Uncle Howard

Howard Brookner filming with Beat Generation poet William Burroughs.
Verdict: 
8/10 – An emotional and powerful look at a promising filmmaker, who became just another victim of the AIDS epidemic. Howard Brookner’s nephew Aaron perfectly captures his uncle’s lust for life, with old footage cut expertly with modern day interviews.
Release Date: 
Friday, December 16, 2016
Written by: 

Filmmaker Aaron Brookner’s quest to find out more about his uncle, Howard Brookner, whose promising career was cut short by AIDS.

8

More than 25 years after promising filmmaker Howard Brookner had his life cut short by AIDS, his nephew Aaron Brookner embarks on a mission to tell his uncle’s story.

After finding out Howard’s archive footage had been buried in Beat Generation poet William Burroughs' New York ‘bunker’ space for three decades, Aaron sets about piecing together Howard’s life, from the start of his career to his untimely death in 1989.

Told in a mix of modern day interviews and flashback material filmed by Howard and his production team, Uncle Howard charts the very beginnings of Howard’s career with behind the scenes footage from his first feature, Burroughs: The Movie.

Shot as part of the fledgling director’s senior thesis at NYU, Howard managed to obtain five years of unparalleled access to Burroughs, and it remains the only documentary made with the poet’s full participation.

From the cutting room floor footage, Howard’s joy for life is clearly visible, seen especially in the easy relationship he develops with revered Burroughs.

His collaborators and friends happily recall memories of that time to Aaron, including Uncle Howard’s executive producer Jim Jarmusch.

The footage not only captures a young Howard, but also a moment in time, showcasing what life in ‘70s New York was like for the creative and the gay community; carefree and brimming with possibility.

Howard’s second documentary, Robert Wilson and the Civil Wars, is next covered, before focus shifts to his first, and subsequently only, attempt at a big-budget Hollywood feature, Bloodhounds of Broadway.

Starring Matt Dillon, Madonna, Jennifer Grey and Randy Quaid, it should have marked an exciting period for Howard, but by this time the 34-year-old director was battling AIDS, and it was a race against time to get the movie made before he succumbed to the illness that devastated the gay community in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Along with Howard’s colleagues, Aaron shares his own personal home videos and interviews his grandmother, Howard’s mother, adding a deeply personal aspect to the project.

There are also videos of Howard talking to his own grandparents on camera and personal video diaries, including when he first talks of a purple bruise on his toe before his AIDs diagnosis.

The use of photos and interviews with Howard’s partner Brad Gooch gives a full and complete overview of the vivacious and talented Howard’s short life.

A deeply moving and affecting film, you’ll walk away feeling like you really know Howard.

In 96 minutes Aaron manages to get under the skin of his late uncle, while at the same time exposing the tragedy that was the first decade of the AIDS epidemic.

You’ll yearn to watch his early work, and mourn the loss of a filmmaker stopped in his tracks before his full potential was ever reached. An emotional and powerful piece of cinema.

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