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A Festival Pops Up in Brooklyn

Underground cinema, by its nature, is not produced to sell or jockey for minor Hollywood directorial roles. Rather, it is born straight from the bizarre, brilliant, and sometimes twisted minds that are able to get their hands on a camera and editing system. Taking place in a transformed raw space provided by Nest in Dumbo, the 2nd Brooklyn Underground Film Festival ran from October 8th to 14th and included 97 shorts (75 New York premieres) culled from over 700 submissions. There were no large corporate sponsors, no poseur "Independent film" connections, just a scrappy sense of focus that resulted in a festival that is growing year to year.

Of course, the challenge when every quasi-hipster can get access to the tools of creation is to sort through all the submissions and pick out the ones that actually make some sense, have a daring leitmotif and work in some morally, aesthetically or technically illegal way. The festival organizers and volunteers succeeded in not only transforming the raw physical space into a dark, moody art-covered hangout (and a small theater with thankfully cushy seats) but in carefully screening and choosing an array of content.

The BUFF presented a mix of fictional/experimental, documentary, and animation shorts plus a hard-to-see collection of "found" footage and re-edited films. Some highlights include the wacked-out but compelling narratives featuring a toy talking pony in Ben Coonley’s two shorts and the clever animated irony of Correcto, Incorrecto: Halloween Edition by Brooklyn’s Matt Rodriguez. Carlos Pareja of Paper Tiger TV used footage of George W. landing on the aircraft carrier mixed with Top Gun footage to create a succinct plate of media analysis that was a nice compliment to Jason Blalock’s hilarious short documentary Spangled that presented scores of people auditioning to sing the Star Spangled Banner.

But underground films are not only political in subject matter but in the use of copyrighted material to create new narratives (a right that is continually threatened by corporate-engineered copyright extension legislation and the watering down of Fair Use). Here were some of the most impressive pieces, born of a simple concept and executed with relentlessness. Case in point is Kent Lambert’s 10 minute Condensed Movie that took a cheesy full length Air Force pilots-meet-Medieval world film and edited out all of the dialogue. The viewer is left with the expressions of bad actors before and after they say their lines (unfortunately, you can still follow the plot).

Underground festivals are the chance to see films that you will most likely never see anywhere else. That’s a much better excuse for going to a festival than to expend energy seeing Hollywood films about to be released in order to become The Man at the water cooler. Sure, sometimes the results are mixed, but just ask yourself when you last saw a truly creative and challenging work at the multiplex— or at the Art House for that matter.


Williams Cole


The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2003

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