FILM REVIEW: Uncle Howard (2016)

The Verse’s Oliver Pendlington shares his view on the art documentary: Uncle Howard, showing at Brighton’s CineCity Film Festival.

Director: Aaron Brookner

Screenplay: Aaron Brookner (concept)

Stars: Howard Brookner, Aaron Brookner, Jim Jarmusch and William S. Burroughs.

Plot: Young NYC filmmaker Howard Brookner dies from AIDs in 1989, after finishing only his third movie. This documentary, filmed by his nephew Aaron, collates found footage and film excerpts to tell the story of this cult director.

Howard Brookner was a young rising filmmaker who had a tragically short life. To his nephew Aaron, he was also a role model. Someone inspiring and wonderful to look up to. This largely reinforces the ethos of Aaron’s art documentary about his late uncle; to preserve his short-lived legacy. And it is completely astonishing to watch.

Combining archival home videos and behind-the-scenes footage of his films, Aaron visually describes his uncle as an exuberant person with a strong passion for his career. Howard is shown as someone extremely dedicated to his work, unwilling to let anything stop him. His first film, 1983’s Burroughs: The Movie, is an extraordinary film about the life of writer William S. Burroughs. The way that Howard builds up a strong rapport with him to gain access to his life has led some to regard the film as a revealing in-depth piece of cinema. Interviews with his long-time colleagues, including veteran director Jim Jarmusch (who worked as his sound editor), add to the overall positive perception of this fascinating man.

It is during the production of Howard’s last film Bloodhounds of Broadway when Aaron examines just how tireless and determined his uncle was. Having been diagnosed with AIDs, Howard was still determined to finish shooting the film before his death. The scenes involving him directing stars like Madonna are emotional and quite heart-breaking to watch. To him, all that mattered was completing that film. This is a wonderful demonstration of just how much love one person can invest into their film-making against all odds. And this is precisely the view Aaron wants us to think of his incredible uncle. A filmmaker sadly taken from us too soon, but whom nonetheless left a lasting impact on the film industry.

Rating: 4/5

The Verse Staff

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