Last weekend, Rooftop Films kicked off their 2014 season with a night of shorts on Friday and the feature Obvious Child on Saturday. I went to Industry City on Saturday night for the screening and had a great time. I’m ready to convince you to see Obvious Child when it opens in regular movie theaters in a few weeks and to check out as many Rooftop Films as you can this summer.Rooftop Films is a huge asset to the independent film community. One of their signatures is the summer series, sometimes called “Underground Movies Outdoors.” 2014 will be the 18th year that the organization has put together a three month slate of an eclectic range of independent films at venues all over the city. While not every screening is literally on a rooftop, all are in places that utilize distinct locations in NYC, allowing a wide range of film enthusiasts to congregate en masse to check out creative works in stimulating settings. I tell you, there is something special about watching a great film outside with a big crowd. Each film usually features a band before the show and an afterparty, so you can make a full night of it.
The summer series kicked off last weekend. As I mentioned earlier, Friday night was a slate of short films and Saturday night was a sneak preview screening of Obvious Child, which stars Jenny Slate (see what I did there?). Both were at Industry City in Sunset Park. I went with some friends on Saturday, and though a little bit chilly, I dug the experience and the film. Industry City is unsurprisingly a section of the neighborhood composed of huge factories and warehouses. We had anticipated climbing one of the old behemoths to its roof, but the screening actually took place in a courtyard, where hundreds of chairs and a large screen were set. Shortly after we arrived, the band Rumors played a 30 minute set. It was revealed afterwards that a member of the band, the bassist I think, composed the music for the film, so that was cool connection.
I enjoyed Obvious Child for many reasons. The most obvious is Jenny Slate’s strong performance. I knew she was funny, but seeing her carry this film was impressive. She is in every scene, and the film is in part a showcase for her to be hilarious – she plays a standup and we see her act several times, not to mention that in many of her social interactions she seems to be “on” – but with all the situations that quickly befall her character, including getting dumped, losing her job, and getting pregnant, Jenny can show off a depth of emotion and character nuance that mesmerizes. Sure, her character Donna is a mess and imperfect, but you feel for her. And if you are of a certain age and live in the city, you will probably find yourself relating to her.
Besides Jenny Slate, the film has a small but excellent supporting cast, including Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann, Richard Kind, David Cross, and Gabe Liedman, who really cracked me up. Let me also say that Jake and Jenny had good chemistry. Much of the film was shot in North Brooklyn; McGolrick Park and my friend was convinced they used Coco 66 for some exteriors at the very least. I liked how well the standup was integrated into the plot and story. For example, as Donna’s world was crumbling, she became more honest in her standup set, and the catharsis was undeniable. And while I won’t say anything about what happens regarding the pregnancy, I will say that film made choices that felt true and fresh and satisfying. The film is named for a Paul Simon song, which is used in a memorable scene. And once again, the movie is really funny.
The director and writer of this film was Gillian Robespierre. She had originally made this film as a short before gaining funding (including some from Rooftop Films) to expand to a feature. How do I know this? She was present, along with Jenny Slate and one of the film’s producers, for a Q&A after the film. I also learned that Gillian saw Jenny do comedy at the Big Terrific show (which she co-founded along with Gabe, and which continues weekly despite them having moved to LA) and “knew she either had to get her in the film or be her best friend.” My favorite piece of information was how she wanted to make a romantic comedy that felt more real than the standard fare. There’s no question the team succeeded. If you missed this event, fear not. The film will open in NYC soon, June 6th to be exact, so you can and should go check it out.
And as for Rooftop Films, the summer series is only getting started. You can view a full schedule here. It looks like a stellar lineup of interesting films. There will be shorts made by local filmmakers and features with bigger name actors and/or directors – though all are independent. Here are a few that I have my on:
- So far, there are two events taking place in North Brooklyn at the Automotive High School on Bedford Avenue across from McCarren Park. The first is Appropriate Behavior on 7/31, about a Iranian-American bisexual woman trying to fit in. The other is The One I Love on 8/14. This stars Elisabeth Moss of Mad Men and Mark Duplass as a married couple attempting to salvage their relationship with a weekend getaway. It’s the directorial debut of Charlie McDowell, son of Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen.
- This weekend is stacked, with We Are the Best tonight in Clinton Hill and The Infinite Man tomorrow at the Old American Can Factory. Both films really intrigue me. The first is the story of a pre-teen all-girl punk band and the second involves time travel deployed to fix relationship issues.
- Some events are free, such as a night of Sundance Shorts on 6/6 and a screening of Five Star on 6/27, about a five star general in the Bloods gang and a young man deciding whether or not to enter gang life.
- Other events just seem like they’d be worth it for the setting alone. Did you even know the Socrates Sculpture Park existed, let alone that it would be showing a film from New Zealand called The Deadly Ponies Gang (7/16) and an enthnographic feature on a tribe in the Congo, Forest of the Dancing Spirits (8/6)?
Seriously, the whole schedule looks awesome. Once again, here it is. Get outside and watch some great independent films this summer.