Still from Tonitas, courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival.

Still from Tonitas, courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival.

“Brooklyn is exploding right now,” says Nathan Kensinger, and he should know. For months, the documentary filmmaker and photographer has been working hard on the lineup for the 17th annual Brooklyn Film Festival, which kicks off this Friday.

It’s Kensinger’s fifth year working as a programming director for the festival, which prides itself on screening “things that mainstream theaters aren’t showing”: there are no studio backed films, and the lineup is typically composed of first or second features. Competition is purely submissions-based, and each year the organizers receive around 2,000 entries. This year, Kensinger and his team of 20 screeners and programmers have selected 107 films.

“We’re really a festival of discovery,” Kensinger points out, proudly. He could hardly find a better spot than Williamsburg (specifically, indieScreen, Wythe Hotel and Windmill Studios) for premiering avant-garde cinema. “It’s a very Brooklyn event,” says Kensinger, “and a festival in the truest sense of the word: celebrating the films and their creators.” He gave us some of his picks, and the local movies to watch.

Spotlight on North Brooklyn: Documentary shorts from the hood
“Damn you, gentrifiers!” May as well be the tagline for the collective offerings from our neighborhood documentarians, as they chronicle the changing face of Williamsburg and Greenpoint.


1. Toñita’s
June 1 and 2
An immersive look at a Caribbean Sports Club in Williamsburg, this film centers on the club’s flamboyant owner and colorful regulars as they battle the neighbourhood’s rapid gentrification. Described by festival organisers as “a love letter to Nuyorican culture.”


2. Peter Pan Bakery
June 1 and 2
A documentary short about “the amazing Greenpoint donut shop,” as Kensinger puts it: another movie focusing on an age-old institution that perseveres in a neighbourhood of constant flux, but this time with a cheery perspective.


3. Third Shift
June 1 and 6
Two former Domino Sugar workers return to the now-defunct refinery on the Williamsburg waterfront, and reminisce about their time there.


4. The Last Bread
June 1 and 2
A paeon to one more victim of gentrification, this documentary focuses on the final days of a small Williamsburg bakery as it prepares to shut its doors after seventeen years in business.

(Plenty of other films in competition hail from various other corners of the borough: check out “I Believe in Unicorns,” “Intimate Semaphores,” “Movement and Location,” and “Victoriana.”)

Picks from further afield

5. The Impeccables
June 2 and 5
A Turkish feature film about two sisters on an angst-ridden visit to their idyllic childhood holiday home. “Turkey has some amazing films coming out right now,” says Kensinger. “It’s a lesser-known film culture that’s just coming into its own.”


6. Traffic Department
June 4 and 7
A top box office hit in Poland, which will celebrate its U.S premiere at the BFF. The film follows the lives of seven officers in Warsaw’s traffic department. The friends’ seemingly fulfilling existence is disturbed when one of them gets murdered, and another becomes a suspect.

7. Boy Saloum
June 1 and June 8

In 2011, a group of Senegalese rappers created a social movement to take on the oppressive government regime. This documentary chronicles their fight to uphold the constitution. “I knew nothing about that story before I saw this film,” says Kensinger, with satisfaction.

Also note:
This year the “BFF Exchange” will provide an afternoon of conversation and networking, with panels on the future of the Brooklyn movie landscape and lessons from the field of collaborative filmmaking.