Summer in the City: REEL NEW YORK, Channel Thirteen's Film Festival

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REEL NEW YORK is Channel Thirteen’s summer film series that has been running for 13 seasons and is an exciting annual survey of independent filmmaking by established and emerging NY filmmakers. The series features classics as well as inspiring new works – all representing the diversity and creativity of the city.

In 1996, when Thirteen postponed production of one its independent film series due to a financial downturn, film advocates Ruby Lerner, Terry Lawler, and Mona Jimenez approached Thirteen’s management and lobbied for more broadcast time for local independent filmmakers. Producer Garrison Botts, who had recently joined the station, was given the task of developing a local film series. Together with Lerner, Lawler and Jimenez, along with local independent film organizations, they decided to model it after San Fransisco’s KQED program.. As Botts recalls: “together we drew up a proposal for such a series and presented it to station management. They liked it, supported it, and gave us about 6 weeks to get it up and on the air. The first year was a little rocky, but then we smoothed things out.”

An advisory board was set up that included many NY based independent film organizations. The idea to show important but rarely seen avant garde classics came out of an early board meeting and was quickly advocated. Botts remembers “…at the time there was no streaming and downloading and many of the earlier video and film works were in archives at NY’s Donnell Media Library or MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) and had never been transferred to video for us to broadcast. At first it was difficult to find historical material that was television ready, but now it is much easier with everyone preserving and digitizing.”

After a couple of seasons, REEL NEW YORK started producing short introductions with the filmmakers, offering the audience further insight into the filmmakers’ creative process.

To further increase visibility of the films, the REEL NEW YORK programs have been shown at festivals and other institutions in and around NY, including the Woodstock International Film Festival, the Gotham Center for New York History and New York Women in Film and Television. In 2006, MoMA honored REEL NEW YORK with a program of HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE 11th SEASON. The the same year, a program of classic and noteworthy new shorts was invited to Interfilm, the popular Berlin International Short Film Festival.

Botts curated and produced the program for 11 seasons and in 2007 passed the baton to producer/curator Duana Butler. However, Botts continues to be involved as a member of the advisory board, which includes founding members Lawler and Lerner as well as other important NY based curators, advocates, funders and educators like curator and filmmaker Kathy Brew, Deborah Zimmerman,WOMEN MAKE MOVIES, Cynthia Lopez, POV-AMERICAN DOCUMENTARY, Moikgantsi Kgama, IMAGENATION and many more.

This season, Butler received well over 100 submissions and endless recommendations from the independent film community. From that pool, she selected 22 works that will air every Friday shortly after midnight between June 27th and August 1st.
When asked about curating this year’s program, she responded “I look at the films I receive and if I see similar themes emerge, then I program accordingly. This year, there were a number of films related to family, classic New York, and dance.”

And so the series opened on Friday, June 27th with Heather Lyn MacDonald’s award winning documentary BEEN RICH ALL MY LIFE, about the SILVER BELLES, an all female, African-American show dance group that started out in Harlem then went on to tour the States, and still continues to dance and perform to this day, 65 years later.

Continuing the dance theme, the following week, FLYING LESSON was part of a program of short films. An award-winning, delightful short by Brazilian choreographers and filmmakers Rosane Chamecki and Andrea Lerner with Minneapolis based filmmaker and cinematographer Phil Harder. In the film, the two filmmakers, Chamecki and Lerner, practice and then fly through the borough of Brooklyn. The film recently won the Best Experimental Film Award at the Brooklyn International Film Festival. (broadcast Friday, July 4, 12.30 am)

The other full length film this season is a collaboration between documentary legend Albert Maysles and emerging filmmaker Kristen Nutile. Their documentary SALLY GROSS – THE PLEASURE OF STILLNESS features downtown choreographer Sally Gross who has been choreographing dances for over 50 years. The filmmakers follow Gross over the course of one year as she works on a new piece. Part process, part portrait, this film offers the audience insight into the creative process of a true New York artist. (broadcast Friday, July 25, 12.30 am)

And finally to complete the dance theme, a short experimental film titled MAMBO MADNESS by Puerto Rican born filmmaker Adal Maldonado will be broadcast on Friday, July 18th @ 12:30am

This season’s vintage work is provided by veteran filmmaker Michael Blackwood, whose portrait of numerous avant-garde artists and their works is entitled BROADWAY EXPRESS. It is the 1959 portrait of a NY subway line – an intimate, captivating look at the people that ride the train from morning to night from up to downtown and back again. Beautifully shot in black and white, it offers the audience a brief glimpse into a time long since gone. (broadcast Friday July 18th @ 12:30am)

The same evening, the short documentary WILLIAM KLEIN – OUT OF NECESSITY by filmmaker Douglas Sloan will be broadcast. World-known photographer and filmmaker William Klein’s quintessential experimental short film BROADWAY BY LIGHT (1958) was broadcast in a previous REEL NEW YORK season – and Sloan’s portrait of Klein in his own words and images is a fitting addition to the artist’s work. (broadcast Friday July 18th @ 12:30am)

Apart from documentaries, experimental works, animation, classics and short fiction pieces, this season also features a few music videos. SONIC YOUTH – DO YOU BELIEVE IN RAPTURE, by Braden King is not only a music video, but also a requiem for CBGB, NY’s famous East Village music club – which closed in 2006 and is now home to one of designer John Varvatos’ menswear boutiques.
(broadcast Friday July 11th @ 12:30am)

BULLETS IN THE HOOD: A BED STUY STORY by filmmakers Terrence Fisher and Daniel Howard is another documentary that caught my eye. The film tells the tragic story of Timothy Stansbury, a friend of filmmaker Fisher, who was shot by a local police officer and died innocently. Fisher and Howard chronicle family, friends, and the neighborhood during these distressing times and show us a community in shock and despair. (broadcast Friday July 11th @ 12:30am)

Although this season moved to a later spot in the programming schedule, I very much hope that Thirteen remains committed to this spirited series. It is a win-win situation for everyone: the station, the audience, and the filmmakers. The series provides the station with some innovative programming, the audience with a chance to watch some gems of independent filmmaking, and NY filmmakers with a rare but deserved opportunity to have their work broadcast on public television..

For more information on REEL NEW YORK, the upcoming broadcasts as well as to view films from the series, please visit www.thirteen.org/reelny

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About Author

Tanja Meding

Tanja Meding :Since moving to New York from Germany in 2003, Tanja Meding has worked as a producer for Maysles Films and other independent production companies. Amongst others, she produced SALLY GROSS-THE PLEASURE OF STILLNESS by Albert Maysles and Kristen Nutile which aired on WNET/Thirteen and Channel 25 and is now available on DVD from www.reframecollection.org. Since 2007, Tanja has been producing short films by Rosane Chamecki, Andrea Lerner and Phil Harder: JACKIE & JUDY premiered at DANCE ON CAMERA at LINCOLN CENTER was awarded with a PEARL at the POOL 2010 Festival in Berlin. Upcoming this September is a video installation of two new shorts: BOXING and THE COLLECTION at NY's newly opened New York Live Arts building in Chelsea. In addition, Tanja is the co-producer of Gabriella Bier's LOVE DURING WARTIME, a documentary about an Israeli dancer and her Palestinian husband. The film had its US premiere at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival and is distributed in the US through 7th Art Releasing. Furthermore, she is the US co-producer of Pascale Obolo's documentary CALYPSO ROSE, LIONESS OF THE JUNGLE. Currently in development with Claudia Brazzale is RETRACING STEPS, a portrait documentary about a group of international dancers and choreographers and their lives 20 years after they first met in NYC.

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