by Keith R. Higgons
After a successful opening night on Thursday, September 19, the third annual Greenpoint Film Festival wrapped on Sunday. Just as she has done in the previous two years, Festival Director Rosa Valado was able to tap into the creativity of our neighborhood as well as bring together a diverse group of films and filmmakers from around the world. In addition to screening a number of amazing films, the Greenpoint Film Festival played host to a number of spirited discussions and panels.
The festival had the prerequisite narrative and documentary categories in addition to highlighting micro-budget/DIY films, experimental films, and offered a music video screening and discussion. The closing day, Sunday, featured an extensive environmental film and discussion series in addition to animated and performance films.
In short, the Greenpoint Film Festival delivered a broad selection of films and discussions that provided something for all the varying interests in our nabe.
In full disclosure, I should point out that I was a judge for the long and short form narrative films. On the one hand, I was honored to have been asked and considered it a privilege to participate. On the other hand, it’s somewhat of a curse to sit in judgment of anyone’s creative work. I’m not the type of person who derives pleasure from crapping all over someone else’s creativity endeavors?
When you judge or critique films, you are doing so based on your own knowledge, tastes and, in all fairness, mood at that moment. The process is almost exclusively subjective and anyone who argues to the contrary is not being honest with themselves. Taking the time and energy to realize and complete a creative vision and submit it to festivals puts that individual miles away from the arm chair filmmaker, so who the hell am I to sit in judgment?
Nonetheless, I was a judge and promised myself I would be as objective as humanly possible. With this in mind, in July, I jumped head first into the submissions.
The four long form submissions were all strong. They had well defined characters, solid stories and each filmmaker knew how to weave a cinematic yarn. This is to say these films would in no way benefit from a car chase, car crash sequence or a ridiculously loud thumping soundtrack. I believe this is a good thing.
My least favorite of the long form submissions was still a decent film, if a little too immature and self involved. But completing a feature length movie that is structurally adept and technically proficient is certainly worth noting.
But as I pointed out in my Flux Fest review a couple of months ago, the nature of these things is to single out a couple that rise above the rest.
GFF Official Narrative Feature selection was Jason Jeffrey’s Your Side of the Bed. About a middle aged journalist coping with the untimely death of his wife. Thoughtful and real, the film’s pacing gives a certain sense of realism that lends the film its gravitas.
The GFF Best Narrative Feature was Maryanne Zehil’s La Vallee des Larmes (The Valley of Tears). Zehil’s film tackles the never endingly complex and drama filled issues in the Middle East by way of Montreal. The film provides amazing performances and a story that focuses on the atrocity of genocide and its survivor’s decade’s long quest for justice and vengeance.
The narrative short form category offered a more diverse and competitive landscape, from insufferable to superb. To be fair, only one short landed in the insufferable category – all the other shorts I screened were very well done. One, in particular, was only knocked out of contention because the acting was so bad it derailed the clever story.
The GFF Best Narrative Short was Peter Sasowsky’s Mojave. Loosely based on the life of Dutch artist Cecile Bouchier, Mojave is an engaging and very smart short that smolders with Oona Mekas’ sublime performance. Ronnie Clark’s everyman approach and Sons of Anarchy aesthetic lend an extra layer of charm and conflict to the story. While the whole film is amazing it was the very last shot that resonated with me and you’ll just have to seek it out if you want to understand what I mean.
Dylan Allen’s Epilogue was clever but not overly clever and not ironically clever. What happens to our everyday hero once the mission is complete? Allen makes an effort to include the viewers in on the joke and with Epilogue he totally nails it. In fact, just typing this and thinking about the film makes me smile.
Greg Slagle’s The Windmere Guest was probably the most technically complex of the narrative shorts. Weaving stock footage in, to tell a classic mob double cross story, The Windmere Guest captures the genre well and Slagle’s attention to detail pays off.
The last of the Official Selection Narrative Shorts is Oona Mekas’ The Sleepy Man. The film is based on Brooklyn native Jonathan Letham’s short story “The Sleepy People,” a metaphorically nebulous short story with an empowered female lead, which can make for a challenging cinematic translation, especially as a first film. But Oona Mekas, as writer, director and actor pulls it off with supreme coolness. As an actor, Miss Mekas, along with Academy Award nominated actor John Hawkes as the sleepy man, captures the alienation and loneliness of a dystopian existence. As a writer/director she shows off a smooth storytelling capability. As a debut short, it would be hard to find one better than The Sleepy Man.
Hindsight emphasizes the challenge of judging the short form narratives because on a different day, it could have been any one of these that could have been my favorite. On the day I screened them it was Peter Sasowsky’s Mojave.
The hallmark of any good film festival is its ability to bring together filmmakers and creatives to talk about their craft and their passions. Let’s face it, anyone can slap some films together and call it a film festival but the line up of films, panels, and talent that this year’s Greenpoint Film Festival offered, showcased its growing relevance to the film community.
If the Brooklyn Film Festival is our area’s Sundance Film Festival, then the Greenpoint Film Festival is our Telluride Film Festival.