Today’s Sundance preview wraps with the penultimate film of the US Documentary Competition: Aaron Brookner’s UNCLE HOWARD, a nephew’s revival of his filmmaking inspiration.
US Documentary Competition
Sundance Program Description:
When Howard Brookner lost his life to AIDS in 1989, the 35-year-old director had completed two feature documentaries and was in post-production on his narrative debut, BLOODHOUNDS OF BROADWAY. Twenty-five years later, his nephew, Aaron, sets out on a quest to find the lost negative of BURROUGHS: THE MOVIE, his uncle’s critically-acclaimed portrait of legendary author William S Burroughs. When Aaron uncovers Howard’s extensive archive in Burroughs’ bunker, it not only revives the film for a new generation, but also opens a vibrant window on New York City’s creative culture from the 1970s and ‘80s, and inspires a wide-ranging exploration of his beloved uncle’s legacy.
Connecting with Howard’s friends, lovers, and collaborators (like Jim Jarmusch) through the treasure trove of outtakes and video diaries he discovers, Aaron constructs at once a paean and an elegy to a complex, creative man – cut down, like so many others of his generation, in his prime, but who lived his short life to its fullest.
Director: Aaron Brookner
This project marks Brookner’s feature documentary debut after an earlier doc short and narrative feature. Among his earliest film work, he served as a production assistant on Sundance alum PERSONAL VELOCITY (2002) as well as Jim Jarmusch’s COFFEE AND CIGARETTES.
Producer: Paula Vaccaro; Co-Producers: Sara Driver and Alex Garcia; Associate Producers: Patricia Finneran and David Tongers
In addition to producing Brookner’s narrative feature, Pinball London’s Vaccaro has previously produced films by such noted directors as Sally Potter and Emir Kusturica. Co-producer Driver is a Sundance alumna with the narrative features SLEEPWALK (1987) and STRANGER THAN PARADISE (1985, re-presented 2005), as is Garcia, who produced last year’s narratives REVERSAL and LIVEFOREVER. Associate producer Finneran now heads up Story Matters and previously was the producer of creative partnerships for the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program, while Tongers executive produced Brookner’s fiction feature.
Executive Producer: Jim Jarmusch
Legendary film director Jarmusch’s history with Sundance goes back to STRANGER THAN PARADISE (1985, re-presented 2005), when the event was still known as the US Film Festival. He also presented NIGHT ON EARTH (1992) and ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (2014). He served as a sound recordist on BURROUGHS: THE MOVIE.
Editor: Masahiro Hirakubo
Hirakubo’s extensive editing credits include Academy Award doc nominee VIRUNGA, and the narrative features THE BEACH, TRAINSPOTTING, and SHALLOW GRAVE.
Why You Should Watch:
As noted in my description above, Brookner’s film is notable both as a personal reconnection to a once-forgotten filmmaker and family member, and, in a broader sense, a resurrection of a generation of creative individuals lost to AIDS through his example. The story of Howard Brookner provides a rare insight into a time and a place that has in many ways been erased, both by the traumatic fallout of the epidemic and the transformation and gentrification of NYC in the past quarter-century.
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