Wednesday night sees the start — with the David Foster Wallace hang-out movie “The End of the Tour” — of BAMcinemafest, BAM’s annual survey of the indie landscape — a term that, now as ever, is hard to define. Indeed, this year’s lineup offers feminist sci-fi, battling intellectuals, a righteously raging comedian, Elisabeth Moss losing it, trans movie stars and a sequel to a film you may never have known exists. Of the 20-plus features — plus many shorts — here are a handful for which we can vouch.
‘Advantageous’ (Sun., June 21)
Sci-fi done in a low key, Jennifer Phang’s futuristic drama doesn’t always sell when it dwells on its Asylum-level effects, but it’s on the level as a film of ideas. Jacqueline Kim, who co-wrote with Phang, plays a single mother in a tricked-out metropolis who agrees to a revolutionary process when she realizes agism and sexism still thrive in the near-future. Kim and Phang sometimes let a simple story turn into a talky muddle, but it captures the feeling of living with tech that, to us, is still on the horizon. And it oozes a melancholy that carries us through rough patches en route to a finale of devastation so quiet you might miss it.
‘Best of Enemies’ (Sat., June 20)
You can watch Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley’s notorious smackdowns on YouTube, but this doc does more than let you stare at two pitbulls going at it. It’s as much a breakdown of their multi-night tete-a-tetes, held during 1968’s tumultuous Chicago Democratic Convention, as it is a look at two stubborn isolationists, each trying to sell their own radical beliefs to the mainstream. That they couldn’t even bond over their shared hatred becomes the stuff of tragedy, and their stories become not just about the death of the public intellectual, but about the death of the mojos of two of the last century’s mightiest egos.
‘Call Me Lucky’ (Wed., June 24)
The Bill Hicks for next level articulate crank, Barry Crimmins belatedly gets his Great Man doc, and a loving one at that, courtesy friend/apprentice Bobcat Goldthwait. At his height Crimmins was a mysteriously employed firebrand who’d unload about Reagan in between bland cutups; even more amazingly, he was as funny as he was incensed. For its first half “Call Me Lucky” acts as pure 101, only to later reveal its subject’s history of sex abuse. Crimmins’ attempts to deal with his pain as well as attack institutions — from early AOL to the Catholic Church — that turn a blind eye to abuse doesn’t just explain his ire but details the pain that is inextricable from comedy.
‘Counting’ (Sat., June 27)
The documentarian Jem Cohen doesn’t make documentaries in the traditional sense; even his biggie, the seminal Fugazi portrait “Instrument,” by no means plays by the rules. Chasing his hybrid hit “Museum Hours,” he compiles what appear to be loose ends — footage shot on the fly, perhaps while working on other things — into a loose collection of 15 minis. Some are city symphonies, usually in New York City. Others try to capture the light of a lovely afternoon. Others are more abstract, mysterious in intention. Ideas flow freely, bouncing willy nilly between pieces. Nothing is insistent, except that Cohen has one hell of an eye.
‘Krisha’ (Friday, June 19)
A SXSW hit that transcends being arguably too personal, Trey Edwards Shults’ feature debut stars his aunt, Krisha Fairchild, as an aging freespirit named Krisha who shows up at a family reunion filled with other real-life family members. Shults likes to bang out his shots in mobile long takes that isolate Krisha in group settings, making visceral her inability to connect, even when going head-to-head with the concerned or disillusioned. The tone, vaguely comedic, always on-edge, helps temper what may boil down to group therapy, even when Krisha loses control over the urges that got her into trouble in the first place. (Fairchild, it should be noted, is not playing herself but a composite of other family members.) If only more TMI family airings had this one’s formal chops or as winning a lead performer.
‘Queen of Earth’ (June 22-28)
|Filmmaker Alex Ross Perry and star Elisabeth Moss immediately reunited after “Listen Up Philip,” though the results couldn’t be more different. Perry’s love of uncomfortably intimate camerawork and withering one-liners is repurposed for the psychological horror genre, with Moss as a recent dumpee taking what should be a breather at the country home of a longtime friend (an oft-hilarious Katherine Waterston). Instead she only unravels more. Past and present clash, though what follows isn’t meant to be solved like a puzzle; it’s more like a mood of unease that channels Bergman and Polanski but finds its own voice. Perry loves to have returning cinematographer Sean Price Williams bust out unmotivated zooms to further grind the nerves. If the film threatens to get away from him in the final stretch, it doesn’t kill the singular mood.
‘Tangerine’ (Sunday, June 28)
It’s 1991 Sundance all over again with the first prominent Amerindie shot entirely on an iPhone, as well as one of the too few to star trans actresses. But where the indies of that era tended to be earnest and cloying, “Tangerine” is everything but. Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mia Taylor deliver breakthroughs as street women, the former flipping out upon learning her boyfriend/pimp (James Ransome, aka Ziggy from “The Wire”) has a wandering eye. Director Sean Baker embraces his amateur tech but also demonstrates a good eye. The glee with which this scrappy number has been made translates to the audience, and the feeling is like being swept up in some particularly out-of-control chaos that’s being reined in just enough.
‘Uncle Kent 2’ (Sat., June 20)
Self-consciously aiming for crazy sequel heaven, the follow-up to a film that needed no follow-up — and is largely known only by Joe Swanberg’s most devoted acolytes anyway — finds lead actor Kent Osborne, last seen trying to get with his houseguest, getting caught up in some on-the-cheap apocalyptic shenanigans. The fact that it exists at all is funnier than most of the actual jokes, but new director Todd Rohal (“The Catechism Cataclysm”) keeps this tiny fit of insanity on a wobbly kind of track.
Perhaps the biggest event in the fest’s lineup is the 20th anniversary screening of “Kids” (Thurs., June 25),Larry Clark’s wallow in teens having sex, getting high and generally getting up to no good. At the time it seemed shockingly frank if not alarmist, the closest thing to a plot being Chloe Sevigny trying to track down the philanderer (Leo Fitzpatrick) who gave her HIV. Time may have dulled that aspect of it while elevating Clark’s uncanny, even skeezy gifts for getting youths to loosen up in front of his camera.
That said, don’t neglect the two music-themed revivals. First off, you haven’t been able to get Penelope Spheeris’ landmark “The Decline of Western Civilization” (Friday, June 19) since the VHS days, and even then you had to have a good video store. The subject is the L.A. punk scene, and it’s an altogether more serious affair than Spheeris’ hair metal sequel, complete with a less squeaky clean Belinda Carlisle, then of The Germs, talking about how she doesn’t care when painters die.
Second off, there’s “A Poem is a Naked Person” (Sat., June 27). Long a piece of contraband, illegal to show without its now late maker present, Les Blank’s 1974 hang with Leon Russell doesn’t spend too much time with the outlaw country god, then boasting the highest selling tour in America. That it keeps drifting to the sights in and around his Oklahoma recording shack may be one reason it hasn’t seen the light of day till this summer (it will soon get a theatrical release). But that’s what makes it one of the great renegade “rock docs” — a hodgepodge of sights and sounds that does little but Hoover up a specific place at an unrepeatable time. Blank only filmed what he liked, and like his best work — the Cajun study “Spend It All,” the Mardi Gras get-down “Always for Pleasure,” the self-explanatory “Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers” — it’s an undiluted presentation of purest joy.
BAMcinemaFest runs from June 17 through June 28 at various venues at BAM. Visit the site for the full lineup and screening dates/times.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge