Berlinale 2016: Inheriting Uncle Howard - An Interview With Aaron Brookner

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Stories don’t just tell themselves. Legacies don’t just get passed on. History isn’t preserved unless you take action, and do something with it.

Director Aaron Brookner is talking about his uncle, Howard. 

After filmmaker Howard Brookner died of AIDS in 1989, his body of work was in danger of being lost. His nephew, Aaron Brookner, decided to preserve his uncle’s legacy and digitalize his first film, the cult classic, “Burroughs: The Movie.” Aaron then made a documentary about the process of saving his uncle’s film. Aaron’s documentary “Uncle Howard” premiered at Sundance and just screened at the Berlinale. I asked him a few questions about "Uncle Howard": 

A still from the film, "Uncle Howard," a film about Howard Brookner, directed by his nephew, Aaron Brookner.
Credit Howard Brookner Archive

“Why was this an important story to tell?” I ask.

“In the late 70s, New York was blossoming,” replies Brookner. “It was creating so much forward ideas, so much forward thinking art. AIDS came along and with it came, you know, right-wing politics [which] inserted itself into the artistic haven that was New York City. People got wise and saw there was really cheap real estate to take in New York, and everything culminated with the AIDS epidemic. By the end of the 80s, it just totally killed this whole movement."  

Brookner adds, "I wanted to tell a story, because I wanted to shine a light on that time period so it wouldn’t get totally forgotten.”

“How do you feel about what you have inherited from your uncle?” I ask.

“I feel very fortunate and lucky to have had Uncle Howard in my life," remarks the director.  "I’ve learned so much from him: The gift of discovery, all of these things he left behind, these tools if you will - to see how he did what he did, exactly what he did, and learn from it.”

Photo of director Aaron Brookner at the 52nd New York Film Festival.
Credit Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

“It did seem like the film would work very well as narrative fiction,” I mention.

“We actually are developing that. I was just so enthralled by the era and him navigating through all these crazy ups and downs. He was on this terrain. We started scripting it then. Now with the documentary done, we are developing a mini-series essentially, that would follow Howard as this guy from, you know, middle-class Jewish suburbia into this world of coming to terms with his homosexuality, his artistic tendencies, and you know, plummeting him into the epicenter of this all.”

"Uncle Howard’’ is a mix of gorgeous footage from New York in the 70s and 80s, with cameos from some of the most renowned filmmakers and artists to come out of this era. Very touching however, is the footage of Howard’s mother and grandmother as they come to terms with his short and extraordinary life.