LitFilm festival at Brooklyn Public Library explores the inner lives of writers

Go beyond the page to learn more about James Baldwin, Joan Didion and more.

Go beyond the page of literary icons with the Brooklyn Public Library’s new film festival.

During the six-day LitFilm event, kicking off Tuesday, BPL will host free screenings of documentaries and experimental films that focus on various international writers.

The films delve into the lives, writing process and oeuvre of American greats such as Arthur Miller, William S. Burroughs and Joan Didion, as well as international gems such as Japanese author Yukio Mishima and Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.

Some screenings also include discussions with the filmmakers.

amNewYork spoke with BPL’s Vice President of Arts and Culture László Jakab Orsos, previously the director of PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature, who helped curate the first-ever LitFilm.

What gave you the idea for the festival?

I’m fairly new here, but since I joined the library a year ago I thought about how interesting it would be to look at the intersection of two major disciplines: film and literature. As you probably know, there’s all these documentaries and works of literary subjects, and most of them are commissioned by TV channels and they broadcast a couple of times and then they disappear. Some of them are really unique, so I thought it would be really interesting — if not important — to excavate archives and the internet and find some of the gems to present them in a new framework.

Are you a fan of the genre?

Yes, in fact I did some of my own back in Hungary, and I was also teaching film so I was affected hugely. But beyond my involvement I think it’s pretty obvious that this is a very interesting genre, the film on literature. And not just documentaries. We’re going to show plenty of documentaries, but there are also experimental films and works that use the spoken word or use the literature’s narrative in different ways. It’s a really rich world.

What were you looking for when selecting the films?

First of all, the team was looking at the quality of the film. It’s not enough to deal with a recognizable name. It’s most important for a filmmaker to have vision and the courage to really look into different ways of approaching his or her subject. What does this film add to the oeuvre of the given writer, or the life of the given writer?

Then after that it was important to see who is the protagonist. What is the landscape that we wanted to paint? So we have Susan Sontag and we have Arthur Miller on the list, but we have Mahmoud Darwish, one of the biggest Palestinian poets. We also have Yukio Mishima, a Japanese novelist with an amazing life story. It was really important to us to juxtapose the surprises and the almost usual suspects. That signals that it’s not just the parochial mini film series about Brooklyn writers, or American writers for that matter, but that the world of literature and film is way broader than this.

New York spotlight

Within the global scope of the LitFilm festival, check out these films about writers with New York City connections.

‘Arthur Miller: Writer’

Through a series of intimate interviews shot in their family home, Rebecca Miller captures a portrait of the personal struggles her Tony- and Pulitzer Pize-winning father faced. Feb. 21, 7:30 p.m.

‘James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket’

The life and work of the Harlem-born novelist and social activist is revisited through interviews, speeches and rare footage. The screening includes a discussion about how Baldwin’s Civil Rights work applies to today. Feb. 22, 7 p.m.

‘Burroughs: The Movie’

This documentary deep-dive into William S. Burroughs focuses on how he created his unique literary style. Friends Allen Ginsberg and Patti Smith also make an appearance. Feb. 24, 7 p.m.

‘Bartleby’

Herman Melville’s classic mid-19th-century story about a Wall Street lawyer is reimagined through stop-motion animation in this short. Feb. 25, 1 p.m.

‘The Poetry Deal: A Film with Diane di Prima’

This short film with a big scope touches on 50 years of poetry by the legendary writer and her place in the Beat Generation. Feb. 25, 1:15 p.m.

‘Regarding Susan Sontag’

This award-winning documentary about Sontag’s life, groundbreaking criticism and sexuality uses experimental images, archival materials and accounts from her friends, family and lovers. Feb. 25, 2 p.m.

‘Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold’

Through deep conversations with her nephew and filmmaker, Griffin Dune, Didion opens up about the 1950s and ’60s New York literati scene, her life in California and her writing. Feb. 25, 7 p.m.

IF YOU GO

LitFilm: A BPL Film Festival About Writers runs Feb. 20-25 at the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Library, Dweck Center | 10 Grand Army Plaza, Park Slope | FREE, reservations recommended, bklynlibrary.org/litfilm

Tolly Wright