The Nitehawk Shorts Festival is back in person for its eighth year, showcasing more than 60 short films — many made by Brooklynites right here in Brooklyn — from March 2-6.
Hosted by Brooklyn’s renowned Nitehawk cinema, the festival has made itself a staple in the festival circuit and has special importance to those filmmakers who call the borough home as they claim their spot in the theater’s well-known history. Nine films, including a Coney Island-based caper, “New York City Tips and Tricks,” are making their world premier at Nitehawk, with several more making their New York debut. Ahead of the festival’s kickoff in a few weeks, Brooklyn Paper caught up with three local filmmakers getting ready to put their work on show to talk about their inspiration, taking inspiration from the city, and the excitement of premiering their shorts right here in Brooklyn.
Kana Hatakeyama, a Greenpoint resident of over a decade, is screening her second film “FITNESS! or a story about SWEAT” at Nitehawk next month after her first film, “okaasan (mom)” won the Audience Award and the First Time Filmmaker Award at the 2018 festival.
After creating “okaasan,” Hatakeyama was looking to make something totally different, she said. The film was a coming-of-age story exploring a mother-daughter relationship in rural Japan. In a shot in the trailer for “SWEAT!” Hatakayama runs through a park while a trainer follows her with a megaphone, chanting “I will be strong! I will be free!”
“I just really wanted to do something very different, this one is a weird little comedy set in Brooklyn,” she said. “And that’s was kind of the other thing, too, with my first film, I had been to this particular part of Japan and I was like, ‘Oh, this is pretty,’ and I wanted to capture it. Being in north Brooklyn, there were a lot of places that I was like, ‘This should be on film.’”
If you’re a Brooklyn resident or enthusiast, you’ll recognize the places Hatakeyama chose to film, she said.
“SWEAT!” has played at other festivals since it premiered, she said, but they’ve all been virtual — its Nitehawk screening will be the first time she sees it live on the big screen in a room full of people.
“Getting to see your film with an audience, you just learn so much about it,” she said. “Especially seeing the weird comedy that this film is, I’ve just been missing a piece.”
Hatakeyama, who studied theater and first moved to New York pursuing acting, was inspired to turn to directing and filmmaking after enrolled in an acting class and found out that several of her classmates were directors and filmmakers. That’s how she found out about Nitehawk, she said, because a friend she met there had screened a short at the festival. Becoming one of the filmmakers gives you a little bit of legitimacy, she said.
“That recognition, I think, however you can get it is really important,” she said. “Also being a Brooklyn resident, it’s extra special for me. Nitehawk has been holding it down for supporting independent cinema in Brooklyn and in New York for a really long time.”
Leah Shore has two shorts going up at Nitehawk — “Puss,” a live-action film shot in their apartment in the early days of the pandemic, and “Launch,” an animated short they produced in about a month after being approached by the film company Oscilloscope about creating a project in partnership with MailChimp.
Shore received a grant from Rooftop Films to make a film before the pandemic started, and found themself in a bind once they were confined to their apartment during the first wave. They channeled her own feelings and frustrations into creating “Puss.”
“So I wrote this film called Puss, and it’s basically about a very horny lady trying to get laid during the pandemic, and then it gets very weird,” Shore said. “So, that was a lot of fun to make, and I had a great cast and crew, it was very small.”
A few months later, they got the call from Oscilloscope, who asked if they could make an animated film inspired by two things — the moon, and the 1962 French film “La Jetée.”
Short on time and with some very specific instructions, Shore created “Launch,” a romp about a man hallucinating and going to the moon, inspired by the ongoing Lunar Laser Ranging experiment, where scientists use what are essentially mirrors and lasers to measure the distance between the surface of the Earth and the moon.
Shore travels for the film circuit every year, but this is the first time their films are appearing at Nitehawk.
“I’ve been going to the cinema for forever in Brooklyn, Nitehawk is a staple in Brooklyn,” they said. “They’ve been, like, incredibly supportive, I love their curation, and also, I love food.”
Mandy Marcus’ short, “Cousins,” is a product of Marcus’ graduate education at Brooklyn College — the only public graduate film school in the borough. As part of the school’s mission to bring more diverse, working-class people into the world of film, they provide each student with $10,000 to create their thesis film, she explained.
So, in early 2020, Marcus wrote a coming-of-age film centered on the Caribbean community in New York and New Jersey — a community she’s part of and doesn’t often see represented in media, she said. In it, a Caribbean-American teen living in Brooklyn is reunited with her Guyanese cousin for a family funeral. On the last day of the trip, the two set off into the city in an attempt to go to Times Square, but get waylaid.
“There were tons of Brooklyn locations that I wanted to feature in the film and that I’ve experienced in my years of life living here after college,” she said. “The waterfront, where the girls are sitting about halfway through the film, that was just always a place I went in my late teens, early 20s, and it was completely not built up at all. I just felt like I had so many conversations with myself, hanging out there.”
Of course, in a very Brooklyn story, Marcus’ exact favorite spot is now occupied by luxury condos — but she found a near-match a little bit north.
“I also wanted to depict dollar van culture, because that’s something I always used in Jamaica, Queens, to get to my cousin’s house growing up,” she said. “So, we chose a couple spots that would realistically be on the dollar van route, I wanted to depict them in the Carribean community in Fulton, in the Crown Heights, Bed-Stuy area.”
Like her fellow local directors, Marcus has debuted the film at a few other festivals, but hasn’t been able to see the whole thing with her entire cast and crew — but they’ll all be there at Nitehawk.
Find the full program of events and buy tickets on Nitehawk’s website.