Tucked away at the corner of East 3rd St. and Avenue B in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Wild Projects offers a haven to aspiring and veteran artists alike. From art exhibitions, live theatre productions, and film screenings, the space hosts a myriad of events throughout the year geared towards promoting social equity through the arts. On November 21, it hosted the final installment of the Fall 2019 Bowery Film Festival, a self-described “radical” festival that champions the work of filmmakers that deviate from mainstream cinematic trends. Paying homage to the venue, the “Wild Projectz” showcase featured twelve short films, followed by six longer screenplays.
Noteworthy in the diversity of perspectives, styles, and content, the films presented in the showcase covered a multitude of topics from race, gender, sexuality, grief, trauma, love, intimacy, and militarism, among others. There was no corner of the contemporary human experience, it seemed, that these films together left untouched. However, given the lack of any intentional thematic grouping, this rich selection of films also felt rather dizzying. Rather than speaking as a unit, the showcase was a cacophony of thoughtful, yet also disorienting voices, in some moments speaking to each other and at others, speaking past one another.
In the midst of this chatter, the tenor of the three short films Blacker, Catch a Girl, and Cheer Up, Charlie proved exceptionally refreshing. Created by Rhett Owen and Eric Lokley, Blacker is actually an episodic comedy series that follows the life of Addison Longwood, an “obnoxious white guy whose life is turned upside down by some actual #blackgirlmagic that causes strangers to see him as black.” Owen and Lokley screened the pilot at the Bowery Film Festival, opening the “Wild Projectz” showcase with thoughtful humor and wit. As they noted in the post-screening Q&A, the inspiration for the project came from a Chris Rock joke: that no white man in the United States would ever want to trade places with him, even though he’s rich. In that way, the series uses comedy to critique contemporary U.S. race relations, demonstrating how racial identity touches every facet of one’s day-to-day life.
Drastically different in both style and tone, Catch a Girl exists at the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality. Directed by LeRon E. Lee, the film follows a group of middle school boys as they navigate the gendered politics of heterosexual courtship and budding romance. Set sometime during the early to mid-90s, the protagonist 11-year old Darius links up with his group of friends as they coax a group of girls their age to play a popular “predator vs. prey” game called “Catch a Girl.” In their boredom, the girls agree to play, and the scene that follows is chaotic yet beautiful. Indeed, the cinematography and score is nearly operatic, and, as the young boys chase the girls throughout their neighborhood, the camera also cuts to the same predatory dynamic (i.e. catcalling) amongst adults. But, just as the film places these dynamics on screen, it also subverts them. One of the younger girls rejects the larger gendered stereotypes at work in the film; in the final moments, she refuses to play the game any longer (outwitting Darius in the process) and instead notes that she is interested in perfecting her athletic skills on the basketball court. Incredibly smart, Catch a Girl recalls the potency of depictions of black youth akin to the Academy Award-winning film Moonlight.
Directed by Carmen LoBue, Cheer Up, Charlie similarly uses levity to provide more critical social commentary. After moving to the big city to pursue her musical aspirations, Charlie puts her dreams on hold in order to support her family back home as her mother undergoes chemotherapy treatment for cancer. But how does Charlie go about sending money to her family? She becomes a drug dealer, selling weed to a variety of customers of different races, classes, and genders. Since Charlie presents as a young, innocent white girl, the film uses ironic humor to critique the disproportionate ways people of color suffer from the distribution and consumption of cannabis. Importantly, the film ties this critique to another: the dysfunctional health care system in the United States and the grotesque reality of having to sell drugs in order to pay for medical care (a theme present in other forms of U.S. entertainment, such as the critically acclaimed series Breaking Bad).
The “Wild Projectz” showcase ended with the announcement of this season’s festival awardees:
Best Short Film: Joe directed by Kaye Tuckerman
Best Documentary: Shekinah Glory – directed by Kristopher Burke
Best Episodic or TV Pilot: Sucked In – directed by Courtney Camerota
Best Experimental Film: ISO – directed by Coco Tolentino
Best Music Video: Orgullo – directed by Dylan Golden
Best Feature Screenplay: Behold – Written by Tom Cavanaugh
Best Short Screenplay: Catch More – Written by Izzi Rassouli
Best Feature Film: Vanilla – Directed by Will Dennis
Congratulations to the Bowery Film Festival for another successful season and for contributing to the rich dynamism of the New York City’s cinema scene! Be sure to follow the festival’s social media accounts for news on the upcoming Spring 2020 line-up.
Keyanah Nurse is the Senior Editor for Honeysuckle Magazine and a PhD candidate in the Department of History at NYU. You can find her musings on love, sex, race, whisky, and makeup on Twitter @KeyanahNurse.