Amid a crowded calendar of film festivals known for showcasing independent film, New York’s BAMcinemaFest has carved out a notable place for itself.
Rather than relying on buzzy, star-driven vehicles, the festival focuses on the year’s best small and under-the-radar films, particularly from new and diverse voices. It’s a sampling of the best movies that have premiered at other festivals (like Sundance and South by Southwest), as well as several movies that haven’t yet made their festival debut.
This year’s 11th annual BAMcinemaFest concluded on June 23. Here are nine of the best movies I saw at the festival, and details on how and when you’ll be able to see them too.
The Amazing Johnathan Documentary
Documentarian Ben Berman set out to make a documentary about the magician John Edward Szeles, better known to many by his stage name, the Amazing Johnathan. Supposedly, Szeles had a heart condition that meant he didn’t have much longer to live, and Berman wanted to follow him. But things started to go very awry.
The Amazing Johnathan Documentary quickly becomes something other than a film about a magician; it’s a farce with lots to say about the ethics of documentary filmmaking and the world around it, as well as the thin line between truth and fiction. Plus, it will definitely screw with your head.
The Amazing Johnathan Documentary will premiere on Hulu on August 16.
De Lo Mio
Two sisters, Rita (Sasha Merci) and Carolina (Darlene Demorizi), go home to the Dominican Republic after their grandmother’s death. They’re going to help their brother Dante (Héctor Aníbal) clean out her house so it can be sold and then bulldozed, since the only valuable part of the house is the land.
De Lo Mio is a promising debut from writer and director Diana Peralta, an often moving drama that examines the complicated relationships that adult children have with their family, their home, and one another.
De Lo Mio is awaiting distribution.
Billi (Awkwafina, in a terrific dramatic performance) lives in New York City, where she and her parents emigrated from China when she was 6 years old. But when her grandmother is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, she and the rest of the family gather in China. They haven’t told their grandmother about her diagnosis, however — a common practice in Chinese families — so they hastily put together a wedding for Billi’s cousin as their reason for visiting.
Family drama ensues, as you might expect. But The Farewell (from writer and director Lulu Wang) never falls back on familiar beats. Instead, it’s an engrossing tale about a family, long separated by geography, who discover their own internal topography is being subtly readjusted in the face of tragedy.
A24 will release The Farewell in theaters on July 12.
The Hottest August
In 2017, documentarian Brett Story spent the month of August walking around New York City, talking to a wide range of its residents about their feelings on and fears for the future. It turned out not to be New York’s hottest August on record, but it came very close — and the resulting film is a documentary about climate change like you’ve never seen before, even though Story never asked specifically about the topic.
Rather than employing didacticism and facts, The Hottest August slowly spools out its view of the impact climate change has on ordinary people, and how people are finding ways to cope with the future before it arrives. The film serves as a document of an age of anxiety that’s also often charming and even hopeful, in its own way.
Grasshopper Films will release The Hottest August later this year.
The Infiltrators is a true story, and its stakes couldn’t be higher. After a man named Claudio Rojas is detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Florida and sent to a detention facility in Broward County, his family contacts a group of activist DREAMers called the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA). The group decides that Marco Saavedra, a volunteer, will self-deport — so as to be sent to the same detention facility and find a way to keep Claudio from being deported.
By mixing documentary footage and interviews with the story’s real-life subjects with restaged scenes using actors, The Infiltrators reveals how the facility imprisons undocumented immigrants, sometimes for years, without a trial. It’s suspenseful, enlightening, and infuriating.
The Infiltrators is awaiting distribution.
Sixteen-year-old Austyn Tester lives in rural Tennessee with his family and has big dreams of becoming a social media star. Then one day, his career starts to take off — and Liza Mandelup’s Jawline tracks his rise, while mapping the terrain of the social media influencer landscape today through its stars, agents, promoters, and fans.
Jawline is an unnerving film, but not a sneering one; Mandelup never looks down on her subjects. Instead, she tries to pry apart the gates of their world to see what’s running behind the scenes. And the answer, as in many human endeavors, is simple: People want human connection and love.
Jawline will premiere on Hulu on August 23.
Midnight in Paris
The seniors of Flint Northern High School in Flint, Michigan, are getting ready for graduation, sure. But more importantly — at least to them — they’re also getting ready for prom. The theme: “Midnight in Paris.” As the teenagers talk about their plans in the week leading up to the big day, Midnight in Paris captures a moment in a high school that has since been closed, in a city that’s experienced plenty of hardship. But that’s not the film’s focus; instead, it’s about the dreams, desires, and exuberance of youth.
Midnight in Paris is awaiting distribution.
Selah and the Spades
Selah and the Spades contains echoes of high school movies like Heathers and Mean Girls, but with a twist: It tries to probe the psychology of a character who would normally be a villain. Selah (Lovie Simone) is a senior at the elite boarding school Haldwell and the head of one of five gangs that each plays a designated role in the school’s social ecosystem. When a new girl named Paloma (Celeste O’Connor) arrives at the school, Selah takes her under her wing — but Selah has lessons of her own to learn. At times Selah and the Spades’ stylized aesthetics overtake its storytelling, but the film is a strong debut for writer and director Tayarisha Poe.
Selah and the Spades is awaiting distribution.
Easily one of the best films I’ve seen this year, South Mountain is the wise, sometimes bitter, sometimes overwhelmingly emotional tale of a woman learning to fall out of love. Lila (Talia Balsam) and Edgar (Scott Cohen) live in the Catskills with their teenage children. Life is tranquil there — but when that sense of tranquility is suddenly shattered by a revelation, Lila is forced to reckon with both what she believes about herself and how she plans to live now.
South Mountain is a bit like a coming-of-age film for middle age, and each scene feels vibrantly alive; director and writer Hilary Brougher has crafted a world in which nothing is cleanly resolved but a future is still possible.
South Mountain is awaiting distribution.