Schernikau’s novel “So schön” and the passage could almost be describing this very scene, although it’s New York in 2018 rather than West Berlin in the 80s, and Franz and Tonio have become Franz and Tonia. The rest of the adaptation is in English and exposition is provided by other sections of the text, delivered at a reading attended by the modest cast, put on in the park beside the river, below the metal bridge. Between those events written down, life consists of nights out, political demonstrations, hopeful couplings, conversations at home or on the street, talk of translation, transposition and transition, in character or otherwise. Today’s battleground is gender, not sexuality and the target of protest has shifted accordingly, even as the problem of organising love persists. A utopian film.

“The Sound of Silence” (Michael Tyburski) NY Premiere Narrative
A self-taught scientist, Peter (Peter Sarsgaard) works in New York as a “house tuner”—a unique, highly specialized profession he’s invented. His clients approach him with troubles like depression, anxiety, or fatigue. After extensive analysis of their homes’ acoustic characteristics, he identifies some sonic combination—a radiator mixed with a kitchen appliance, for instance—that’s altering their mood. Despite some skepticism, his clients see results… until he meets Ellen (Rashida Jones), who is experiencing exhaustion. After his initial conclusion proves incorrect, Peter obsessively searches for the fault in his practice. Adapting their short film Palimpsest (Special Jury Prize, 2013 Sundance Film Festival), writer/director Michael Tyburski and writer/producer Ben Nabors have created a serene contemplation of people living in their modern environment—and their desire to understand and even control it. An IFC Films film.

“South Mountain” (Hilary Brougher) NY Premiere Narrative
Lila (Talia Balsam), is an artist who teaches at a community college and has built a modest rural paradise in New York’s Catskill Mountains with her husband, Edgar (Scott Cohen). Soon after their teen daughters head off on Summer adventures, and her best friend Gigi (Andrus Nichols) begins Chemotherapy, Edgar reveals he’s begun a new family with another woman, leaving Lila alone for a season of explosive grief and self re-discovery that focuses on an unconventional friendship with a younger man (Michael Oberholtzer).

“The Sound of Silence”

IFC Films

“Sunrise/Sunset” (Jong Ougie Park) World Premiere Narrative
After failing his university entrance exams for the third year in a row, a young Korean man travels to New York City to visit his long-distance girlfriend

“The World is Full of Secrets” (Graham Swon) NY Premiere Narrative
An old woman’s voice recalls a terrible event from her distant past: on a summer night in 1996, five teenage girls meet in a suburban house, absent of parental supervision. To pass the time, they begin to tell morbid stories of the world outside, trying to best one another in a grim competition. Inspired by Southern Gothic’s dark romanticism, shot with acute minimalism, this film conjures up the best contemporary horror writers (such as Brian Evanson, Thomas Ligotti or Lisa Tuttle) with its hypnotic narration, its stylized grammar, both elegant and brutal, and its existential and metaphysical terror. .

“Vision Portraits” (Rodney Evans) NY Premiere Documentary
Vision Portraits is the personal story of filmmaker Rodney Evans (Brother To Brother) as he embarks on a scientific and artistic journey, questioning how his loss of vision might impact his creative future. Through illuminating portraits of three artists–a photographer, a dancer and a writer–the film looks at the ways each artist was affected by the loss of their vision and the ways in which their creative process has changed or adapted.

Shorts

Narrative Shorts Program Tales of childhood wonder, black vampires, and queer intimacy are featured in this wide-ranging selection of shorts from vital new voices.

Documentary Shorts Program Traveling from a black Southern barbershop to underground Bushwick to the US-Mexico border, these short form documentaries illuminate the margins of American society.

“Walker’s” Dir. Kyle Myers-Haugh. This immersion into a black barbershop in Wilmington, North Carolina unfolds as an almost abstract symphony of straight razors and straight talk.

“Yves & Variation” Dir. Lydia Cornett. A New York City doorman wears many hats—father, art curator, and erstwhile violinist—as he works tirelessly to give back to his community in Haiti.

“Edge of Red” Dir. Callie Mae Nichole Lyons. An eight-year-old girl journeys through joy, sadness, compassion, confusion, and enlightenment in this gorgeously impressionistic, richly textured blend of narrative and dance film.

“Neighborhood” Dir. Ben Garchar. The lives of three strangers—a pigeon keeper, a webcam model, and a man haunted by ghosts—intertwine mysteriously amidst the backdrop of a rapidly gentrifying Bushwick in this ethereal documentary.

“Days of Black and Yellow” Dirs. Lofty Nathan & Willie Meismer. A galvanizing eulogy for Douglas Schifter, the New York City taxi driver who saw his life and industry destroyed by the rise of ride-sharing apps.

“Easter Snap” Dir. RaMell Ross. Oscar-nominated director RaMell Ross (Hale County This Morning, This Evening) finds unexpectedly rich resonances in a hog processing ritual in rural Alabama.

“I Snuck Off the Slave Ship” Dirs. Lonnie Holley & Cyrus Moussavi. An ecstatic Afrofuturist tone poem set to the music of visionary folk artist Lonnie Holley.

“Best Picture” Dir. Jay Giampietro. Upsets abound when a movie-obsessed firefighter hosts an Oscars-viewing party.

“Suicide By Sunlight” Dir. Nikyatu Jusu. A day-walking black vampire struggles to keep her bloodlust under control while attempting to reconnect with her estranged daughters in this stylishly disturbing loss-of-innocence tale.

“Things That Happen in the Bathroom” Dir. Ed Hancox. An aching tale of intimacy and heartbreak unfolds entirely within the confines of a young queer man’s bathroom.

“Liberty” Dir. Faren Humes. Two teenage girls find their friendship tested as their Miami public housing complex is redeveloped in this study of community and displacement charged with an electrifying experimental edge.

“It’s Going to Be Beautiful” Dir. Luis Gutiérrez Arias. A dystopian meditation on the building of the US-Mexico border wall as government workers test the ominously imposing steel and concrete prototypes.

“Music From the Edge of the Allegheny Plateau” Dir. Kevin Jerome Everson. Rap and gospel intertwine in this stirring musical portrait of two talented residents of Mansfield, Ohio inspired by William Klein’s documentary The Little Richard Story.

“Ghosts of Sugar” Land Dir. Bassam Tariq. A mystery hangs over a group of young Muslim-American men in Sugar Land, Texas: what happened to their missing friend “Mark”? And could he really have joined ISIS?

“Mr. Parker” Dir. Alex Ashe. Soul legend Lee Fields and Janet Mock star in this stirring look at the last days in the life of a struggling singer.

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