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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Thoughts on the 2016 Harlem International Film Festival

This weekend, I attended the Harlem International Film Festival because it is easy to get to from my home of Astoria, the tickets are just $13 (as opposed to other festivals that charge $16 for 90-minute feature films), and I like to support talented POC filmmakers.

I saw an indie film called Good Funk, about interconnected stories in Red Hook with ordinary people facing incoming gentrification and raising rents and displacement. It was good, but not great. I felt like the character development was lacking and I easily forgot people's backstories, names, or motivations, and I really only cared about two characters out of the ensemble cast. The filmmaker was trying to cover too much drama and characters in a 70-minute long movie, and should have cut down the ensemble cast or better fleshed out the characters. I did like the talented cast, though, and the film had beautiful cinematography that made Brooklyn look great.

The film was preceded by an emotionally wrought short film called MBFF, shown from the POV of a abused dog going from dogfighting to a kill shelter to being adopted to protecting his owner. The film was great at putting the audience in the dog's head and seeing life through its eyes, and I felt more sympathetic and affected by this dog's story arc than I did about some of the people in the feature film.

I also saw a selection of sci-fi short films, the program was titled Sunday Shorts - Surreal Sci-Fi. I really enjoyed seeing how the films worked within the science fiction genre and made it thought-provoking and creative. The films varied from being about an abusive relationship with fantasy sequences as a coping method (Shen); technology that allows people to hack each other's brains and take over their bodies from a remote area (Neurophreak); an animated Brazilian film about a werewolf terrorizing lost migrant workers in the jungle (Tussle in the Backwoods); a soldier suffering from PTSD and mental illness (In Vivo); and a woman mentally time travelling to prevent her mother's murder (Ghosts in Time).

The program ended abruptly after 80 minutes, and I saw there were about 3 more films on the bill, but for some reason they weren't shown, maybe due to unavailability or time constraints. Still, I was glad to go and check out the festival this weekend. The last film festival I attended was BAMcinemaFEST from last year when I was a BAM archive intern, and I like checking out indie films on Netflix, especially if they don't have huge names in them and have intriguing storylines.

I like to see movies that have not only more racially diverse casts, but also tell a variety of stories, and don't just portray POC as victims of racism, as the Oscars seem to prefer those movies more over character-driven, complex stories, which the independent film scene more often showcases. Netflix is a great source for those movies, as are VOD, film festivals, and PBS.

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