Uncle Howard

: Documentary Feature
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Completed


The loss of a potent New York City filmmaker to AIDS in 1989, leaves his young nephew inspired to make films and solve the mystery of who his favorite uncle really was. 25 years later it comes to fruition with an astounding discovery of film unveiling the world his uncle left to be discovered.


April 30, 1987, Howard Brookner celebrates his 33rd birthday. His loft is packed with friends from across all areas of the arts. Having made critically acclaimed feature documentaries on cultural icons William Burroughs and Robert Wilson, Howard is preparing for his breakout Hollywood feature. The top actors of the day are attached: Madonna, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Grey, Randy Quaid. One year later Howard is blind and in the St. Vincent’s hospital AIDS ward where he fights for his life as well as the studio for final cut of his movie. One year after that, Howard is buried on his 35th birthday.

1989 marks the end of an era when sex was not lethal, New York City was cheap, and art favored the power of ideas and creativity over commercial prospects. To his many friends, family, and the man he intended to grow old with, Howard’s death was nothing short of devastation. To his 7 year old nephew Aaron, it was an unsolved mystery mixed up with a love of filmmaking his favorite uncle imbued onto him.


As I watched St. Vincent’s hospital get torn down for more luxury 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 than the one my uncle lived in, and I feared that the memory of both was being 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 discoveries: Howard's missing Burroughs film; 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 1982 while filming William Burroughs-which had been stored in the back room of Burroughs' former home on the Bowery for 30 years.  My mission changed.  In addition to bringing back Howard's lost first film, I wanted to use everythig Howard had left behind, along with new footage I would shoot with his closest friends and family, to turn his life story into a movie.  To keep his memory alive.  To champion his risk-taking spirit of living life and making art exactly as one chooses.




Jim Jarmusch - Executive Producer

 Born in Akron, Ohio, Jim Jarmusch lives and works in New York.

Films include Permanent Vacation (1980), Stranger than Paradise (1984), Down by Law (1986), Mystery Train (1989), Night on Earth (1991), Dead Man (1995), Year of the Horse (1997), Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999), Coffee and Cigarettes (2003), Broken Flowers (2005) The Limits of Control (2009) and the short film "Int. Trailer. Night." (2002).

Aaron Brookner - Director, Producer


Born in Greenwich Village, New York City, he studied writing and filmmaking at Vassar College and began his career assisting in the production of Coffee and Cigarettes by Jim Jarmusch and Rebecca Miller's Personal Velocity.

His documentary short The Black Cowboys (2004), profiling Brooklyn’s Federation of Black Cowboys in the context of the omission from history of America’s black cowboys, won the audience award at Rochester International Short Film Festival.

His first feature documentary was a collaboration with legendary writer Budd Schulberg (On the Waterfront; A Face in the Crowd) until Schulberg’s death in 2009, and he also wrote an authorized screenplay based upon his life.

His first long feature, The Silver Goat, was filmed in London in 11 days and was released in 2012 as the first film int he world created exclusively for iPad. Shot for less than 50.000 USD it was downloaded in 14 countries in 3 days being in the top entertainment apps in the UK and Czech Republic Apple app store. Its Youtube trailer was seen by more than 65.000 people with press coverage in ten countries.

He is remastering and re-releasing two feature documentaries by Howard Brookner, his uncle, who died of AIDS in 1989: the seminal documentary on William Burroughs, Burroughs: The Movie; and Robert Wilson and the Civil Wars. Currently he is making Smash the Control Machine: Howard Brookner and the Western Lands, a feature documentary on his uncle, produced by Paula Vaccaro and executive produced by Jim Jarmusch.  

Smash the Control Machine was the only documentary selected of only 10 worldwide films presented at the 2013 Berlinale Talent Project Market


Paula Vaccaro - Producer

Paula Vaccaro has been working as a producer for different audiovisual platforms for more than a decade after almost ten years as a radio, tv and written media career as a journalist in Argentina. Some of the highlights of her career as a producer include her work alongside well known auteurs such as Emir Kusturica, Guillermo Arriaga, Oliver Stone, Sally Potter and Amos Gitai.

Besides her career as long feature films producer, she has also produced award winning music videos such as The 80’s for Robbie Williams and worked in the creation of TV programmes such as prestigious Guns, Germs and Steel with Pulitzer prize winner Jared Diamond, The last Nazi Hunter for BBC and Life in Another Language, for Channel 4 UK online shorts among more than a dozen programs.

She was the recipient of the British Council Chevening Award 1999 and holds a Master in Media Arts specialised in documentary from the University of London. She has been an Emmy Juror in the UK since 2009 and is one of the founders of production company Pinball London. She is currently producing On the milky road, the return to fiction filmmaking by award winning director Emir Kusturica, starring Monica Bellucci. 


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