Bronx World Film Cycle, Winter 2013

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Original Image: Walter Krochmal
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@ Bronx World Film Cycle 2013

Bronx World Film Cycle 2013: Reflections on a Landmark Third Year

for New York City’s Central-American-Flavored Film and Arts Event

 

by Walter Krochmal

 

“In the future, you’ll probably see less and less of what we recognize as cinema on multiplex screens and more and more of it in smaller theaters, online, and, I suppose, in spaces and circumstances that I can’t predict.” (Martin Scorcese, in an open letter to his daughter Francesca Scorcese published in L’Espresso)

 

The Bronx, New York. April 15, 2014. – These perceptive words by the master filmmaker keep ringing in my ears as I reflect on Bronx World Film’s milestone third year of existence, which we celebrated with our annual Cycle screening event last December 14th and 15th. They succinctly express my thinking when I imagined this organization many years ago, and the more I think about them, the deeper it strikes me: We’re helping build the future, and it unexpectedly looks a lot like the past.

 

We launched in 2011 at La Nacional (Spanish Benevolent Society) on West 14th Street in Manhattan, our host venue ever since. Partnering with this long-time New York institution, a last remnant of Manhattan’s Spanish enclave, gave us the freedom in turn to plan and enrich the Cycle, our flagship screening event. The multiuse space with its screening room/theater, gallery and reception, along with the many communities the organization serves, Hispanic and otherwise, shaped the Cycle into a curated film event paired with an art exhibit, live theatrical/musical performances, a crafts display and a sampling of gourmet delicacies. Every year its signature becomes more defined, part old-style town fair and part global arts village. The spotlight on films from the Central American isthmus in a setting reminiscent of the region, mixed with works by local and international filmmakers, has helped us create a strong aesthetic signature that can also serve as a model for other such “spaces I can’t predict,” as Mr. Scorcese calls them.

 

We took another figurative leap into the marriage of past and future in 2013 with the first entry we accepted for the Cycle, the short film titled La invasión whose maker, the sharp-eyed young Guatemalan named Jaime Fernández, expresses an archetypal Central American sensibility filtered through contemporary technology. Training his iPhone camera on the flying insects and pets in his backyard, he shapes a story with a rising dramatic structure, sets it to a rousing World Music-style score and distills an “actorless, budget-free” mini-epic. With La invasión setting the tone, we then found other challenging films based in the natural world, one made of images from a camera coupled to a microscope, many others produced by collectives. This last, an increasing phenomenon reflecting the worldwide financial crisis, echoes the ant colony that stars in La invasión.

 

As the Cycle has taken on shape from its mother venue, programming also comes from all unexpected quarters, sometimes in nerve-racking last-minute fashion. The event always includes a strong dance film, yet with December approaching we still had nothing in that slot … until Deirdre Towers appeared on our radar with not one but two exquisite dance films, both shot in New York (one in The Bronx no less), both of which we premiered and neither of which she herself had ever seen before on the big screen. Little by little it all came together including animation, works with political underpinnings, showings from the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. Many come through our growing network of supportive film artists from all over the world who understand and appreciate the peculiar mix and mission that we have set for ourselves.

 

Bronx World Film Cycle 2013 showed 34 films from 8 different countries by 22 directors (many returnees from previous years), lasting from a few seconds to feature length and encompassing reality, suspense drama, noir, avant garde and other genres. We presented a lineup of world-class musicians, singers and performers, a dance troupe and a poetry ensemble, strengthening and deepening the multidisciplinary community ties that we have to build in order to encourage local film making industries. As word spread of the event, friends arranged donations of finger foods, Central Americans from the New York area who didn’t know about us registered various degrees of shock when calling in to inquire and some showed up for the screenings, the filmmakers with their respective followings expressed their approval through our social media platforms and and before you know it, the day of the event arrived.

 

A heavy snowstorm fell on the city beginning in the wee hours of Saturday December 14th, yet we opened our doors at mid-morning as scheduled and went on to draw our largest, most diverse audience yet, some 200 people over 2 days without counting performers. They settled at the back of the house to watch, respectfully and attentively until the closing Meet the Filmmaker forum on Sunday. People who had waited a seeming lifetime for the world premiere of Chris Raffaele’s epic Bronx feature The Grasslands erupted in cheers when producer Giancarlo Lorusso explained how they got it made in 10 years for under half a million dollars. One filmmaker stated simply that the films “stay with you.” Another, responding to comments about how some of the films could not be effectively subtitled due to the difficulty of their dense Spanish vernacular, countered that the skillful storytelling made subtitles unnecessary.

 

In our third year, we now boast of a film screening event with a strongly idiosyncratic identity that has claimed its niche in New York City’s arts landscape; we have developed a sense of intimacy and wide reach across the spectrum of human creativity and industry -- a necessary confluence for arthouse film industries to prosper -- that we believe will allow us to intelligently mine the inexhaustible resource of human imagination. Therein lies the key to unlocking community potential for sustained growth and prosperity, drawing a world of possibilities along with it.

 

We have the opportunity to come into our own now because of our early focus on those unpredictable “spaces and circumstances.” In a relatively short time, we have spun off a mobile, scalable program that other communities can appropriate and customize with their own artists and resources. We have assembled a catalogue of unique arthouse films suitable for a variety of audiences. We have begun to avail ourselves of underused public and private facilities suited to our programs and turned them into community venues at little cost; and we’ve also helped create spaces for vibrant local communities that do not have a strong voice in New York City’s arts scene, taking the Central American community as our starting point. These achievements will certainly energize us as we enter a critical year, with the objective of strengthening our administrative structures and continuing to make our mark on the city we love and the world of film.