Director Michael Almereyda (Experimenter, Marjorie Prime) takes his sense of formal experimentation into the documentary realm to tell the story of Hampton Fancher, a sort of Forest Gump figure in the last gasp of Hollywood’s studio age, and beyond: a supporting player on film and television (his name usually appeared among a list that followed the worth “with” or “also”) who married Sue Lyon, dated Terri Garr and Barbara Hershey, and wrote the Blade Runner screenplay. With that kind of access and experience, it’s not surprising that he’s a raconteur, full of wonderful and wonderfully odd stories, which Almereyda illustrates with archival footage – mostly of films and shows he appeared in, manipulated to match his narratives. As an exercise in reappropriation and recontextualization of existing elements, it’s quite compelling; if the results are amateurish (there’s a decidedly YouTube video feel to this thing), it somehow seems both intentional and appropriate.
cinemaFest doesn’t do a lot of revivals, but kudos for spotlighting this undiscovered gem from 2000, now notable (among many reasons) as the film debut of one Kerry Washington, already displaying her charisma and ease onscreen. Set during one Crown Heights summer, as three teenage friends imperceptibly begin to drift apart, it has a semi-documentary authenticity – handheld camera, amateur actors, and naturalistic dialogue that almost sounds like eavesdropping. “O-o-h Child” is their song, even when its optimism seems out of reach; at these moments in their lives, it’s hard to image that things are gonna get easier, or be brighter. But its honesty doesn’t undermine its warmth, or the novelty of the fact that it’s just a film about regular teenagers who live in the projects – not dealing, not using, just struggling and striving, and even (if they allow themselves) dreaming.
Where is Kyra?
Here’s a puzzle: how is it that a film starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Kiefer Sutherland premiered at Sundance, all the way back in January, and still somehow hasn’t been picked up for domestic distribution? Turns out, it has nothing to do with the quality of the film – a tricky and agonizing portrait of grief and financial desperation – than with the general timidity of the theatrical distribution model, whose representatives presumably see Where is Kyra? as unclassifiable, and thus unmarketable. And to be clear, it’s not an easy movie, setting a morally flexible Pfeiffer into a cold, hard, unyielding New York on a humiliating search for gainful employment as debts pile around her, which she attempts to keep at bay with a scheme that is bound to eventually fail. But this is a film of high craft (director Andrew Dosunmu has a gift for sustaining a mood of everyday anxiety), which finds an actor of considerable fame taking real risks in a difficult role. And that matters.
A Ghost Story
The most striking element of director David Lowery’s experimental supernatural story is the sheer stillness of this thing; he holds his images (boxed in to a claustrophobic 1.37:1), letting the scenes play a beat longer, too long almost, in a way that makes you anxious. What exactly is he up to here? It turns out, he’s telling a story in aftermath rather than incident, lingering on details, weird noises, and characters merely observing each other. It’s so muted it’d be inert in the hands of lesser filmmakers and actors than these, and that’s part of what makes it so memorable – it’s the kind of movie that’s so quiet, you lean in, lest you miss something revelatory.
Twice a year, Folsom State Prison expands its weekly group therapy sessions into a four-day intensive session with therapists, convicts, and volunteers from the public. As one of those cons puts it, “For four days, let’s be what we could be.” This extraordinary documentary by Jairus McLeary captures that process beautifully, as guards are let down and tears are allowed to flow. The film’s subjects come from cultures and neighborhoods where feeling like these, and displays of emotion, are interpreted as weakness, and the impulses that drive their behaviors and attitudes are so deeply ingrained, they’re borderline unshakable. These sessions nevertheless try to shake them, resulting in moments that are charged, angry, difficult, and staggeringly affecting. “This is work,” one of them explains. “This is ugly-ass shit.” It is that – and unspeakably beautiful too.
BAMcinemaFest runs tonight through June 25. Tickets and more information available on their website.