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    Image from the documentary Long Distance. in Brooklyn International Film Festival
    Image from the documentary "Long Distance."

    The searchers

    The 12th annual Brooklyn International Film Festival collects oblique visions from around New York and around the world, including many stories of ordinary people on strange quests.


    The Brooklyn International Film Festival is what it is, perhaps, because of the people who created it. Now in its 12th year after being founded in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, by two Italian filmmakers, it has always showcased individual visions — oblique creations from around the world, visual poems, scant-budget films from overlooked communities, biographies of improbable heroes, difficult films, entertaining films, sometimes idiosyncratically brilliant films. It is a filmmaker's festival as much as an aficionado's festival.


    Related links: Official site
    Current schedule
    Brooklyn Heights Cinema
    70 Henry St., Brooklyn

    Brooklyn International Film Festival, 2009
    • Overview

      • Official site

    Every year's edition has a name, and this year's festival is dubbed the "Open Source Edition." That means ... well, it refers to ... um, I don't know. I would choose to call this the Quest Edition.

    This year, the documentaries are the more fertile side of the lineup, and many of those are glimpses of ordinary people on unusual quests. "Long Distance" follows an almost-good-enough long-distance runner from Ethiopia pursuing his dreams with discipline and futility in Westchester, New York. "The Man Who Would Be Polka King" documents the rise and bizarre collapse of the man behind "the greatest polka empire Pennsylvania ever saw." And "Diary of a Times Square Thief" is a search by a Dutch filmmaker for the mysterious author of a rambling, angry, anonymous notebook chronicling the personalities of the sleazy, pre-corporate Times Square.

    Waiting for Women. in Brooklyn International Film Festival  
    "Waiting for Women."
    One of the most interesting oddities is "Waiting for Women," a half-hour film about the quest for love. Chilean/German documentary maker Estephan Wagner visits a village in Spain which all the women (at least those under 70, from the looks of it) long ago abandoned, leaving a community of loveless men. What is a whole town full of lonely farmers to do? Call Madrid and organize a busload of women (make sure they're under 60, one of them insists) to come out to the country for a mass blind date.

    Wagner could undoubtedly have gotten more out of this subject by spending more time before and after the big date, but there is at least a hint of an answer to the question that ought to be at the center of the film: What is a town without women like? And apparently it's like a high school locker room. The men, tragically celibate, knowing that everyone else is the same, and lacking any female eye to watch over them, gather in the local bar and boast of their sexual powers. When real live women finally show up, their bravado is put to the test.

      Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones in Breaking Upwards. in Brooklyn International Film Festival
      Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones in "Breaking Upwards."
    My favorite improbable documentary is "The Beetle," about an Israeli man struggling with the loss of his own identity as he prepares to become a father. His old, vanishing self is neatly symbolized by his car — a rickety but beloved VW Beetle. When his wife insists that he dump the old heap before the all-important ride to the delivery room, he suffers an existential panic. Instead of junking the poor car, he goes on a journey to learn its long history and collect the stories of its many former owners. It's a strangely wonderful little movie that starts with the smallest of ideas and just gets better as it clunks toward a very interesting destination.

    Most of this year's features did not impress me, but one that might catch some people's attention is "Breaking Upward." It's what has come to be called a "mumblecore" movie — a movie that captures twentysomething anomie through plotlessness, emotionlessness and bored sex. "Breaking Upward" is a hybrid, then, of mumblecore and movies that don't suck. It starts with the idea of a boyfriend and girlfriend — young, privileged, white and Jewish — who aren't sure they want to be together anymore, so they decide to have a sort of alternate-days relationship, with all the complications that may imply. It still suffers from a bare-bones plot, but it's an interesting idea.

    August Diehl in Dr. Alemán. in Brooklyn International Film Festival  
    August Diehl in "Dr. Alemán."
    Standing far out from the crowd is "Dr. Alemán," about a well-meaning German doctor doing his internship in the middle of Colombia's drug war, removing bullets from teenagers and struggling not to become an enemy of one gang or another. He arrives with the idea that he can simply work the ER by day, party by night, make friends with the locals along the way, but a simple good nature is useless in Cali. There's no such thing as safety or neutrality. It's a straightforward narrative and a polished film — moreso than a lot of its festival-mates — but never Hollywoodized, and it ought to get a wider release soon.

    Festival articles



    The Beetle

    An expectant father's agony over giving up his pathetic old car — and his pre-fatherhood life — forms a surprisingly touching story of life and change.

    JUNE 10, 2009

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