Ahead of SXSW, ‘Fort Tilden’ Is Already Being Unfairly Likened to ‘Girls’

By  · Published on March 4th, 2014

Is it possible to make an independent film about young women in Brooklyn without comparison to Girls? It doesn’t appear so, and I’m not going to pretend I’m not guilty of doing so myself with the angle of this post. But I can’t respond to the unfortunate laziness to which we use Lena Dunham’s show as a reference point without as much. Now it’s not always just Girls; the acclaimed Frances Ha – itself initially likened to Girls – has joined the show as an easy measure and descriptor for any subsequent work focused on 20-something females in a certain part of New York City. It happened during Sundance with Obvious Child, and now ahead of its SXSW premiere, it’s already happening to Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers’s Fort Tilden.

Both films deserve better simply for the fact that they’re their own entities. Not that it’s uncommon to use old movies as reference to sell new ones, especially for festival crowds. In fact, Bliss and Rogers are specifically citing Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion as being similar predecessors to Fort Tilden. Having only seen some clips and their Kickstarter campaign teaser, it reminds me of Quick Change in the way it’s about people just trying to get across Brooklyn and Queens to a destination that shouldn’t be too hard to reach. And as a huge fan of that movie and really any kind of New York City Odyssey film (After Hours is another good one), I’m drawn to this new movie as a result of that association. But that is a clear kinship of plot. So far as I can tell, the only thing really linking Fort Tilden to Girls is girls. Not even necessarily the location. It’s really a gender issue.

What better way could there be to create buzz for something like Fort Tilden, though? Its premise of two friends from Williamsburg heading to a Rockaway beach to meet some boys is pretty simple and not immediately appealing to a festival audience with hundreds of options. I think it helps that there’s a Kickstarter page. Obviously that exists because the production genuinely needs the money for SXSW and beyond, as it says, but Kickstarter isn’t just a means to crowdfunding. It’s also a means to crowd awareness. Even if I hadn’t seen and become annoyed by the Girls comparison, I’d still be interested in spotlighting this campaign – and therefore putting a spotlight on the movie – as I tend to do with pre-fest efforts (in the past it’s led to me writing on Obvious Child, Kidnapped for Christ and fellow SXSW ’14 film The Heart Machine). One of the points of crowdfunding is to build buzz and community, which in turn leads to building upon the budget. And clearly to building media attention.

In absence of notable names in the cast, as Fort Tilden does (Reggie Watts, in a bit part, may be the most famous), generally what works for me is any kind of visual promotion. Teasers, trailers, proof of concept illustrations and even a crowdfund campaign video can offer the best look at what we can expect of a movie. The last doesn’t even have to feature footage from the movie (though it always helps) if the pitch is clever and/or amusing enough. The directorial duo and co-star Clare McNulty sitting in bathing suits on a snow-packed Brooklyn rooftop gets my attention, for instance. We can get a sense of their sense of humor.

It’s also worthwhile to share earlier work as a sample of talent. If you’re comfortable and proud enough to have your shorts on Vimeo, you should be just as willing to offer these up to woo new fans. For instance, I have become a big fan of Rogers’s silent short Death (A Love Story) via his Vimeo page and I like what I see in bits of Bliss’s Priceless Things (see excerpts here). Copies of their shorts are part of one of their incentive packages, too, so they do believe in them. Bliss was also one of the many newbie directors involved in the collaborative 2012 James Franco/Mila Kunis movie Tar and is currently making waves with her new short, Two, Three, which screens at NYC’s breakouts showcase New Directors, New Films. All of this is proper fodder for selling an indie comedy to those of us looking for fresh, quality material and talent.

Given all these other points of more substantial reference, a Girls comparison is the least enticing thing for Fort Tilden. It isn’t even that I dislike Girls, but that show is good because of its particular voice and scope and therefore it’s not worth comparing to something just on account of its having slightly comparable character types. And I know for a fact that many who dislike Girls can be turned off by such an association. Still, I admit it got my attention in kind of the way that bad publicity is still good publicity, so I can’t imagine Bliss and Charles minding one bit. Here, it led to more coverage!

I look forward to seeing Fort Tilden at SXSW this weekend due to the filmmakers’ background and the promising footage I’ve seen, and maybe that will be enough for you to join me and/or helping to fund this film. Check out the Kickstarter video to start yourself off:

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.