Picture Farm Film Festival This Weekend (2/8-9)

This is shaping up to be a big weekend full of cool stuff to do in North Brooklyn. Besides our very own Valentine’s Day Market, Gallery Night, and tons more, there is an exciting new film festival taking place February 8th & 9th hosted by Picture Farm – and it’s FREE. Read on for more details and some interviews with the festival organizer and film makers.

The film festival is brand new this year, but don’t confuse its recency with any lack of ambition. It is a FREE two-day event, sponsored by Brooklyn Brewery, Fast Ashleys Studios, 11th Street Workshop and Vita Coco. It takes place at the Picture Farm HQ located at 338 Wythe Ave (between S 1st & S 2nd), and the programming lasts each day from 2:00 to 9:00 PM.

The lineup includes two features to open and close the festival, three blocks of shorts, and a pair of documentaries Saturday night. Go here to read more.

There will be several Q&A sessions with filmmakers, too. “Instead of running like a traditional cinema space, we’re keeping the doors open all day so people can come and go as they please,” says organizer Eleanor Wilson. “Who doesn’t want to spend a winter’s afternoon/ evening watching films for free in a cozy environment?”

I completely agree and am very much looking forward to this festival. I had the chance to speak with Eleanor and also Jeremy Waltman and Adam Lucas, the director and writer of Locomotive (opens the festival Saturday at 3:00) and Sarah Lewis, part of the collective Lewis Forever that made Sister (closes the festival Sunday at 6:30). Here’s what each had to say.

Eleanor Wilson, Picture Farm Festival Organizer

GP: Can you tell me more about Picture Farm as an organization? 

Eleanor: Picture Farm is predominantly a production company. We produce print and video shoots, feature films, documentaries, and art films, but ever since we moved into our space here on Wythe Ave, we have also become somewhat of a community art/ craft/ film/ meeting/ teaching space. Our office space adapts and transforms as various people come in and out of it, making it their own. Our gallery provides a space where artists could show their work, but doesn’t charge for using it or take a percentage of sales. 

GP: What made you decide to put on a film festival?

Eleanor: The film festival is the next thought that went along with our goals. It’s hard for emerging filmmakers to get an audience for their films, so it was important to us to make it free to submit their films and no door charge for the audience. We’re lucky to have Brooklyn Brewery and Vita Coco on board as sponsors so no one will go thirsty! We wanted to do something that was more filmmaker focused, particularly local. There’s a good mix of films in our program: straight narrative, super weird art films, highly experimental, and music driven. We wanted to give an audience to some films that might not be seen in your average film festival and show our audience something new and fun. When you’re doing a free festival, you can take a few more risks with the programming. We really liked that freedom.

GP: Besides organizing the festival, are you and other Picture Farm people participating in it?

Eleanor: Yeah, a lot of us here at PF are part time filmmakers as well, so we thought we’d shamelessly include our films! I wrote and directed “Possum” which was edited by one of our editors here Janne Harlem. One of the partners, Todd Stewart, has an awesome experimental short in the program  “Smallish Bouts Of Moving Image And Sound”, another editor Jon Franco was behind “CodeHackerz”. And Two Lanes was an all out PF weekend collaboration. We like making stuff.

GP: Do you engage with the local community in Brooklyn any other ways?

Eleanor: Yes! We have been heavily involved in Hurricane Sandy response and various community fundraisers, for example, some of the local schools. Occasionally on weekends the space becomes an art/craft school or a pop up shop. There’s always something happening. All the goings on here can be found on our gallery blog.

GP: What are some things we can expect to see in the festival? What comes from outside NYC?

Eleanor: We had people submit shorts and features from all over the country, which was really exciting. “Beyond Belief” is a favorite from one of our out-of-towners, William J Stribling. It’s a comedy about a failing, adulterous magician, starring an actual magician (R.J. Lewis)! Also the short documentary “Shakuhachi”, by New Zealand filmmaker Michael Hobbs is a beautiful portrait of a man and a forgotten art. That’s playing on Saturday night with “The Pierced Heart & The Machete”, by Olivia Wyatt, shot in Haiti.

GP: And what are some local highlights?

Eleanor: Ha, almost everyone has ties to North Brooklyn in the indie film world! But of those who are actually based here, I’m particularly excited to be showing Vincent Skeltis’ “Sometimes I Lie” about a cross dressing performance artist, which was shot all around the neighborhood, and Braden King’s “Home Movie”, about a woman having to get on with her duties as a mother, despite her personal pain. “Night Bridge”, by James Kendi was actually shot partially on the Williamsburg Bridge, and Joshua Deeter’s “Be Serious” was shot around the neighborhood with a bunch of locals.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? If that’s not enough, check out my conversations with the filmmakers of the festival’s features. Interestingly, both films have strong connections to music. As the music editor of Greenpointers and a big fan of film, I thought it would be great it to learn more about the films and their creators’ views on how the two art forms intersect, as well as collaboration.

Jeremy Waltman & Adam Lucas, Director and Writer of “Locomotive”

Described as “A former straight-edge musician who took some minor success from a band he started years ago tries to reconnect after his solo career as a DJ takes a dive. Unfortunately, the band found a following without him, so he falls back on a former love interest, a groupie for the band, who he also left behind. A film that ask the audience to judge the characters.” Jeremy and Adam have been friends from a young age and worked with a tight knit team of collaborators to independently produce their first feature film.

GP: What were some of the sources of inspiration, film and otherwise, that made you want to make films?

Jeremy: Comics played a pretty large role in getting the ball rolling. Then there are tent poles like Kurosawa, Bergman, and even the original Star Wars. Those grouping of films have a consistency of ideas, both visual and textual.  But in the end you direct to control the ideas, the writing. You want to shepherd everything for consistency and to be sure there’s a continuity of quality.

Adam: I want to tell stories because I owe that back. The novel As I Lay Dying; the movie Vertigo; the album 69 Love Songs by The Magnetic Fields; even recently, the movie Her all found me when I needed them, and took some weight off my shoulders long enough for me to get back up. I can’t pay those stories back, but I can hopefully create stories that carry those burdens for someone else when they need it.

GP: I am always inspired by stories of true collaboration, and it was thrilling to read about how much of that seemed part of your process. Can you say anymore about collaboration and your goals in working with others?

Adam: We built An Open Place to be a collaborative environment, where everyone is encouraged to contribute to the movie as a whole, rather than just within their specific role, so when we look for collaborators, we’re drawn to people who think like storytellers. We work with people who aren’t daunted by complications, but instead use those opportunities to find a way to tell the same story, better. That’s very important on movies where extra money or time aren’t easy solutions.

Jeremy: Before Locomotive, I’d just finished a graphic novel and a gallery show run that left me at zero for whatever was going to come next. I’d been doing shorts and it just became the next logical extension to head towards a movie. You grab the people you’ve been talking to about movies since you were twelve and see what you can come up with. A band is the nearest creative concept you can equate it with, how it functions now. The group we’ve been building toward are all talented, good-natured, all-hands-on-deck kind of people. If they’re not, they don’t stay around. Right now, we’re in the phase of adding the trombone and sax sections.

GP: The film is described as an exploration of topics you were interested in like “the fragility of relationships” and “the ability of art makers, in this case musicians, to reshape their reality.” What made musician the choice for the protagonist, as opposed to any other type of artist?

Adam: You’ll find those topics in all our movies. Problems caused by peoples’ inability to communicate is another common topic. Choosing a musician as the artist was less thematic, and more about that inability to communicate. For me, music is the most direct and most openly-emotional art form. And yet somehow Dicey has trouble expressing both of those things. That’s part of the exploration of the film.

GP: The press kit mentions that “the look of the film is inspired by the DIY punk rock scene of the 1980s.” Besides its visual style, were there any other ways you channeled the spirit of punk music? Did it inform any character or narrative choices?

Jeremy: I think the idea of indie film is punk. There’s no large machinery to support you, and so what you’re left with is what you’re willing to put in. Because you’re living in those terms you’re pretty close to the characters who come out of that place. That ends up impacting the narrative more than you’re consciously aware of as you’re going through it.

Adam: The earliest punk music was a reaction to the excesses of mainstream rock in the ‘70s. To an extent, indie film functions the same way against the blockbuster movie. It avoids indulgence, and instead tells small, minimal stories not based on grand concepts, but on simple ideas. In Locomotive, that idea is exploring why people engage in damaging relationships.

GP: What are some of your favorite musical scenes, soundtracks, or scores in film? Or filmmakers that use music in ways that really inspire you?

Jeremy: I’ve been going on about Yojimbo’s opening theme for days now in editing The Retreat [their forthcoming film]. We’re not trying to score anything that sounds remotely like it, but there’s something about the fact that it’s so modern and unique, and still fits that period film perfectly. Surprising, really. Gettysburg, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, and Requiem for a Dream all have scores that get reused, not just in commercials, but in other people’s’ films. I think those pieces work because they have a little bit of stand-out in them. If we’re talking in general, one of the best uses of music in film has to be Kubrick bringing in symphonic classics.  But if there are any films that have a similar use of music to Locomotive, maybe it’s Sean Penn’s The Indian Runner with it’s great music montage sequence living in between a lot of silence.

Adam: The Indian Runner is an interesting example, because it’s a movie based entirely on one song, “Highway Patrolman” by Bruce Springsteen. And in fact the album Nebraska, from which that song comes, is a great inspiration for me in terms of how story and music can inform each other. In tone and narrative, that album and Locomotive are brothers. Thinking now about songs specifically, what comes to mind is Bob Dylan in the opening credits of Watchmen, Peter Gabriel in Say Anything, Derek and the Dominoes in Goodfellas, Roy Orbison in Blue Velvet, Vera Lynn in Dr. Strangelove… there are so many examples of how songs in film aren’t just tonal or cool, but actually help tell the story. In Locomotive, we only hear Dicey’s DJ tracks when he’s lost in self-doubt. And that’s a subtle example.

Sarah Lewis, Production and Performer for “Sister”

This film “delves into the darker aspects of kinship and reduces the complexity of difficult interactions between sisters down to the actions of killing and being killed. Everything is stripped down to the brutal basics and dialogue and color are absent from the film allowing space for multiple readings. It’s a 24-hour performance filmed and composed in camera. Each scene was blocked, lit, performed and captured in real time in sequential order. It was shot on the outskirts of Berlin.” Like Locomotive, Sister was made of a tight group, this time featuring sisters, Ligia Manuela Lewis, Isabel Lewis, Sarah Lewis, and brother George Lewis Jr., who provided the live score, plus a team of collaborators.

Sarah was working in Latvia this week and couldn’t answer all the questions I had sent, but she was able to provide a few responses.

GP: What were some of the sources of inspiration, film and otherwise, that made you want to make films?

Sarah: Well actually the choice to make a film came from our inability to all be together for an extended period of time; i.e. we did not have months to create a live performance. So we thought that the best and most efficient way might be to seclude ourselves somewhere remote for a  couple of weeks and, based on some ideas we had researched and spoken about via email beforehand (we really wanted to make some sort of horror film which in a way was a metaphor to the way a familial collaborative process can be), make a film. It would be a format that could then travel by itself without us, and live past our inability to meet together as a collective. We also knew that George aka Twin Shadow would not be able to take part because of his touring schedule so the idea became to make a silent film that we shot throughout the course of 26 hours straight, that could later be scored by George. 

Its sort of poetic that throughout the course of the film we (the sisters) are killing each other over and over again but there is always a resurrection. Also when we added the live music element it was a sort of resurrection. So even though we haven’t been able and/or willing to work together since the film, Lewis Forever somehow never dies.

GP: Could you tell me more about Lewis Forever as a performance collective?

Sarah: We actually started off a long time ago in our parents living room creating hour long epic performances to entertain ourselves from the boring, small, white, and conservative town we grew up in. We formed this collective in Berlin in 2006 when we were asked very last minute to perform as a group for a friend’s party. We got high off the performance and thought to do more things together. Since then we have premiered at PS122, had a residency at the New Museum, and just did a screening of Sister for the city of Chicago’s OnEdge Festival, where George aka Twin Shadow scored the film live for the first time. 

GP: I am always inspired by stories of true collaboration, and it was cool to read about how Lewis Forever has such a strong familial component. I was curious though, if there was an “extended family” of anyone else that helped make the film?

Sarah: The cast and crew in alphabetical order: Camilla Carper, Alex Coggin, Johan Mijail, Castillo Guillén, George Lewis Jr., Isabel Lewis, Ligia Manuela Lewis, Sarah Lewis, Josep Maynou, Michael Norton, Amy Patton, Anthony Rocco, Mercè Salom.

About Stephen F

Stephen does economic development for North Brooklyn businesses and writes about music at the online site Those Who Dig. He's only ever lived in Greenpoint while in NYC and he hopes it stays that way.

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