The Reeler


December 17, 2007

A Brooklyn Independent

Reeler Interview: Filmmaker Pacheco on Brooklyn's longest-running indie series and getting to know the Vietnamese secret police

Michael Cera in Darling Darling, one of the shorts screening in Brooklyn Independent Cinema Series' two-year anniversary program (Photos courtesy Joe Pacheco/BICS) )

You might think Joe Pacheco would have enough work to do programming, promoting and hosting the Brooklyn Independent Cinema Series, his ongoing program of films unspooling every other week in Brooklyn. (Or weekly in the spring and summer.) But Pacheco has stayed busy as a filmmaker as well, managing the DVD release of his literary folk band documentary, As Smart as They Are: The Author Project, and traveling halfway around the world for his upcoming project After the Fall, which will hit the festival circuit this spring. Amid all of it, BICS is celebrating its two-year anniversary tonight at Barbes in Park Slope with special best-of program featuring shorts by Miguel Arteta, Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, Matthew Lessner and Matt McCormick.

The Reeler recently caught up with Pacheco to discuss Brooklyn's indie vacuum, getting to know the Vietnamese secret police and the not-so-surprising trick to film series longevity.

THE REELER: I've seen a lot of local series and festivals come and go in the two years you've since you launched Brooklyn Independent, yet you've persisted. What's the secret?

JOE PACHECO: I don't know. I just keep at it. I think as long as people are making good films, people will want to see them. If it's one person or a full room crowding over into the bar, I just want people to see what's out there.

R: A lot of people don't realize how hard it is to find this many films to screen weekly or biweekly. How do you program?

JP: It all started on the festival circuit when I was out there with As Smart as They Are; that's where I'd see a lot of them. From there it's submissions on the Web site and also referrals. If someone recommends a film I'll try to check it out. This season we're having some guest curators: [Kamp Katrina directors] David Redmon and Ashley Sabin are curating a program in January. [Cocaine Angel director] Mike Tully is doing one in February along with Danielle DiGiacomo from Indiepix. I try to keep an eye out on what's playing at festivals. This past season when I was in between films I was able to jury a bunch of festivals. I was able to see films that way, too.

R: It's weird, because apart from a few sporadic dates at BAM and a good portion Rooftop Films' events in the summer, Brooklyn is kind of a wasteland for seeing independent films. How, if at all, are you trying to change that?

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JP: Even if it's a couple of subway stops away, Brooklyn seems like a hike to get to for a lot of people. But there's been a pretty good turnout of people in Park Slope who come out regularly because it's in the neighborhood. At the same time, it's like a year-round film festival for this independent stuff we're showing. We show a lot of Brooklyn filmmakers' work; they're sort of ideal to what's going on here. Also it's the atmosphere: Barbes has the bar in the front, and when we have filmmakers come and do Q&A's the audience can actually hang out afterward. There aren't many places where everybody who sees the movie has a chance to hang out afterward and have a drink and just make it a night.

R: The program tonight is kind of a best-of from the last two years. How did you determine them, and what are some of your favorites?

JP: We had the Brooklyn Independent compilation, but we've screened those films plenty of times, so we wanted to kind of show others we liked in addition to those. But it's a combination of things: Short docs, short narratives, something skewing sort of towards experimental -- things that represent the overall programming of the series, just a little taste of everything: Darling Darling by Matthew Lessner, who I met at IFF Boston a few years ago and whose new film is actually playing Sundance in January. It's got Michael Cera in it. Lift is another one of my favorites; it's beautifully shot and stars Dominic Pignon from City of Lost Children. That's one of my favorites that we've shown. We have a couple from Wholphin -- an exerpt from Funky Forrest and Are You the Favorite Person of Anybody? There's one of Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden's early shorts -- Have You Seen this Man? I love them all.

R: As far as your own work goes, your last film was about sort of a Brooklyn phenomenon. The new one is anything but, really.

JP: My second film does feel more like the next step. There are similar ties; the story is based on a couple of writers I went to Vietnam with and who were going to write a literary piece about it and I was going to shoot the photographs. There's sort of a running tie that's almost coincidental; there are these literary elements to it. But in terms of subject matter, it's almost on the other side of the spectrum.

R: I heard you ran into a problem or two shooting in Vietnam.

Filmmaker and BICS founder Joe Pacheco

JP: I went for the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon and the end of the war with Tom Bissell and Morgan Meis. We were planning to attend to actual anniversary ceremonies with the former vice-president of South Vietnam, and as we were waiting to meet with him, we went up to Hanoi and met with an artist Morgan knew through his connections through the Flux Factory and the art world here in New York. Both of these people are under the watchful eye of the Vietnamese secret police. So when they saw we were meeting with both of them, they kind of arrested us -- took us into custody, revoked our visas and actually forced us to leave the country within 24 hours. We didn't know we were being followed; it was because of the planned meeting with Nguyen Cao Ky, the former vice-president, that we were being followed. It was when we went to meet this artist that it set off the bells and whistles. Then there was this huge process of getting out of the country without much assistance from them. The other part of the story is Tom and Morgan's relationships with their fathers, who were also affected by the war. Tom's father was an officer in the Marines, and Morgan's father was a draft dodger who went to Canada to protest the draft.

R: How did the travails with the law affect how you made the film?

JP: We were supposed to be there for two weeks and were only there two days when all of this happened. Had I known that I'd have been there for only a couple of days I might have gone about shooting a different way. But it was pretty well-documented -- up until the point we got taken into custody, anyway. There's also a lot about what's going on today in the United States; there are similarities and there are differences between Vietnam and Iraq, but I don't want to beat the viewer over the head with anything.

R: A lot of series and festival programmers I interview make films as well. In what ways does programming Brooklyn Independent influence you as a director?

JP: It's always inspiring to see what people do that you like and what people do that you don't like. That speaks so much to what you ultimately do. I think being able to see so many great films can only enhance your own filmmaking.

The Brooklyn Independent Cinema Series' two-year anniversary program screens tonight at 7 at Barbes in Park Slope. Visit the series' Web site for program information.

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