Official Press Notes for Sundance Documentary Selection – ‘Uncle Howard’

Official Uncle Howard Press Notes

Pinball London Presents
A Pinball London Production
In Association with Creative Europe, IFP, The Filmmaker Fund, Itaca Films, Bertha Foundation, Jerome Foundation

Press Contacts


Director Howard Brookner died of AIDS in NYC in 1989
while in post-production on his breakthrough Hollywood movie. Uncle Howard follows his nephew’s personal journey to discover his uncle’s film legacy which captured the late 70s and early 80s Downtown NYC cultural revolution and had been buried for 30 years in William Burroughs’ bunker.


Howard Brookner was buried on his thirty-fifth birthday in 1989. He was gay; an Ivy League graduate; broke artist; rising Hollywood star; heroin user; jet-setter; bohemian;
seedy nightlife lover; director of cult docs; an honest and devoted friend –he was many
things to many people. To director Aaron Brookner, he was a loving and inspirational
uncle who died of AIDS when Aaron was only seven, right when Howard was on the
brink of a promising filmmaking career.

William S. Burroughs wrote: “Immortality is the only goal worth striving for,” evoking the Egyptian concept that death is not the end of human existence but a necessary transition to immortality, achieved when one’s spirit could be freed from its tomb. Howard’s relationship with the famed writer marked his gateway to artistic and personal freedom.

Twenty-three years after his death, Howard’s work and memory are fading. But Aaron finds the clues to the many sides of his uncle’s story in a modern day tomb, in Burroughs’ New York City bunker. Inside, more than 300 cans offer a glimpse at Howard’s life and career, including outtakes from his 1983 debut film Burroughs: The Movie, the first and most revealing film about the iconic writer. Howard’s video diaries documenting his illness and personal feelings, photographs, rehearsal videos from his Hollywood feature with Madonna, buried letters, and e
xtensive documentation from the mid-80s until his death all become Aaron’s guides to piecing together a Rashomon-like existence to fulfill his uncle’s dying wish not to be forgotten.

Through conversations with family and close friends – including Jim Jarmusch, Tom DiCillo, Sara Driver, Hisami Kuroiwa, Brad Gooch, James Grauerholz and Robert Wilson – comes an exploration into the cultural revolution of the late 70s and early 80s, a bankrupt and sordid and bankrupt New York City, the eruption of the AIDS plague, sex, drugs, politics, and the artistic determination of a filmmaker whose life was cut short.

Featuring long-lost footage and archival photos of William Burroughs, Patti Smith, John Giorno, Allen Ginsberg, Brion Gysin, Paula Court, Terry Southern, Andy Warhol, Spike Lee, John Waters, Francis Bacon, Matt Dillon, Madonna,
and more, Uncle Howard reveals a portrait of the tumultuous and mysterious life, struggles, and untimely death of Howard Brookner.

Growing up, I remember my Uncle Howard always carrying around a camera, asking
anyone who would talk or perform to say something. I was entranced by the reactions he would get out of my grandparents, his parents, and my own family. Later on, he invited me to the set of Bloodhounds of Broadway and I knew I had to become a filmmaker.

As I watched St. Vincent’s Hospital being torn down, for more sky-rise condominiums to go up, I remembered visiting my Uncle Howard there in its jam-packed AIDS ward when I was boy. The Chelsea Hotel, now being turned into a luxury hotel, is where Howard and so many generations of artists were once able to live cheaply, so they had time to make their art. The New York of today is a different city from the one that my uncle lived in, and I feared that his memory would soon be erased.

I set out to preserve Howard’s legacy by finding his first film – the cult classic documentary Burroughs: The Movie – which had been out of print since his death. This act of searching set off a wave of other discoveries: his missing film on Robert Wilson;
his home movies; his video diaries; the behind-the-scenes making of his debut
Hollywood feature, Bloodhounds of Broadway, starring Madonna; and an astonishing
archive of all the film he shot between 1978 and 1983 which had been stored in the back room of Burroughs’ former home on Bowery for 30 years.

My mission evolved beyond bringing back Howard’s lost first film. I wanted to use everything that Howard had left behind, including the vivid memories he left with his friends and family, to turn his life story into a movie. To keep his memory alive. To champion his risk-taking spirit of making films and living life to its fullest.

– Aaron Brookner


Aaron Brookner – Director
Aaron Brookner (New York City, 1981). He began his career working on Jim Jarmusch’s
Coffee and Cigarettes and Rebecca Miller’s Personal Velocity before making the award-
winning documentary short The Black Cowboys (2004). He is a director and scriptwriter.

He wrote an authorized screenplay based upon the life of legendary writer Budd Schulberg (On the Waterfront, A Face in the Crowd, What Makes Sammy Run?) and
embarked on a feature documentary with Schulberg until his death in 2009, before the
film’s completion. His first feature film The Silver Goat (2012) was the first ever created exclusively for the iPad. Released as an app it was downloaded across 24 countries
making it into the top 50 entertainment apps in the UK and Czech Republic.

In 2011 Brookner initiated a project to find and restore the films and archive material of
his late uncle and earliest filmmaking influence, director Howard Brookner. The
undertaking lead to the successful recovery and restoration of the cult classic
Burroughs: The Movie (1983), about beat generation icon William S. Burroughs. Aaron Brookner and Paula Vaccaro produced the remastering.

In October 2014 the film received a special Revivals screening at the 52nd New York Film Festival, in the company of Jim Jarmusch, Tom DiCillo and James Grauerholz. Janus Films distributed theatrically and the Criterion Collection released a special edition DVD/Blu-ray.
Brookner’s second feature film is Uncle Howard: a documentary about the life and work
of Howard Brookner – who died of AIDS in 1989 at the age of 34 – while making his
Hollywood breakthrough film Bloodhounds of Broadway starring Madonna and Matt
Dillon. The film is produced by Paula Vaccaro, co-produced by Sara Driver and Alex Garcia, and executive produced by Jim Jarmusch.

In 2014 Brookner created his first video installation work (Double-Breasted Trench) shown in the “Animals in the Wall” group show in Shoreditch, London as part of the William Burroughs centenary celebration. A solo immersive film and video installation show with collaborator Paula Vaccaro entitled Non Nova Sed Nove is due in 2016, as well as a remastered version of Howard Brookner’s sophomore documentary film entitled Robert Wilson and the Civil Wars (1987) about avant-garde theatre director Robert Wilson.


Aaron Brookner
John Giorno
William S. Burroughs
Howard Brookner
Elaine Brookner
James Grauerholz
Jim Jarmusch
Tom DiCillo
Stewart Meyer
Brad Gooch
Hisami Kuroiwa
Sara Driver
Robert Wilson
Lindsay Law
Paula Court
Frederic Mitterrand
Kim Massee
Richard Shone
Darryl Pinckney

Directed by Aaron Brookner

Produced by Paula Vaccaro

Co-produced by Sara Driver & Alex Garcia

Executive Produced by Jim Jarmusch

Associate Producers: Patricia Finneran & David Tongers

Director of Photography: André Döbert & Gregg de Domenico

Editor: Masahiro Hirakubo

Sound: Diana Sagrista & Alberto Muñoz

(in order of appearance)

Aaron Brookner
John Giorno
William S. Burroughs
Howard Brookner
Elaine Brookner
El Perdito
James Grauerholz
Terry Southern
Steven Lowe
Brion Gysin
Mortimer Burroughs
Otto Belue
Patti Smith
Frank Zappa
Andy Warhol
Victor Bockris
Allen Ginsberg
Lucien Carr
Jim Jarmusch
Jeff Chan
Tom DiCillo
Laurie Anderson
Anne Waldman
Julia Heyward
John Cage
Merce Cunningham
Philip Glass
Peter Orlovsky
Stewart Meyer
Melody London
Jackie Curtis
Rick Little
Sarah Farber
Max Farber
Brad Gooch
Lester Brookner

Austin Brookner
Steve Brookner
Hisami Kuroiwa
Sara Driver
Spike Lee
Cinqué Lee
John Waters
Juliane Zerbst
Lena Sackmann
Klaus Maeck
Robert Wilson
Lindsay Law
John Silberman
Sharon Delano
Paula Court
William Olander
Matt Dillon
Jennifer Grey
Elliot Davis
Tony Longo
Randy Quaid
Rutger Hauer
Frédéric Mitterrand
Kim Massee
Richard Shone
Malcolm Mclaren
Darryl Pinckney
Michael Wincott
Jean Brookner
Andrew Brookner
Alan Boyce
Sarah Lindemann-Komarova
Phyllis Adams
Lee Kline
Alex Berman


Directed by Aaron Brookner

Produced by Paula Vaccaro

Co-Produced by Sara Driver & Alex Garcia

Executive Produced by Jim Jarmusch

Associate Producers: Patricia Finneran & David Tongers

Director of Photography:AndréDöbert& Gregg de Domenico

Editor: Masahiro Hirakubo

Sound: Diana Sagrista & Alberto Muñoz


Official Website

Social Media

Twitter: (@UncleHowardFilm)

Instagram: (@UncleHowardFilm)

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