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Art of the Ordinary

Alums Josh and Benny Safdie, rising stars of indie film, host screening tonight


Click above to watch the trailer for The Pleasure of Being Robbed. (Below) Brothers Benny and Josh Safdie at the South by Southwest film festival, March 2008. Photo courtesy of Adam Donaghey

The past couple of years have been anything but mundane for young filmmakers Josh Safdie (COM’07) and his brother Benny (COM’08):their films have been screened at South by Southwest, Slamdance, and Cannes and their fashion sense was praised in a summer spread in the New York Times Magazine.

Still, even before all the buzz, the Safdie brothers — who return to BU tonight to host a screening of Josh’s debut feature, The Pleasure of Being Robbed, and Benny’s short The Acquaintancesof a Lonely John — and their compatriots at Red Bucket Films in New York treated almost nothing in their world as mundane, and that has been the secret of their success.

As Josh Safdie explained in a 2007 BU Today profilepublished after his short film The Back of Her Head was selected forthe Slamdance film festival, “small observations” may seem ordinary,“but in context they become poetic.”

That’s why the Bucketeers, including Sam Lisenco (COM’06), BrettJutkiewicz (COM’06), Zachary Treitz (COM’07), and the Safdies’high school friend and film collaborator Alex Kalman, routinely walkaround the city with digital cameras, accumulating moments andobservations — a woman doing an impromptu little dance on the sidewalkor a guy on the subway holding a book, but reading over the shoulder ofhis neighbor — some of which are stashed away in their onlinecollection of "buttons" and some of whichgrow into films that have graced the screens of high-profile festivalsand generated a lot of indie-film excitement. The Pleasure of BeingRobbed, which premiered at the 2008 South by Southwest film festival inAustin, Tex., was selected for the Directors’ Fortnight at the 2008Cannes Film Festival (along with Benny’s short film The Acquaintancesof a Lonely John) and was picked up by the leading independent filmdistributor IFC.

“By turns delightful, exasperating, goofy and opaque, this debut feature feels like the Amerindie breakthrough of the year,” a reviewer in Salon.com writesof The Pleasure ofBeing Robbed.

Charles Merzbacher, a College of Communication associate professor and chair of thedepartment of film and television, taught many of the Bucketeers. Hesays their observational approach to moviemaking works because it hasbeen coupled with an incredible energy and creative enthusiasm.

“They were all working on multiple projects all the time, and they alsohad a kinship as a group, always kind of lighting a fire under eachother,” he says. That impression is seconded by Sam Kauffmann, a COMassociate professor of film. “They would treat every littleclass assignment like it was the most important thing in their lives,"he says. "They took everything to the nth degree.”

That enthusiasm for collaboration has carried over into Red Bucket,where the Safdies and their friends are constantly at work on oneanother’s films (often in front of as well as behind the camera).Likewise, the aesthetic that finds poetry in the ordinary and theeveryday continues to drive their creative work.

“In the case of Josh in particular, there’s often this feeling thatyou’re in this world that you recognize. But in the midst of all thatthere are these moments of complete whimsy,” says Merzbacher. “It’slike you think you’re watching a slice of life and you discover thatyou’re watching a fairy tale.”

The Pleasure of Being Robbed and The Acquaintancesof a Lonely John will be shown tonight as part ofCinematheque, aseries of screenings and filmmaker get-togethers sponsored by COM’sfilm and television department and administered by Gerald Peary, a filmstudies professor at Suffolk University and a film critic for theBoston Phoenix. The free event will begin at 7 p.m. at Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, 635 CommonwealthAve., Room 101.

Chris Berdik can be reached at cberdik@bu.edu.



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