This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001


(photo courtesy of Grasshopper Film)

Okwui Okpokwasili takes viewers behind the scenes of her one-woman show in Bronx Gothic (photo courtesy of Grasshopper Film)

BRONX GOTHIC (Andrew Rossi, 2017)
Film Forum
209 West Houston St.
July 12-25

“Okwui’s job is to scare people, just to scare them to get them to kind of wake up,” dancer, choreographer, and conceptualist Ralph Lemon says of his frequent collaborator and protégée Okwui Okpokwasili in the powerful new documentary Bronx Gothic. Directed by Okpokwasili’s longtime friend Andrew Rossi, the film follows Okpokwasili during the last three months of her tour for her semiautobiographical one-woman show, Bronx Gothic, a fierce, confrontational, yet heart-wrenching production that hits audiences right in the gut. Rossi cuts between scenes from the show — he attached an extra microphone to Okpokwasili’s body to create a stronger, more immediate effect on film — to Parkchester native Okpokwasili giving backstage insight, visiting her Nigerian-born, Bronx-based parents, and spending time with her husband, Peter Born, who directed and designed the show, and their young daughter, Umechi. The performance itself begins with Okpokwasili already moving at the rear of the stage, shaking and vibrating relentlessly, facing away from people as they filter in and take their seats. She continues those unnerving movements for nearly a half hour (onstage but not in the film) before finally turning around and approaching a mic stand, where she portrays a pair of eleven-year-old girls exchanging deeply personal notes, talking about dreams, sexuality, violence, and abuse as they seek their own identity. “Bronx Gothic is about two girls sharing secrets. . . . It is about the adolescent body going into a new body, inhabiting the body of a brown girl in a world that privileges whiteness,” Okpokwasili, whose other works include Poor People’s TV Room and the Bessie-winning Pent-Up: A Revenge Dance, explains in the film. National Medal of Arts recipient Lemon adds, “It’s about racism, gender politics — it’s not just about these two little black girls in the Bronx.” Rossi includes clips of Okpokwasili performing at MoMA in Lemon’s “On Line” in 2011, developing Bronx Gothic at residencies at Baryshnikov Arts Center and New York Live Arts, and participating in talkbacks at Alverno College in Milwaukee and the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, where the tour concluded, right next to her childhood church, which brings memories surging back to her.

(photo courtesy of Grasshopper Film)

Okwui Okpokwasili nuzzles her daughter, Umechi, in poignant and timely documentary (photo courtesy of Grasshopper Film)

Rossi is keenly aware of the potentially controversial territory he has entered. “As a white man, I was conscious of the complexity and implications of embarking on a project that revolves around the experience of African American females,” he points out in his director’s statement. “But fundamentally, I believe in an artist’s creative ability to explore topics that are foreign to the artist’s own background. I think this takes on even more resonance when the work itself has an explicit objective to ‘grow our empathic capacity,’ as Okwui says of Bronx Gothic, [seeking] an audience that is composed of ‘black women, black men, Asian women, Asian men, white women, white men, Latina women, Latina men….’” Cinematographers Bryan Sarkinen and Rossi (Page One: Inside the New York Times, The First Monday in May) can’t get enough of Okpokwasili’s mesmerizing face, which commands attention, whether she’s smiling, singing, or crying, as well as her body, which is drenched with sweat in the show. “We have been acculturated to watching brown bodies in pain. I’m asking you to see the brown body. I’m going to be falling, hitting a hardwood floor, and hopefully there is a flood of feeling for a brown body in pain,” Okpokwasili says. Meanwhile, shots of the audience reveal some individuals aghast, some hypnotized, and others looking away. Editor Andrew Coffman and coeditors Thomas Rivera Montes and Rossi shift from Okpokwasili performing to just being herself, but the film has occasional bumpy transitions; also, Okpokwasili, who wrote the show when she was pregnant, does the vast majority of the talking, echoing her one-woman show but also at times bordering on becoming self-indulgent. (Okpokwasili produced the film with Rossi, while Born serves as one of the executive producers.) But the documentary is a fine introduction to this unique and fearless creative force and a fascinating examination of the development of a timely, brave work. Bronx Gothic opens July 12 at Film Forum, with Okpokwasili and Rossi taking part in Q&As at the 7:00 screenings on July 12, 14, and 15.


New York Transit Museum Vintage Bus Bash pulls into Governors Island on Saturday (photo by Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit)

New York Transit Museum Vintage Bus Bash pulls into Governors Island on Saturday (photo by Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit)

Governors Island
Saturday, July 8, most events free

Tomorrow is a busy day on Governors Island, one of the city’s genuine summer treasures. The New York Transit Museum Vintage Bus Bash (11:00 am – 4:00 pm, free) pulls into Colonels Row, four classic old vehicles that used to shuttle passengers around the city. You’ll be able to check out 1956’s Bus 3100, 1958’s Bus 9098, 1959’s Bus 100, and 1971’s Bus 5227. The seventh annual Full Moon Festival takes place from 12 noon to 2:00 ($50-$61) on the Play Lawn, with Vic Mensa, Larry Heard a.k.a. Mr. Fingers, Kelela, DJ Harvey, Connan Mockasin, Abra, Jeremy Underground, Axel Boman, Tops, Awesome Tapes from Africa, Selvagem, Donna Leake, and Mass Meditation by the Big Quiet. The fourth annual It’s Your Tern! Festival (12 noon – 4:00, free) celebrates the threatened common tern, many of which have been nesting on Tango Pier. There will be games, arts and crafts, a scavenger hunt, a special spotting scope viewing, and bird tours led by Annie Barry and Kellie Quinones. The free Rite of Summer Music Festival in Nolan Park presents “Pamela Z — Works for Voice and Electronics” at 1:00 and 3:00, a live performance by the San Francisco-based composer and media artist. In addition, you can visit such free continuing exhibitions and programs as “The Public Works Department Presents: Sanctuary City,” “Christodora: Nature, Learning, Leadership,” “New York Electronic Art Festival,” “Art of Intuitive Photography,” a family-friendly literary party at “The Empire State Center for the Book,” the NYC Audubon Summer Residency, “Escaping Time: Art from U.S. Prisons,” “Billion Oyster Project Exhibit,” “Sculptors Guild Presents: Currently 80,” A.I.R. Gallery’s “Taken on Trust,” the Children’s Museum of Manhattan’s Island Outpost, LMCC’s “A Supple Perimeter” by Kameela Janan Rasheed, the Woolgatherers’ “Genesis 22,” and the Dysfunctional Theatre Company’s “Dancing with Light.”


Walter Matthau tries to get to the bottom of a bizarre subway heist in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

Film Forum
209 West Houston St.
Saturday, July 8, 4:45, Sunday, July 16, 6:20, Friday, July 21, 5:00 & 10:00
Series runs through July 27

On October 29, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford refused to grant a federal bailout of New York, resulting in one of the all-time-great headlines in the Daily News: “Ford to City: Drop Dead.” Film Forum is looking back at that rather unique decade in Big Apple history in the fab series “Ford to City: Drop Dead — New York in the 70s.” Running through July 27, the festival features more than three dozen Gotham classics, beginning with Midnight Cowboy and Taking Off and continuing with such favorites as Mean Streets (shown with Film Forum master programmer Bruce Goldstein’s Les Rues de Mean Streets), Serpico, Saturday Night Fever, Network, Klute, and Marathon Man. With all the recent problems with the subway system, it’s definitely time to revisit Joseph Sargent’s underground thriller, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. Loosely adapted from the book by John Godey, the film wonderfully captures the cynicism of New York City in the 1970s. Four heavily armed and mustached men — Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw), Mr. Green (Martin Balsam), Mr. Gray (Hector Elizondo), and Mr. Brown (Earl Hindman), colorful pseudonyms that influenced Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs — hijack an uptown 4 train, demanding one million dollars in one hour from a nearly bankrupt city or else they will kill all eighteen passengers, one at a time, minute by minute. The hapless mayor (Lee Wallace) is in bed with the flu, so Deputy Mayor Warren LaSalle (Tony Roberts) takes charge on the political end while transit detective Lt. Zachary Garber (a great Walter Matthau) and Inspector Daniels (Julius Harris) of the NYPD team up to try to figure out just how in the world the criminals expect to get away with the seemingly impossible heist. Sargent (Sybil) offers a nostalgic look back at a bygone era, before technology radically changed the way trains are run and police work is handled.

The film also features a very funny, laconic Jerry Stiller as Lt. Rico Patrone and the beloved Kenneth McMillan as the borough commander. It was remade as a television movie in 1998, starring Edward James Olmos, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Lorraine Bracco, and as an embarrassingly bad big-budget bomb in 2009 by Tony Scott. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is screening on July 8 (introduced by Goldstein), 16, and 21; the Film Forum series also includes such inspired double features as Shaft and Super Fly, Across 110th Street and Cops and Robbers, Dressed to Kill and Death Wish, Three Days of the Condor and The Eyes of Laura Mars, and The Warriors and Escape from New York. In addition, director Jerry Schatzberg will introduce The Panic in Needle Park on July 7, William Friedkin will introduce The French Connection via Skype on July 8, and New York Times media editor Bill Brink — whose father, William, wrote the infamous Daily News headline — will introduce Dog Day Afternoon on July 9.


Bastille Day

FIAF will celebrate Bastille Day with annual street fair on July 9

60th St. between Fifth & Lexington Aves.
Sunday, July 9, free, 12 noon – 7:00 pm

On July 14, 1789, a Parisian mob stormed the Bastille prison, a symbolic victory that kicked off the French Revolution and the establishment of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Ever since, July 14 has been a national holiday celebrating liberté, égalité, and fraternité. In New York City, the Bastille Day festivities are set for Sunday, July 9, along Sixtieth St., where the French Institute Alliance Française hosts its annual daylong party of food, music, dance, and other special activities. There will be a Summer in the South of France Wine, Beer, Cocktail, and Cheese Tasting in FIAF’s Tinker Auditorium from 12 noon to 4:30 ($25) as well as the elegant ninety-minute Champagne & Chocolate Tastings in Le Skyroom at 12:30 and 3:00 ($65-$75) featuring delights from Drappier, Pol Roger, Bollinger, Ayala, Brimoncourt, La Caravelle, Chocolat Moderne, La Maison du Chocolat, MarieBelle, Voilà Chocolat, and Maman Bakery, with live music from the Avalon Jazz Band. The annual raffle ($5) can win you such prizes as a trip to Paris and Le Martinique or dinners at French restaurants. Food and drink will be available from Bien Cuit, Brasserie Cognac, Dana Confection, DBGB Kitchen and Bar, Dominique Ansel Kitchen, Financier, Le Souk, Miss Madeleine, Oliviers & Co., Pain D’Avignon, Sel Magique, Simply Gourmand, St. Michel, Sud de France, François Payard Bakery, Pistache, the Crepe Escape, and others. The fête also includes roaming French mime Catherina Gasta, a photobooth, the pop-up Marché Français boutique, a kids corner, a pop-up library, a Caribbean Zouk dance lesson with Franck Muhel (12:15), the Citroën Car Show, a “Libres Ensemble” Slam Performance with Brooklyn rapper Napoleon Da Legend and Québecois slammer Webster (1:00), It’s Showtime NYC! (1:45), Can-Can Dancing with Karen Peled (2:30 & 3:45), DJ Ol’ Stark (2:45), the Hungry March Band (3:00), a concert with French baritone David Serero (3:45), and the New York premiere of Lisa Azuelos’s Dalida ($8-$14, 5:30).


Jan van Raay

Jan van Raay, “Faith Ringgold (right) and Michelle Wallace (left) at Art Workers Coalition Protest, Whitney Museum,” digital C-print, 1971 (© Jan van Raay)

Brooklyn Museum
200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Saturday, July 1, free, 5:00 - 11:00

For July, the free First Saturday program at the Brooklyn Museum is zeroing in on its current exhibition “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85.” There will be pop-up teen apprentice gallery discussions about the show in addition to a tour led by Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art curatorial assistant Allie Rickard; a hands-on workshop in which you can create your own silkscreened political messages; live performances by Tamara Renée (music inspired by collages by Romare Bearden), Billy Dean Thomas, and DJ Reborn; a screening of Linda Goode Bryant and Laura Poitras’s Flag Wars, about gentrification in Ohio, followed by a talkback with Goode Bryant; BUFU Presents Us: A Convening on Collective Action, with workshops by Yellow Jackets Collective, Sisters Circle Collective, Artrepreneurship, QTPOC Mental Health Initiative, and others; a community resource fair with G!rl Be Heard, Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, Voices of Women Organizing Project, and the Black Girl Project; a reading and signing by Morgan Parker for her latest book, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé; and the Black Lunch Table Edit-a-Thon, in which participants can work on Wikipedia articles on artists in the “We Wanted a Revolution” exhibition and get their Wiki portrait taken by Noelle Theard. In addition, you can check out such other exhibits as “Infinite Blue,” “A Woman’s Afterlife: Gender Transformation in Ancient Egypt,” and, at a discounted admission price of $12, “Georgia O’Keefe: Living Modern.”


Bad Genius

Lynn (Chutimon Cheungcharoensukying) keeps looking over her shoulder as a cheating scandal gets serious in Bad Genius

BAD GENIUS (CHALARD GAMES GONG) (Nattawut Poonpiriya, 2017)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th St. at Amsterdam Ave.
Friday, June 30, 7:00
Festival runs June 30 - July 16

The sixteenth annual New York Asian Film Festival gets under way June 30 with writer-director Nattawut Poonpiriya’s big Thai hit, Bad Genius. The amazingly smart Lynn (NYAFF 2017 Screen International Rising Star Award winner Chutimon Cheungcharoensukying) switches schools for an opportunity to win a coveted scholarship and go to a better college, with the help of her father, a respected teacher (Thaneth Warakulnukroh). She quickly becomes besties with the popular Grace (Eisaya Hosuwan), who is dating snobby rich kid Pat (Teeradon Supapunpinyo). Lynn mentors Grace, who is not a very good student, and is then hired by Pat’s wealthy father (Sahajak Boonthanakit) to tutor his son to improve his low grades. Soon Grace, Pat, and several of Pat’s other friends (Vittawin Veeravidhayanant, Suwijak Mahatthanachotwanich, Narwin Rathlertkarn, Thanawat Sutat Na Ayutthaya, and Thanachart Phinyocheep) are paying substantial money to Lynn, who has devised unique ways to cheat on multiple-choice tests. As she and Bank (Chanon Santinatornkul), another smart scholarship student — whose parents (Uraiwan Puvichitsutin and Somchai Ruedikunrangsi) run a small laundry, which embarrasses him and drives him to improve his, and their, lot — compete for a prestigious Singapore scholarship, lies, betrayal, greed, and deception lead to major troubles for everyone as the crucial standardized STIC tests approach.

Bad Genius

Bank (Chanon Santinatornkul) and Lynn (Chutimon Cheungcharoensukying) face a terrifying future in Nattawut Poonpiriya’s Bad Genius

Over the last ten years, such YA books and movies as Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy and Veronica Roth’s Divergent series have turned teen angst over the SATs and college admissions into futuristic dystopian nightmares, but with Bad Genius, Poonpiriya’s second film — his debut, Countdown, was part of the 2013 NYAFF — takes a much more straightforward and honest approach to the fears kids experience when faced with taking tests that could impact the rest of their lives. In her film debut, Cheungcharoensukying reveals a subtle depth as Lynn, a brainiac who just wants to be accepted by her peers, while also insisting on excelling at everything she does (including cheating) and helping her divorced father with expenses. She knows exactly what she’s doing, understanding it is wrong, and she can’t stop, but it’s not only about the money. Aside from a few silly scenes and the occasional use of overly dramatic license, Poonpiriya mostly avoids genre clichés as the two-hour Bad Genius evolves into a genuine thriller with a fab chase scene, cleverly keeping the audience on the edge of their seats with unexpected twists and turns. It’s both a primer on how to cheat and how to deal with potentially getting caught. The opening-night selection of the NYAFF, Bad Genius is screening on June 30 at 7:00 at the Walter Reade Theater and will be followed by a Q&A with Nattawut “Baz” Poonpiriya, Chanon Santinatornkul, and Chutimon “Aokbab” Chuengcharoensukying and an after-party. The festival, which runs through July 16 at Lincoln Center and the SVA Theatre, consists of more than fifty films from China, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia, including a surprise twenty-fifth anniversary screening of a 1992 classic.