Last week, the Brooklyn Film Festival kicked off its 19th year of showcasing local and international feats of independent cinema in a handful of venues, including two Greenpoint landmarks: The Wythe Hotel and Windmill Studios. With a number of networking events and screenings, there’s plenty of action for filmmakers, film supporters, and film lovers to get into this week.

This year’s festival premieres 12 narrative features, 24 narrative shorts, 9 feature documentaries, 18 short docs, 25 animated and 20 experimental films. The theme is “Experiment.”

With our 20th anniversary around the corner, the festival feels like floating in mid-air between our history and our plans for the future. It is this subtle sense of instability that fuels “Experiment” Edition. The experiment is reinventing ourselves, it is about allowing the unknown, and it’s about paying attention to the youngest storytellers. Every year we launch a new generation of talent, and this year’s selection is as experimental as mind-altering.

We were able to snag one of these new talents, Michael Irish, whose breezy serio-comedy narrative feature, Life of Significant Soil, premiered on Wednesday at Windmill Studios. The film portrays a disintegrating relationship as a young couple tries to escape what seems to be the endless cycle that is their last day together. It succeeds in reminding you of the maddening feeling of recognizing the inevitable monotony of a ruined relationship. It also succeeds in simply making you laugh, much to the credit of both the writing and the performance. The title comes from T.S. Eliot’s poem The Dry Salvages, which Irish says is about “spiritual or supernatural repetition” — a clear theme in the film.

Irish speaks to us a bit about what it’s like being among the Brooklyn filmmaking community, and how to make a film on the cheap.


Greenpointers: Where did the story for the film come from?

Michael Irish: I guess, more than anything, it came from a breakup. I can’t necessarily say which one. Not for privacy reasons or anything like that, I’d just hate to give credit to one person specifically. There are likely a myriad of relationships that informed this.

GP: How long did it take you to write it? 

MI: It’s funny, I sort of have to access some weird part of my brain to think of the process from beginning to end – almost like some pussy artsy form of PTSD. The first draft was in June of 2010. The development was slow and casual, though. I wasn’t constantly telling people I was working on a screenplay I was going to shoot. It happened in baby steps, and it wasn’t done and fully realized for probably 2 years after.

GP: What was the budget? How did you raise the money?

MI: My [friend] is always telling me to be vague about the budget to make people think we had more than we did. So his answer is “under a million.” My answer is: $18,500… I raised $5,000 through Kickstarter, the rest was just my being very good at saving money.

GP: What other film work have you done in the past?

MI: I’ve literally only ever written and directed my own films. I just really like working for myself, I guess. I’ve made a few other films, but this is my first feature and my first world premiere.

GP: How do you see the filmmaking community in Brooklyn?

MI: I can tell you that my favorite people to talk to in the world are other Brooklyn filmmakers. There’s such an understanding of what it is I am trying to do — the conversations are always right to the point and interesting. I guess this is what it feels like to meet people who are in the same field as you? That really hasn’t happened to me much. In terms of support, there’s just not a lot of help anyone can give. It’s not like growing up in a smaller city where you could just go shoot wherever you wanted and your friends will hold the boom for you just to be nice. We all have rent and jobs and stresses and an incredibly expensive ambition. So while I love the scene and am happy to be considered a part of it – I’m under no illusions that the supportive DIY scene doesn’t really exist in Brooklyn in terms of actual production. But maybe I’m wrong and will be pleasantly surprised during my next film. There are certainly very supportive outlets for your final product, and that’s something that’s very unique and very beneficial about Brooklyn.

GP: Advice for aspiring filmmakers?

MI: I’m still looking for advice myself. But I would say, as a general rule, don’t put films on credit cards. There are no sure things, it’s very easy to end up with nothing when it’s all done, and all you did for yourself was make it harder to make the next one. Surely there’s a cheaper idea out there that can satisfy your creativity all the same.

GP: What made you decide to have the Brooklyn Film Festival premiere the film?

MI: Someday maybe I’ll be at a point where I can decide where I premiere, but this decision was theirs. And I’m thrilled by it. When they called to ask if they could have the premiere I played it very cool on the phone, then hung up and started calling everyone I knew. It’s a great fest and they’ve been so awesome. I would have said yes to anyone, though. I’m too close to this film to have any perception of what it’s worth to anyone else. Just got lucky it happened to be a prestigious fest on the other end of the line.

Life of Significant Soil is also screening at the Wythe Hotel TOMORROW NIGHT at 10PM. Here’s the full schedule of the festival. Go before it’s cool.

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