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(The BAM Cinemfest wrapped up June 28. Hammer to Nail was on the scene and has a few more reviews like this one, a wide swath of lovely short films as highlighted by our own Donna K.)

American image culture began long before the onset of the self possession and self expression of the internet era, a history that the current indie film zeitgeist seems to be preoccupied with and that the BAMCinemafest shorts line up captures in full force!



Blood Below the Skin (dir. Jennifer Reeder, 38 min.)

The sneering confusion of being an adolescent girl is just plain awful; you try to define yourself by the things around you, you feel awkward in your own skin, sexuality trickles in warm and weird, you’re loudly judged for every choice you make. It’s simultaneously exciting and terrible. I’ve never seen a filmmaker capture the weird hormonal angst of this time in a girl’s life as Jennifer Reeder does in Blood Below the Skin. There is a dusky yellow pink that permeates the film as close cropped shots draw you in, a well framed vision that sits on a cushion of an 80’s future/past aesthetic with a control that shows the glimmer of a true auteur- and also showcases the talent of Reeder’s editor Mike Olenick. The beautifully acted clash of catty hisses and unexpected moments of caring embodied by teen girls are direct, flat and willing to go deeper into the minds of this age group with a candidness that most teen-centric films gloss with camp or twee or hollowness. There is something Zellner Bros. like in Reeder’s suburban psychosis and strong willed hope but the way it is delivered is her own: all glitter, blood, dirty underwear and Morrissey. This short is an experimental exploration of identity with Reeder peeking behind the closed doors of teen girl bedrooms to reveal the almost supernatural strangeness beating in the big hearts of every training bra clad chest.

Gary Has an AIDS Scare (dir. Joe Callander, 17mins.)

Director & craftsman Joe Callender’s first feature was a near comedy about the Rwandan genocide. His next short was a sweetly dark look at the deadly affliction of Type one diabetes. His latest piece is about Gary, a Vietnam war vet who is kind of a total creep. The deadpan levity and intelligent montage that is Callender’s signature style has an extreme edge with this new short, Gary Has an AIDS Scare. There is a nastiness to Gary that is slightly endearing but also totally unappealing, he repels you but you are drawn into his grossness in a way that makes you question yourself for watching this film instead of question the poor life choices that Gary continuously rolls out. Living is a twisted and difficult thing and Callender doesn’t shy away from finding the beauty in this fact, but in this film he goes a layer deeper, looking at the more grotesque side of a damaged person through his genuinely misguided sexploits. In a way this film is about a larger series of events that haunt the lives of both veterans and the Vietnamese in the most inexplicable, incomprehensible ways making this film the strangest and most truthful meditation on responsibility I have ever seen.


Maryland Public Television Interviews the Reagans (The Reagan Years, dir. Pacho Velez, 5min)

At the 2014 Camden International FIlm Festival Pacho Velez was the recipient of the Best Pitch Award as part of the Points North Fellowship program, an amazing org that provides resources/mentors to documentary feature filmmakers to help them learn how to better talk about their film from a funding perspective. His winning project, titled The Reagan Years, is a headfirst dive into the vast Reagan video archives, culling from them the moments that express the confounding era that the country often toys with idolizing. In this particular short, the title says it all: we see a small time newscaster interviewing the Reagans. They talk of nothing of substance. They coerce their pet dog on the scene. They sit in an unnatural, wood paneled room of spotlights and microphones. Taking this moment out of its time has a startling effect, the actorly gloss looks so unreal, so dated, so false. Reagan seems oblivious. His wife distracting, congenial to a fault. Seeing this odd out of place time capsule of the then leader of the free world is unnerving to say the least and makes me wonder what truths of our own time will eventually be revealed through their preservation, or at least what edited story will be left behind to tell.

The School Is Watching (dir. Dan Schoenbrun, 7min)

I grew up in kind of a ghetto. SIlkscreening was cancelled because some jerks made gang t-shirts in class. So the surrounding schools full of money and empty of teen moms were foreign, I lusted after the schools with electives. Apparently one of the things I missed out on was closed circuit TV morning announcements, what?! WOW! This short is a collage of vintage scenes from high school produced TV programs capturing all of the acne, braces, shitty hairdos, arrogance and AV nerdiness that this elective seems to have thrived off of. The School Is Watching is a window into those longed to be forgotten teen years but also into the medium itself. The sudden access to video cameras created instant documentation and developed a visual hierarchy suited to the shaky confidence of high school – what was important, who was cool and who wasn’t was broadcast for everyone to see. The technology might seem obsolete and none of our permanent records have followed us, but the heightened self-awareness of being in front of a camera has followed us tenfold. This film is a grimy green VHS mash up of the beta version of Facebook.


Actresses (dir. Jeremy Hersh, 12min)

Danielle and Sara are both actresses- Danielle slightly more established than the young and aspiring Sara. After seeing Danielle perform, Sara praises her after the show, quickly sparking an attraction. Imagine being in a relationship with all of its inherent complexity and exponentially increasing that with the heightened insecurity and emotion held by those that choose to be actresses, both sides colliding into romance with the intensity that creative spirits embody. It’s not pretty. This short isn’t the kind of thing I usually go for, a light, twenty-something tale of love with the underpinnings of fear, shot mostly in the low lit, post performance nights of NYC but the these two real life actresses (Rebecca Henderson and Taylor Hess) are incredible, coaxed out by a director that favors touching intimacy over sheer appearance, the latter an affliction that characters in these types of roles gratingly tend towards. These women embody these roles with such vigorous skill and tenderness, loudly pointing out just how underutilized good acting is in contemporary narrative filmmaking.

– Donna K. (@TeamDonnaK)


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