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There are many aspects of the Brooklyn renaissance - Smith Street has become the new restaurant row, real estate prices are going through the roof and the arts are flourishing. Now it’s a new not-for-profit media organization that is leading the charge for film.

Brooklyn Film Networks combines production facilities, film screenings and youth programs, all in the name of independent cinema. Barely a year old, BFN was founded by filmmakers Judd Ehrlich, who hails from Flatbush, and Park Sloper Larry Daley. After attending Vassar College (where they met as roommates), Daley, 30, was a creative advisor for several Warner Brothers projects; Ehrlich, 29, worked with families in the city’s shelter system while pursuing his own documentary film work.

Two years ago they decided to start a production company in order to devote all their time to film projects. They managed to acquire an Avid film editing system, set up shop on Seventh Avenue in Park Slope, and were soon renting it out as well as teaching classes on its use.

Turns out they had one of the only Avids in the entire borough, and filmmakers were coming from all over Brooklyn to get their editing done. Ehrlich and Daley saw a real need for these services, as well as a way for filmmakers to connect. According to Ehrlich, they’d get calls from filmmakers - "Do you know a d.p. [director of photography]?" or "Do you know an editor?"

Daley found it strange that there were so many filmmakers and such a lack of facilities. All this inspired them to find a means for filmmakers to come together. A series of film screenings of work by Brooklyn artists seemed the perfect vehicle. They started a database that grew and grew and now numbers more than 1,000. And so Brooklyn Film Networks was born.

Certainly the most well known aspect of BFN is "Brooklyn Independents" at the BAM Rose Cinemas, a series of film screenings featuring Brooklyn filmmakers. If you weren’t paying attention, you missed their May 31 sold out screening of Park Slope actor-director Steve Buscemi’s "Animal Factory," with Buscemi and star Willem Dafoe in attendance to engage in lively discussion with the audience. There were so many attendees at the Q&A that a second theater was commandeered and the Q&A was projected on the screen via a live feed.

Next up, on July 18, will be the new documentary, "Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale." Directed by the brother-sister team of David Shapiro of Williamsburg and Laurie Gwen Shapiro, this award-winning film (Independent Feature Project Truer Than Fiction award) follows the exploits of Tobias Schneebaum, a 78-year-old gay Brooklyn painter.

Back in the ’50s, Schneebaum cast aside the urban life and spent time with cannibal tribes in the Amazon jungle. Now, 45 years later, he revisits his old haunts with these intrepid filmmakers in tow. After the 6:30 pm screening, the filmmakers, as well as their subject, will answer questions, a hallmark of this screening series.

On Sept. 19, BFN presents "Boiler Room," Ben Younger’s 2000 drama of high finance and the stock market, with Ben Affleck, Giovanni Ribisi and Vin Diesel.

This series is so popular (screenings generally sell out a week in advance) that in October, Ehrlich and Daley will start a monthly series at the Brooklyn Museum, "Brooklyn Docs," dedicated to documentary films. They’re also working on a screening series in DUMBO in partnership with Arts at St. Ann’s.

 

Youth is served

Access to film for young people is another important component of BFN. Last year they participated in a program called Brooklyn Expedition, in partnership with the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, the Brooklyn Public Library and the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Daley and Ehrlich worked with teens on the video portion of a Web site designed by Brooklyn teenagers. The kids were a real film crew - conceptualizing, producing, shooting and editing a documentary for the Web.

Their next such initiative, Digital Brooklyn, has already gotten a positive response, said Ehrlich, and plans are underway to collaborate with the Brooklyn Public Library, enabling teens from all over the borough to work with kids in different neighborhoods through the Internet.

The two partners are visibly excited about these programs as well as future plans for young people. They want to give Brooklyn teens early access to the film industry. How to accomplish this? By getting them experience working with independent filmmakers, who in turn will serve as mentors. And Ehrlich and Daley want to teach them the many aspects of film; let them know that there’s more to filmmaking than just being a director. Cinematographers, designers, carpenters and electricians are all needed.

BFN’s goal, said Ehrlich, is to teach beyond the glamour quotient of cinema, and at the same time to treat teens not only as students, but also as young professionals.

"To us it’s a learning environment, to them maybe a work environment," said Daley. "What a neat thing - I would have loved to have that as a kid. How much more will they get out of it if they’re treated like profession­als?" The screenings series will give these kids the opportunity to have their work seen by the public.

 

Film center

In order to maintain and expand all of these aspects of the organization - production facilities, classes, screenings and youth projects, plans are already underway for developing a film-video-new media building. Currently there’s a waiting list for their BFN editing facilities in Park Slope because their space is small. A building dedicated to independent cinema - making films, learning to make them, screening them and discussing them - would go a long way towards the partners’ ultimate goal: that Brooklyn become a center for independent film.

Their planned center would be open 24 hours a day, and with screening and editing facilities as well as a cafe, would become a destination for filmmakers, and kids learning to become filmmakers.

Ehrlich and Daley are already discussing possibilities with Harvey Lichtenstein and the BAM LDC and DUMBO developers David and Jed Walentas. They are even looking near the Navy Yard and are establishing a relationship with Steiner Studios, commercial production facilities scheduled to open within the year.

Ehrlich and Daley look forward to BFN acting as a liaison between that commercial facility and the independent film community. They hope to have their own center, in whatever neighborhood turns out to be the most financially hospitable, become a reality in about a year, and they’re about to launch a capital campaign to make sure it happens. Based on their success raising funds for their series programming, they’re hopeful they’ll be able to raise capital funds from foundations, corporations and individuals.

"Right now we have all the figures in place, but without the building for people to really visualize it and get excited about it," said Daley. They’re reaching out to Brooklynites all over.

"Something like one in seven people can trace roots back to Brooklyn," he said. "We’re talking to people in the film and TV industry from Brooklyn who’ve ’made it’ - we’re establishing relationships so that they can become involved in the borough on another level."

One could call these two young men, brimming with ideas, practical visionaries. They are energized by all the possibilities, and are truly excited to be doing it in Brooklyn.

"Flatbush was the center of filmmaking at the turn of the [20th] century," says Ehrlich, referring to when it was the home of Vitagraph studios. "Brooklyn was Hollywood before there was Hollywood. Mary Pickford’s house was on my corner, and Charlie Chaplin was down the street."

They talk of the well-known filmmakers that have come out of Brooklyn like Woody Allen and Spike Lee, "and then you have this incredible next generation of filmmakers that we’re really all about." Ehrlich and Daley are impressed by Younger’s work, and Jem Cohen ("Benjamin Smoke"), Karyn Kusama ("Girlfight") and Sandi Dubowski ("Trembling Before G-D").

Daley sees a film center as a hub that can let Brooklynites know who their neighbors are. "I want people to know that Darren Aronofsky [’Requiem for a Dream’] grew up here, that John Turturro and Buscemi live here. Brooklyn’s a great place to be an artist."

Marian Masone is the associate director of programming for the Film Society of Lincoln Center and chief curator of The New York Video Festival also at Lincoln Center.

 

Brooklyn Film Networks presents "Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale" on July 18 at 4:30, 6:30 and 9:30 pm at BAM Rose Cinemas (30 Lafayette Ave.). Tickets are $9. For tickets call (718) 636-4111. For more information about BFN call (718) 832-3052 or visit their Web site at www.filmnetworks.org.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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