Meet Uncle Howard

Sara Driver on the man who shot William Burroughs.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Aaron Brookner with Paterson and Gimme Danger director Jim Jarmusch - Sara Driver on Uncle Howard:
Aaron Brookner with Paterson and Gimme Danger director Jim Jarmusch - Sara Driver on Uncle Howard: "I knew Howard’s nephew Aaron was interested in filmmaking ..."

In Aaron Brookner's search in the making of Uncle Howard, with timely editing by Masahiro Hirakubo (Orlando von Einsiedel's Virunga), we see glimpses of John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Philip Glass, John Giorno, Laurie Anderson, Anne Waldman, Jim Carroll, Frank Zappa, and Patti Smith at the Entermedia Nova Convention - Andy Warhol having Cities Of The Red Night inscribed by William Burroughs - clips from Robert Wilson and the Civil Wars - and a telling interview with Lindsay Law on Howard Brookner's film Bloodhounds Of Broadway, based on Damon Runyon stories, with Matt Dillon, Rutger Hauer, Randy Quaid, Jennifer Grey, Madonna, Anita Morris, Fisher Stevens, Richard Edson, and Steve Buscemi.

Sara Driver with Paul Bowles scholar Francis Poole and Richard Peña at the You Are Not I press conference
Sara Driver with Paul Bowles scholar Francis Poole and Richard Peña at the You Are Not I press conference Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Executive produced by Jim Jarmusch, produced by Paula Vaccaro (Ginger And Rosa), co-produced by Sara Driver and Alex Garcia, Uncle Howard shows us a revealing portrait of the times and the talent of Howard Brookner who was lost much too young.

I spoke with Sara following the New York Film Festival press conference in 2011 for her film You Are Not I, based on a Paul Bowles story, and we stayed in touch over the years.

The following is her recounting of how Tom DiCillo, Jim Jarmusch and her relationship with Howard Brookner on the making of Burroughs: The Movie led to Aaron Brookner's excavating and intimate Uncle Howard.


Aaron Brookner in The Bunker with Howard Brookner's film archive:
Aaron Brookner in The Bunker with Howard Brookner's film archive: "Aaron was excited to find his Uncle’s film."

"I met Howard Brookner when I worked in the equipment room at NYU while enrolled in their MFA program. He, along with Tom DiCillo and Jim Jarmusch, were making a film about William Burroughs. It ended up being an extraordinary and very truthful film about this paranoid and wary writer. Bill Burroughs opened his world and history to Howard. I remember how proud I was of Howard when I attended the 1983 [Burroughs: The Movie] première at the New York Film Festival.

A few years ago I saw a misinformed film about Burroughs. It got me thinking about the Burroughs movie that Howard made: a film produced while Burroughs was alive and with his blessing. I knew Howard’s nephew Aaron was interested in filmmaking and had been making a documentary about a blacklisted screenwriter. The writer died and his family put a stop to the making of the film.

Aaron was excited to find his Uncle’s film. He looked everywhere until a print was found at MoMA. Howard’s lover Brad Gooch had donated a pristine print off the original negative to the museum. Then the search began for any negative material. It was found with the poet John Giorno. My father, a lawyer helped Aaron get legal counsel so that John would give over this material that had been sitting in Burroughs’s untouched home, the bunker, for over 30 years.

Jim Jarmusch got involved and encouraged Peter Becker from Criterion to oversee a transfer and release of the film. Jim and Tom DiCillo did the commentary (interesting and funny stories about working on the film) for the new Criterion DVD release of Burroughs: the Movie.

William Burroughs with Howard Brookner:
William Burroughs with Howard Brookner: "Jim Jarmusch got involved and encouraged Peter Becker from Criterion to oversee a transfer and release of the film [Burroughs: The Movie]."

While Aaron was on the quest for his Uncle’s lost film, he started thinking about what his favorite Uncle had accomplished in his short life, and the impact Howard’s death from AIDS had on his immediate family. Aaron simultaneously began shooting the film about his Uncle. He was seven when his Uncle died.

The funny thing is Jim and I always called Howard “Uncle Howard” even though Howard was our age. Howard was one of our dearest friends. So it is for us doubly fitting that the gifted and tenacious Aaron used that as the title for this deeply touching, insightful film." - Sara Driver - 2016


Uncle Howard Spotlight on Documentary screenings at the New York Film Festival: Sunday, October 9 at 5:30pm - Bruno Walter Auditorium; Monday, October 10 at 9:00pm - Francesca Beale Theater - Expected to attend: Aaron Brookner and producer Paula Vaccaro with special guests from the film.

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