The annual BAMcinemafest is a chance to catch the best and brightest of forthcoming indie cinema — a strain of cinema often characterized and beloved for being more “real” than its super-sized counterpart. However true that is is up for debate, but this year’s lineup plays like a fun-house mirror of our world right now, teeming with fascists, elaborate lies, social decline and, in two cases, gun violence.
The fest’s main goal is to mix little wonders with small-time biggies. In their latter camp there’s Todd Solondz’s “Wiener-Dog,” Ira Sachs’ “Little Men,” Ti West’s Western “In a Valley of Violence” and Chad Hartigan’s “Morris from America.” Here are eight others worth keeping an eye on:
‘The Alchemist Cookbook’
The hero of Joel Potrykus' latest look at the bored and clueless (after last year's "Buzzard") plays like "The Evil Dead" where the hero wants to bring the pain. A young hermit (“Gimme the Loot”’s Ty Hickson) living in the woods decides it's a good idea to play with deadly spirits, and is miffed when they're not quick to tear his soul apart. As ever, Potrykus has a feel for idle time-wasting and deadpan hijinks. If he's not as strong this round — with few of the stand-out, one-take set pieces that made “Buzzard” an instant classic — he confirms himself as a true eccentric with a deep affinity for society’s happy and dirty outcasts.
‘Author: The JT LeRoy Story’
A decade is long enough for dust to settle, meaning it’s time Laura Albert — aka JT LeRoy, the hot young male novelist who wrote about drug addiction and gender confusion, but who was secretly a middle-aged woman — got her due. As he did with “The Devil and Daniel Johnston,” documentarian Jeff Feuerzeig hands the reins to the subject, letting Albert tell her story from her side. Hers is a wild tale, and never more moving than when it’s dwelling on how Albert knew she wasn’t cool enough to become a cool writer with lots of celebrity friends without faking it.
‘The Childhood of a Leader’
The directorial debut of American actor Brady Corbet oozes a Euro vibe, no doubt due to his stints with Lars von Trier and Michael Haneke. The eponymous leader isn’t specified, but it’s some fascist tyrant born out of the ashes of WWI, seen when he was a long-haired, sullen yet destructive brat (played by the aptly named Tom Sweet), who didn’t take kindly to his upper class upbringing. It’s an “Omen” movie with fewer thrills and reams of hysterical doom. And if it’s ultimately too diffuse and obvious to draw real blood, it works on the nerves all the same.
One of two titles about real mass shootings (the other being “Newtown,” capsulized below), Tim Sutton’s dreamy, haunting but perhaps overly vague indie uses the 2012 Aurora massacre more as inspiration than foundation. Part “Elephant,” part Larry Clark, it has less to do with gearing us up for bloodshed then taking the temperature of a town of bored inhabitants. Sutton — of the haunting, doc-like “Memphis” — bites off more than he can chew, but he’s wise to dwell on the hostility bubbling under society, particularly with the men.
‘Kate Plays Christine’
A movie about the making of a movie that should never be made, Robert Greene’s quasi-doc is a house of mirrors that resists clarification. As in his previous film, the great “Actress,” Greene trails a performer. This time it’s indie god Kate Lyn Sheil, as she preps for and wrestles with playing Christine Chubbuck, the Florida reporter who in 1974 shot herself on live TV. The film-within-the-film is quickly shown to be ghoulish, but the film itself is all about raising unanswered questions: about actors, about ethics, about our demonization of “crazy” women, about preserving the memory, for good and bad, of someone who otherwise would have been buried by history. Its final moment seems to be telling you what to think, but don’t be so sure.
‘Last Night at the Alamo’
A honky tonk obscurity coated in cheap beer and a permanent cigarette stink, this 1983 regional indie — from the so-named Eagle Pennell — bros down in a Texas dive bar on the eve of its demolition. Colorful characters abound, usually yelling at the girlfriends they’ve pissed off, all in glorious 16mm black-and-white. It may play like a deep South “Clerks,” but Pennell has more filmmaking chops than Kevin Smith ever has, and his actors tow the line between just-good-enough and can’t-fake-it real.
‘Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World’
Werner Herzog is a brand now — a funny-voiced oddball often in on the gag. But he’s still serious, even when he’s not particularly deep. Case in point: “Lo and Behold” is basically “Werner Herzog Takes on the Internet,” and much what one would expect. What he finds could be said by any think piece-writing drone: the good (medical advances) doesn’t quite outweigh the bad, though he only devotes a brief chapter to reiterating how social media activates our inner sociopath. But whenever Herzog indulges his gift for unfettered curiosity and locating fellow eccentrics, his latest finally becomes the personal missive only he could make.
No film in the lineup — or the earth — is harder to watch right now than Kim A. Snyder’s look at the Sandy Hook massacre. “Newtown” might not be able to bear such weight: Those expecting an anguished symphony a la Spike Lee’s “When the Levees Broke” will have to settle for a modest ditty, one that could always stand to have tighter focus. And yet it’s still gutting. Snyder’s focus on a handful of individuals — mostly surviving parents who can’t get through a sentence without choking up — means less time to delve into the community at large. But those testimonials hurt, as does watching the subjects head to Washington hoping to effect change and leaving empty-handed. And here we are now.
BAMcinemafest runs from June 15 through June 26. Visit the site for tickets and showtimes.