Adam SchartoffAdam Schartoff is a freelance film journalist living in Brooklyn. He’s the founder and programmer of filmwax, a film series based in Brooklyn’s Park Slope. He’s checking in this month with dispatches from BAMcinemaFEST 2011.

BAMcinemaFEST 2011

BAMcinemaFEST screens 11 docs
in Brooklyn, June 16-26, 2011

In just three short years BAMcinemaFEST has gained a reputation for being one of New York City’s most exquisitely programmed film festivals. Located in the Fort Greene neighborhood in Brooklyn, the festival — which runs from June 16-26 — skims the best off festivals like Sundance and SXSW and tosses in a few New York premieres and a world premiere for good measure. In addition to a tasty slate of indie narrative films, there are eleven documentaries, all arguably worth checking out.

As a professed documentary junkie it’s especially difficult for me to weed out any of those films as being more or less worthwhile, so better to just interpret the following as a collection of thoughts about some of those nonfiction films.


Jamel Shabazz Street Photographer

Charlie Ahearn’s Jamel Shabazz Street Photographer is the endearing portrait of the Brooklyn photographer. While the film seems at times to also act as an extended advertisement for Shabazz’s new photo essay book, one can’t deny the man’s charm or talent. The documentary deftly integrates spoken reminiscences over Shabazz’s vintage photos from the ’70s and ’80s while cross cutting with the photographer today as he continues photographing the same streets in Brooklyn and Harlem and their willing denizens.

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front

POV alum Marshall Curry’s (Street Fight, Racing Dreams) fascinating new documentary, If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (POV 2011), is an intimate look at environmentalist Daniel McGowan, who was arrested for his participation with the titular radical group and a series of bombings and fires for which they took responsibility. Under house arrest for the crux of the film, Daniel is tried under somewhat draconian laws that were created post-Oklahoma City and 9/11. The film sets out to humanize its subject and questions whether those laws should apply in this case.

Magic Trip

Alex Gibney is a documentary machine these days having released myriad films since his Enron doc back in 2005. That is said in no way to diminish the quality of his work. With his latest film, Magic Trip, co-directed by Alison Ellwood, many folks will be charmed by their latest subject, author Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest) and his band of Merry Pranksters. The film, no doubt, is somewhat more lighthearted than Gibney’s more recent output, which includes Taxi to the Dark Side and Casino Jack & The United States of Money.

Where Soldiers Come From

Where Soldiers Come From (POV 2011) is Heather Courtney’s stunning film that puts a twist on the typical war doc by not just focusing on the four friends who join the National Guard and subsequently serve on a tour of duty, but on the families and friends they leave behind. Shot mostly in their hometown on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula — with a brief segment in Afghanistan — Courtney portrays a group of loving mothers, fathers and girlfriends all of whom must grapple with both a period of dread while the young men are away and with the effects of war on their return.

Also worth noting is filmmaker Marie Losier’s seven-years-in-the-making The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye and Tristan Patterson’s SXSW breakout Dragonslayer.
More coverage and filmmaker interviews to come. Until then, here’s the complete list of the documentaries screening at BAMcinemaFEST:

If a Tree Falls, Saturday, June 18, 2 PM
Separado! , Saturday, June 18, 2011, 9:30 PM
Senna, Sunday, June 19, 2011, 4:15 PM
Dragonslayer, Sunday, June 19, 2011, 9:30 PM
The Redemption of General Butt Naked, Monday, June 20, 2011, 6:50 PM
Where Soldiers Come From, Tuesday, June 21, 2011, 6:50 PM
Last Days Here, Wednesday, June 22, 2011, 6:50 PM
The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye, Thursday, June 23, 2011, 6:50 PM
Elevate, Saturday, June 25, 2011, 1:30 PM
Magic Trip, Saturday, June 25, 9:15 PM
Jamel Shabazz Street Photographer, Sunday, June 26, 3:30 PM

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Guest blogger Adam Schartoff is a freelance film journalist living in Brooklyn, New York. He's the founder and programmer of the Brooklyn-based film series Filmwax.