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A Psychedelic, Futuristic, Sometimes Demented Film Festival in Brooklyn

Featuring everyone from Ryan Trecartin to Sandra Bernhard to Merce Cunningham, BAM’s Migrating Forms festival unites the cutting edge in art and film

Absurd bordering on the cartoonish, video artist Ryan Trecartin’s anxious, chaotic films fill us with a panic that only a night stealing a car with a learner’s permit could. His newest hyper-colored spectacle, CENTER JENNY, chronicles the psychedelic rituals of hazing the most recent member to enter a group of disaffected youth.

CENTER JENNY joins a week’s worth of screenings for the avant-garde film festival Migrating Forms, which gathers together the art world and moving image work at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York. Organized by BAMcinématek film programmer Nellie Killian and writer and curator Kevin McGarry, the festival assembles innovative shorts and feature-length films by 36 artists from 15 countries, including two archival 35 mm prints by Johnnie To and Super-8 restorations from Anne Charlotte Robertson, with many directors in person.


Still from CENTER JENNY. Directed by Ryan Trecartin.

The festival’s fifth edition will open tomorrow night with four shorts by Los Angeles–based Trecartin, known for his mescalin-tinged film extravaganzas that celebrate queerness and millennial ennui. Trecartin will appear in person to introduce his newest work, Junior War, Comma Boat, Item Falls, and CENTER JENNY.

The Jennys, as all the girls are called, live in a future world in which cultural appropriation and mindless conformity is de rigueur. Trecartin’s signature, seizure-inducing rapid cuts and hand-held cameras create a sense of existential nausea, which culminates in a final scene of the girls forming a circle around the newest inductee, unenthusiastically coloring her face and body with permanent markers.


Still from See You Next Tuesday. Directed by Drew Tobia.

Almost an exploration of what happens when the girls grow up, director Drew Tobia will premiere his first feature-length film on Saturday, titled See You Next Tuesday. Tobia’s dark comedy centers on Mona, young, single, and pregnant, who suffers a nervous breakdown after losing her job and her apartment. After slashing her boss’s face at the Key Food, drinking herself into oblivion and shouting homophobic slurs at a party, and spray-painting a swastika on her apartment wall the night she gets kicked out, feelings of discomfort turn to dread as Mona’s self-destructive rampage shatters everyone in its path, including her egotistic sister and recovering addict mother.


Still from The Unity of All Things. Directed by Daniel Schmidt and Alexander Carver.

On Friday, the festival will premiere The Unity of All Things, the filmmaking debut by directors Daniel Schmidt and Alexander Carver. This 98-minute extended meditation on the origin of life follows the downfall of a team working on an underground particle accelerator. Alongside the destruction of the project’s coordinator is the narrative of her young twin sons, whose borderline incestuous, homoerotic relationship mirrors the demented story of their uncle’s government-enforced copulation with peasants to create a more beautiful race. But the 16 mm film grain blurs the details of each scene, softening the sinister implications of eugenics and the apocalypse, and turns the film into a lucid dream that hovers on the edge of science fiction.


Still from From Gulf to Gulf to Gulf. Directed by CAMP.

Other highlights from the festival include the U.S. premiere on Thursday of From Gulf to Gulf to Gulf by Indian collective CAMP. On Sunday, Brooklyn-based artist Xavier Cha will introduce a selection of her works that unite video and performance; the festival will screen Without You I’m Nothing, directed by John Boskovich with Sandra Bernhard in person; and a post-screening discussion will follow two shorts on choreographer Merce Cunningham, including Merce by Merce by Paik directed by Nam June Paik with Charles Atlas, Cunningham, and Shigeko Kubota. Also on Sunday, the festival will present works by Tomonari Nishikawa, Benjamin Tiven, Jon Rafman, Gina Telaroli, Andrew Lampert, and Stephen Broomer, with the filmmakers in person. The festival has assembled for next Tuesday a program on the work of Lutz Bacher, including field recordings and time-lapse animations, introduced by Greene Naftali Gallery director Alex Zachary.


Still from Merce by Merce by Paik. Directed by Nam June Paik.

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