Kicking off this Thursday is one of the finest annual showcases in indie filmmaking, BAMcinemaFest, taking place at BAM Rose Cinemas. Among both well-curated highlights from recent festivals and world premieres, we’ve rounded up six essential features not to miss.

The festival also includes a number of notable new shorts, including Lynne Sachs’ Swerve (see our trailer premiere), Robert Machoian and Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck’s The Last Days of August, Rodney Evans’ Portal, and more. Check out our feature picks below and learn more here.

2nd Chance (Ramin Bahrani)

It’s an eerie image. Richard Davis stands out in a field, wearing a kevlar vest, and points a pistol into his belly. Then he pulls the trigger, skips back a bit, and checks his red-burned skin. Over the course of his life, he would do this—shoot himself—192 times, proving the efficacy of his life-saving device in the most visceral and operatic way possible. “A lot of people think I’m stupid for doing this,” he tells the camera before one of these high-wire demonstrations, and for just a moment, an air of unpredictability hangs over this bullet-proof vest magnate’s next move. – Jake K. (full review)

Free Chol Soo Lee (Julie Ha and Eugene Yi)

Shedding light on the life of the Korean-American cause cél`èbe, Julie Ha and Eugene Yi’s Free Chol Soo Lee captures a unique moment in Asian American history and ultimately the story of a young man who may have never had a chance. Arriving in Chinatown, San Francisco in the early ’70s, Chol Soo Lee worked odd jobs, among them barker for the local strip clubs. One day his manager shows him a gun that he borrows for no reason at all, leading to an accidental discharge in the bedroom of the flop house he’s occupied. Five days later he’s arrested for murder after a random killing is committed on the street, before a hundred witnesses, with the same type of gun he’d been playing with. – John F. (full review)

Happer’s Comet (Tyler Taormina)

Happer’s Comet, a hypnotic, sensory, dialogue-free film that comes in at a polite 62 minutes, is from director Tyler Taormina, an LA filmmaker who directed the great suburban surrealist work Ham on Rye in 2019. His latest is both a bewitching ode to the night owl and, given its constraints, quietly energizing artistic expression. It’s structured as a series of beautifully shot vignettes starring Taormina’s family members and neighbors, shot around their homes and places of work. What’s remarkable about Happer’s Comet is what sense of unison Taormina achieves, the resulting cumulative mood that is created. Each setting, and almost each person, appear disparate and isolated (in only a couple sequences are we shown more than one figure onscreen) but they feel intrinsically connected, like a network of mycelium. (As the end credits confirm, with some affection, it was made “in lockdown with a crew of two and a cast of my hometown community.”) – Rory O. (full review)

Nothing Lasts Forever (Jason Kohn)

The opening sequence of Uncut Gems could have easily worked for Jason Kohn’s Nothing Last Forever, an entertaining, occasionally shocking exploration of all facets of the diamond industry. From the fabrication of socially accepted ideas of romantic love, pushing the scarcity myth, and above all the importance of crafting a good story, the film gives impressive weight to all sides of the twisty tale without painting anyone into a definitively villainous corner. – Jordan R.

The Unknown Country (Morrisa Maltz)

Beginning with a departure in the dead of night in the middle of winter, and ending perhaps where its lead Tana (Lily Gladstone) was destined to go, Morrisa Maltz’s road trip film The Unknown Country was one of the most exciting offerings at SXSW. In a haunting exploration of biography and geography, Tana traverses a landscape from South Dakota to Texas, along the way stopping to examine lives well-lived as the film enters a quasi-documentary mode. The world proves quite a free place for Tana and we are given delightful, sometimes inspiring, sometimes heartbreaking insights into the people we pass by. They tell us their life stories as Tana flows between hotels, diners, gas stations, beer gardens, and convenience stores. – John F. (full review)

Sirens (Rita Baghdadi)

In documentaries about bands, one imagines the usual concert footage, a smattering of behind-the-scenes moments, and perhaps a few talking heads contextualizing it all. Rita Baghdadi is here to upend the notion with Sirens, a brief but no less impactful look at the first all-woman metal band in Lebanon. Breaking new ground on the musical front also comes with a mountain of obstacles—as it pertains to a restrictive society in political upheaval, but also inside the band itself as relationships are tested. What’s most impressive is how Baghdadi is able to become immersed in the most heated of conversations, featuring the kind of access that usually remains behind closed doors.

BAMcinemaFest takes place June 23-30 at BAM Rose Cinemas. Learn more here.

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