NEW YORK, May 17 — New York directors Noah Baumbach and the Safdie brothers, who have films in the running for this year’s Palme d’Or in Cannes, spotlight the vitality of independent cinema in America’s cultural capital.
Thousands of miles from the bright lights of Hollywood, New York has for decades been an inspiration for greats in US cinema, a tradition that binds Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese to today’s independent community.
They meet at the KGB, a bar in the East Village, or at showings at the Film Forum, which has been welcoming cinema lovers for nearly 50 years on Houston Street.
“There’s absolutely a circle of film geeks,” said filmmaker Nathan Silver, who moved from Massachusetts to the Big Apple just days before the September 11, 2001 attacks and whose latest film Thirst Street is just out.
“A lot of directors are using the same cinematographers, composers. I rather enjoy it. I like being able to go to a movie and recognize everyone who’s in the theatre.”
Fellow New Yorker Oscar Boyson has co-produced two of Baumbach’s films and two feature films with Josh and Benny Safdie, including Good Time — the bank robber flick in the running for this year’s Palme d’Or.
“It feels that there’s a lot of support and people do assist each other,” said Jonathan Wacks, founding director and professor at New York’s Barry R. Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema, the only film school in the United States built on a working film lot.
“It feels different from (Los Angeles) in that regard. In LA, people are very scattered. They’re fighting their own battles,” added Wacks.
Housed at the Steiner Studios in Brooklyn, it opened in 2015, the first public graduate film school in New York.
If New York is nearly always represented one way or another at Cannes, it is the first time in years that two director teams, so closely identified with the city are going head to head in the competition lineup.
Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories, stars Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman, and is a comedy about siblings dealing with an aging father. Ben and Joshua Safdie’s Good Time stars Jennifer Jason Leigh and Robert Pattinson.
Other luminaries in the contemporary New York indy cinema world are Geremy Jasper, part of this year’s Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes, Laura Poitras, who won the 2015 Oscar for best feature documentary, Bennett Miller, who won best director at Cannes in 2014 and Benh Zeitlin, who won the Golden Camera in Cannes in 2012.
Part of the vitality stems from the state’s offer in 2004 of tax incentives to encourage that tradition of cinema and television production to grow further.
The Steiner Studios, which opened in 2004 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, is the largest in the United States outside Hollywood. In Queens, the Kaufman Astoria Studios, built in 1920, is working flat out.
“The industry went bananas,” said Wacks. “It’s now an US$8 billion (RM34.5 billion) industry,” he told AFP of the push to make the New York film industry more indigenous and less dependent on flying out people from Los Angeles.
The Feirstein takes students from diverse backgrounds, including those who can’t afford more established film programs at New York University or Columbia, the two biggest colleges in New York.
“We think of ourselves as being idea-driven rather than technical driven,” said Wacks.
The school has only four full-time faculty, but last year, 62 different people taught at Feirstein, many of whom live in New York.
“It’s certainly not true for all New York filmmakers, but there is a tradition in New York cinema of talking,” said John Vanco, senior vice president and general manager of the IFC Center, one of the main art house cinemas in the city.
Inspiration comes also from the city’s nervous energy, its metropolitan bustle and from the streets.
“You’re constantly running into bizarre people and bizarre situations because everyone is squeezed in tight places with a bunch of strangers,” said Silver.
A lot have a love-hate relationship with the city of 8.5 million that feeds their creative juices.
“It drives me out of my mind but in the right way,” said Silver. — AFP