Tribeca Film Festival: The Trib's Annual Preview of What's to Come, 4/17-4/28

"The Patience Stone," a "Viewpoint" film in this year's Tribeca Film Festival and one of many of the festival's international offerings .

Posted
Apr. 02, 2013

The Tribeca Film Festival returns this month for its 12th year, packed again with a whirlwind of screenings, talks and activ­ities. This year’s festival is notable for its foreign flavor—about half the movies come from outside the U.S.—and its introduction of new voices, with more first-time filmmakers than ever.

But what most distinguishes the festival, the programmers say, is the broad range of stories and the artful approaches to telling them.

In the past, critics have faulted the festival for its size and scope—too many venues, too many films and too little focus. The organizers have scaled back the number of movies—there are about 85 feature-length works and 60 shorts. Still, programmer Cara Cusumano said, “We didn’t want to lose that sense that this is a festival for New York, and New York is not just one community. So we want to have a film for all the audiences that we are entertaining.”

But for all their cultural diversity, Cusumano says, the American and foreign movies “seem to be in conversation with each other in a special way.”

She cites “Stand Clear of the Closing Doors,” about a mother’s search for her autistic teen who has vanished in the subway before Hurricane Sandy struck, and “Odayka,” from Japan, the story of two wives awaiting the return of their husbands after the devastating 2011 Great East Japan earthquake. “These are two completely different films coming from different parts of the world dealing with different types of tragedies,” Cusumano notes, “but coming at them from the same humanistic angle.”

Among its many documentaries, the 2013 festival also has a penchant for names you would know. There are films about a legend of Broadway, Elaine Stritch, and of boxing, Muhammad Ali. The departed Richard Pryor and Gore Vidal are profiled, as is Moms Mabley, in Whoopi Goldberg’s paean to the late comedienne. The current YouTube phenom, a cat named Lil Bub, gets his own movie, one that even a cinephile like Cusumano says she could watch again and again. “It’s delightful and entertaining and sweet and everything that a good movie should be.”

What else would she pick for family fare? Cusumano mentions the documentary “Dancing in Yaffa,” about Palestinian and Israeli children coming together in a ballroom dance program, and the narrative “A Birder’s Guide to Everything,” featuring a group of teens in search of an extinct duck.

If features like these are the festival’s main course, then the shorts, says shorts programmer Sharon Badal, are the hors d’oeuvre. Maybe. But taken together, the eight shorts programs (there’s even one this year called “Worst Day Ever”) that Badal has put together are nothing short of a feast. “It all depends on what you’re in the mood for,” she says.

Badal is drawn to the ability of shorts directors to respond to recent events, with movies like “The Rider and the Storm,” about an ironworker and surfer from Breezy Point who finds his own kind of recovery after losing everything to Sandy.

“I encourage people to take a ride with me on these programs,” Badal says. “It’s really fun and it’s something they certainly can’t get elsewhere.”

Indeed, the Tribeca Film Festival is about discovery—about finding something great that may, or may not, come to a theater near you.

 

THE SIDESHOWS

 

FAMILY STREET FEST

SAT., APRIL 27, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Eight blocks along Greenwich Street, from Hubert to Chambers, come alive with dancers, stilt walkers, Broadway performances, arts and crafts, face painters, puppet shows, music, games and much more, plus food served al fresco from Tribeca restaurants.

THE DRIVE-IN

The movies go outdoors with the annual free Drive-In at the World Finan­cial Plaza. Doors open and activities start at 6 p.m. Movies begin at 8:15 p.m.
THUR., April 18: THE BIRDS It’s Hitchcock’s 1963 classic thriller about the fiendish side of our fine feathered friends. Starring Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy and Suzanne Pleshette.

FRI., APRIL 19: BEETLEJUICE A couple of ghosts discover the challenges of being truly scary as they try to rid their old house of its current inhabitants. The 1988 comedy is preceded by a costume contest and other family activities.
SAT., April 20: LIL BUB & FRIENDZ The Web is fascinated with cats and none more so than Lil Bub, who makes the jump from YouTube to feature film as he goes on a search for his fellow feline celebrities.

TALKS ON FILM

Directors, actors, and screenwriter stake the stage for discussions on everything from the crossover between film and the gaming industry to a conversation with Clint Eastwood following the world premier of “East­wood Directs: The Untold Story."

TICKETS

Downtown residents get $2 discounts on evening and weekend screenings, $3 off of Tribeca Talks. For more information on tickets, screenings and myriad film festival activities, go to tribecafilm.com.

 

NARRATIVES FOREIGN...

In search of foreign adventure? It’s all here. The sexy spy thriller set in Monaco. Lovers at the train station. New awakenings in the Old World. Even Dr. Frankenstein is resurrected, twice, actually, in this year’s foreign narratives. But, as always, the selections here find new ways to surprise and delight. Often, they show us a world we have never seen before.

Consider WADJA (Germany). It’s the tale of a spunky 10-year-old Saudi girl determined to buy and ride a bicycle, consequences be damned. It’s a first from a female filmmaker in Saudi Arabia and offers a rare peek for western eyes into a closed world. Meanwhile, in rural Laos, a scrappy 10-year-old boy flees his doomed village and narrow fate in THE ROCKET (Australia). As the title suggests, he happens upon what might be his ticket out. Jin, a 17-year-old rebel, goes AWOL from the Turkish-Kurdish conflict, fleeing into the mountains and into the comfort of unexpected allies in JIN (Turkey). ALI BLUE EYES (Italy) is a coming-of-age tale of a Muslim teen and troublemaker struggling to fit in and find modern love despite his family’s efforts to hold him back.

In SIX ACTS (Israel) a teenaged girl, Gili, looks to improve her social status by sleeping with the cool boy in school. This, as you might expect, does not result in the status that she is looking for. WILL YOU STILL LOVE ME TOMORROW (Taiwan) is the story of what happens to desire over the decades. Here, a married man faces new temptation from an old flame. Meanwhile, his sister flees her fiancé. The comedy explores the difficulty of chasing change in a traditional society. JUST A SIGH (France) gives us a glimpse of fleeting romance when two strangers, a Parisian actress (Emmanuelle Devos) and English traveler (Gabriel Byrne) meet on a train and imagine what a future together could mean for them.

A chance meeting at an art opening in FLOATING SKYSCRAPERS (Poland) leads a man to leave his girlfriend for a man he has just met, changing his life instantly and forever. Similarly, REACHING FOR THE MOON (Brazil) is the story of the unexpected same-sex romance that bloomed between American poet Elizabeth Bishop and Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares.

But enough with the love stories. Bring on the monsters and mayhem! FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY (Netherlands) reintroduces us to one Dr. Victor Frankenstein, but this time, to the horror of the Russian soldiers who discover him during the last days of World War II, he is reanimating dead Nazis in his lab. Fast-forward to the future, during a second Cold War in THE MACHINE (U.K.) and the mad doctor is replaced by a programmer creating a super-strong cyborg. It’s an indestructible, lifelike weapon. What could possibly go wrong? Vampires are afoot in BYZANTIUM (U.K. and Ireland). Herein lies the lurid tale of a bloodthirsty mother and daughter who have descended upon a sleepy seaside town. The horror happens in broad daylight in BIG BAD WOLVES (Israel), a thriller featuring a vigilante cop and a vengeful father in search of a serial killer. The chase is on in MOBIUS (France, Belgium and Luxemburg), a twisting tale of international intrigue—think spies and sex and danger, set against the backdrop of beautiful Monaco. The scenery is brutal and unforgiving in WHITEWASH (Canada). Against the backdrop of frozen Quebec, the dark comedy is the story of a man (Thomas Haden Church) struggling to survive the winter and his conscience, after a conflict with a stranger complicates his lonely plight.

No film festival would be complete without at least one picture featuring a Frenchman on a bicycle. You’ll find that in CYCLING WITH MOLIERE (France), the story of an aging actor in search of a spark or a single reason to carry on. Even an old friend struggles to snap him out of his ennui. To finish, we suggest HAUTE CUISINE (France). It’s a kitchen comedy, based on the true story of French president François Mitterrand’s personal chef. The views of the palace and the food are exquisite. Bon appétit!

 

...AND DOMESTIC 

Homegrown narrative features in the festival this year include stories populated with characters struggling with some familiar problems: how to fit in, find love, make or survive a family, find fortune or be otherwise rewarded in the pursuit of happiness.

Even the Canucks in ALMOST CHRISTMAS are looking to make a buck. The buddy comedy features Paul Rudd and Paul Giamatti as French Canadian immigrants making a go of it in the Christmas tree game. The stakes are higher in the family drama AT ANY PRICE, where we find a son (Zac Efron) dreaming of driving race cars and a father (Dennis Quaid) trying to find a way to keep him at home on the tractor. Growing pains in rural America are compounded by tragedy in HIDE YOUR SMILING FACES, the tale of two boys, brothers, struggling to cope with an unexpected death.

THE PRETTY ONE explores the bond between sisters. Things get tragic and complicated when the prettier of the twins dies and the other assumes her apartment—and identity. A mother desperately looks for her son, an autistic teen, who has skipped class and escaped into the subway in STAND CLEAR OF THE CLOSING DOORS, a touching tale based on a true story. Meanwhile, above ground, an abandoned toddler is rescued by a street artist in SIDEWALK STORIES. The silent movie, black and white and low-budget, has the feel of a Chaplin film, but one set in 1980s New York. Fred (Stanley Tucci) has finally left his wife, but years too late, he discovers, when he arrives at the door of lost love Velvet (Alice Eve) in SOME VELVET MORNING. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) have found each other once again in BEFORE MIDNIGHT, the third installment in the saga of the star-crossed lovers by filmmaker Richard Linklater. In FARAH GOES BANG, young Farah would settle for a single rendezvous. But she has trouble finding a worthy partner in this coming-of-age comedy, uniquely set in the near political past of the 2004 presidential election. Equally quirky is ADULT WORLD, a comic tale of a college grad eager to launch her literary career, but forced to settle for a retail gig at a sex shop. Back in high school, Tanner (Michael J. Willett), newly arrived and openly gay, faces a dilemma in G.B.F.: stay loyal to his crowd or become best friend with one of the popular girls.

Finally, there is the only-in-America tale of TRUST ME, about a struggling Hollywood agent who believes he has finally found his fortune in a child star. Will his dreams be dashed? Or is he desperate enough to make them come true?
 

DOCUMENTARIES

From big issues to quiet portraits of a forgotten people, to celebrations of the colorful characters and artists who have changed the cultural landscape, documentary offerings at this year’s festival promise to be moving, motivating and memorable. First up is BIG MEN, a hard look at the heavy price paid by the people of Ghana and in the Niger River Delta when energy interests from America muscle in. The exposé casts a harsh light on the greed and corruption of the oil industry in Africa.

Meanwhile, in energy-poor Kanpur, India, the struggle is to keep the lights on in POWERLESS. Here, there is not enough electricity to power the entire city at once. We follow a resourceful bandit who taps the wires in working neighborhoods, risking his life to reconnect the city’s poor to power. Also from the energy front comes GASLAND PART II. It’s the followu-up to GASLAND, an exposé of the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing of the earth in search of oil and natural gas. The practice can affect groundwater and spoil wells. In this follow-up, more calamitous circumstances are explored, such as earthquakes. There is violent upheaval on the streets in LET THE FIRE BURN. The documentary is an account of the 1985 standoff between the radical group MOVE and Philadelphia police that ended when police bombed the row house, killing five children and six adults.

THE KILL TEAM drops us into Afghanistan where four U.S. soldiers stand accused of war crimes for going off mission and allegedly hunting and killing Afghans for sport. Self-destruction is rampant in Oceana, West Virginia. OXYANA explores the epidemic of oxycontin abuse and its devastating effect on a small mining town. More hopeful is DANCING IN JAFFA. Filmed in Israel, it follows ballroom dancer Pierre Dulaine as he teaches the basics to ethnically mixed groups of children in preparation for a contest. It offers a rare perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—one that is charming and light on its feet. Personal and poignant, THE GENIUS OF MARIAN is a portrait of filmmaker Banker White's mother, who is losing her memory to Alzheimer's, like her mother before her.

Actress Mariel Hemingway, granddaughter of Ernest, takes a frank look at the history of mental illness and suicide in her family's past and worries about its future in RUNNING FROM CRAZY. In THE BRIDEGROOM, we meet a same-sex couple who overcome struggles with family and society only to be finally separated by tragedy. The film explores what happens as the survivor fights for his rights without support or the legal protections of marriage. And then there is TEENAGE, a far-ranging exploration of the tumultuous teen years, including the origin of the “species” in the 20th century and the changes it brought to the family and culture. AATSINKI: THE STORY OF ARCTIC COWBOYS explores a year in the life of the modern cowboys of Finnish Lapland, as they ride herd (reindeer, of course) in the Arctic Circle. From a bit farther south, in the Netherlands, comes RED HERRING. Here, we spend time with another dying breed, Dutch herring fisherman, whose generations-old trade is threatened by new trends and changing tastes. More precarious is the struggle of mercenaries of the Puntland Maritime Police Force, who take matters into their own hands in search of Somali pirates off the African coast. We follow them into battle in THE PROJECT.

From the Coney Island shore comes BENDING STEEL, a surprisingly sweet story of a strongman in training whose dream is to one day join the Strongman Spectacular. FLEX IS KINGS, also from the edge of Brooklyn, is a look at the street performance movement of dramatic, contortionist dancing called Flex. The film follows innovators and promoters of the form as they prepare for competition.

Participatory art on a global scale is the focus of INSIDE OUT: THE PEOPLE'S ART PROJECT. We watch French artist JR as he persuades communities to create giant community-defining portraits in public spaces. Artist Ushio Shinohara paints with his fists in CUTIE AND THE BOXER. We have a ringside seat as the 80-year-old "boxing" painter attempts to jumpstart his career. Meanwhile, his wife, Noriko, an illustrator, seeks her own fame through the equally explosive works she has created documenting their long, sometimes rocky marriage. BIG JOY: THE ADVENTURES OF JAMES BROUGHTON is a celebration of the life and work of the charismatic artist whose "follow your own weird" philosophy led him to create oddball poems and paintings, as well as a wonderfully messy life.

More traditional and perhaps more emulated is the work of editorial cartoonist Herbert Block. The Pulitzer Prize–winning satirist, whose career at the Washington Post spanned more than five decades and 13 presidents, is remembered by his colleagues and admirers in HERBLOCK—THE BLACK & THE WHITE. Literary giant Gore Vidal comes in for the tribute treatment in GORE VIDAL: THE UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA. The documentary features archival interviews with the late Vidal, as well as those who knew, revered and feared him most. From the pantheon of moving pictures we’re given a portrait of filmmaker Michael Haneke. MICHAEL H. PROFESSION: DIRECTOR examines the entire career of the director and offers a rare peek at the master at work. From the world of comedy, there is RICHARD PRYOR: OMIT THE LOGIC. The documentary promises a never-before-seen, unvarnished and comprehensive chronicle of the rise and fall and rise again career of the late, groundbreaking comedian. And finally, from Internet fame, comes LIL BUB & FRIENDZ, the story of what happens when the most famous cat online (Lil Bub) and its owner take a road trip to meet other Web-famous felines.
 

SHORTS 

Some short films excite because they cut straight to the heart of the story. Others surprise because they offer a filmmaker a container of sufferable length for wild experimentation. The following selections are just a few of the 60 works you'll find in the eight shorts programs that work their magic with economy, grace, or dazzling ingenuity.

Filmmaker Thirza Cuthand uses Super-8 film stock and magic marker to show and tell the story of her temporary blindness in SIGHT (Canada). CORN MOTHER is an experiment in preservation, capturing with distressed and dissolving images a fleeting moment in the filmmaker's life, her mother's last visit to her garden. DEAD WORLD ORDER (France) is a look at the meticulous preservation of the artifacts in Le Havre's Maison de l'armateur, which survived the bombings of World War II and today houses irreplaceable treasures. GRAVE GOODS is a more personal look at the things we leave behind. Here, we find a filmmaker turning her lens to the items, from mundane housewares to glamorous fashion accessories, left behind by her late grandmother.

ROYAL AMERICAN is a look at the life of a typewriter. The documentary traces the surprisingly prolific output of letters produced by a clunky 1930s model rescued from the scrap heap. Never say die is the motto of the Cryonics Institute, where the deceased are frozen and stored, awaiting medical advances in the future that might return them to life. We get a look at the business, and the man behind it, in the documentary WE WILL LIVE AGAIN. A widower finds a way to cope, and raise a child in THE GIRL WITH THE MECHANICAL MAIDEN (Ireland). GRANDMA'S NOT A TOASTER is the story of siblings scheming to steal their grandmother's fortune. WHAT'S LEFT…WHAT'S LOST, a vivid and visceral narrative set in the 1950s, is the tale of a forlorn father struggling with the decision to end his own life, and to take his son with him.

The leap into the void propels THE ACROBAT (Spain), a stirring story about the act of suicide. The struggle for survival connects the characters in GRACE, the tale of what happens on a human scale in the hours after nuclear war breaks out. HERMENEUTICS (Russia) seems at first to be a standard World War II flick. Then everything changes in this experimental work that examines and demonstrates the art of interpretation. Similarly cryptic is THE MOON HAS ITS REASONS (U.K.). On the surface, it is a love story. But that is open to interpretation. SPACE CADET, set in the early 1980s, is about pot-smoking parents facing the reality that their quirky 15-year-old son may need to see a shrink. THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM takes us to 1950s suburbia, where a housewife suspects the neighborhood dentist is up to no good. In 2021, a jailed journalist facing execution hatches a desperate plan in the THE EXIT ROOM. Meanwhile, in MURK LIGHT (Iraq), a pair of young Emirati friends ride through the day and night atop a bus, chasing dreams and an escape. The adventurers are on foot in ZZZZZZZ, the story of a pair of sleepwalkers wandering New York City streets. And finally, there is EPILOGUE, where we meet Skillman. He has just wrapped up his last adventure. What is a superhero to do when all his villains have been vanquished?

 

SPORTS 

We look to sports for more than just scores. We look for drama, for escape, for heroes. The following sports-themed selections provide all that and more. The films, many of them this year portraying women in sport, document the struggles of athletes on and off the playing fields and providing the context, conflicts, and heart rarely found in the record books.

THE TRIALS OF MUHAMMAD ALI traces the evolution of generation-defining athlete and cultural icon Cassius Clay, from a charismatic young bruiser to ambassador for peace. The film focuses on the boxer’s battles outside the ring, including with the U.S. government over his controversial religious conversion and refusal to serve in the Vietnam War. THE DIPLOMAT gives us a portrait of Olympic gold medal winner Katarina Witt. Here we find another world-famous athlete met with distrust by her own country. The photogenic figure skater became a cover girl during the Cold War, “the most beautiful face of socialism,” earning her fame and privilege in East Germany. But it also made her a target of surveillance by the country’s secret police.

More scrutiny might have rooted out swindler John Spano, who swooped in out of nowhere with a bogus backstory and $165 million to purchase the New York Islanders in 1997. BIG SHOT is the story of this dreamer and schemer who fooled the National Hockey League but not the press. When sports reporter Melissa Ludtke was shut out of the New York Yankees locker room in 1977, she successfully challenged major league baseball to open the doors to women. That did not settle the issue, though. LET THEM WEAR TOWELS explores the years of fan rancor and player harassment female reporters have endured while chasing stories into the men’s locker room.

NO LIMITS is the story of Audrey Mestre, a free diver (the sport of diving without breathing apparatus) who chased her dream into the dangerous deep. What compels athletes to give it all for their sport? THE MOTIVATION introduces us to eight striving professional skateboarders fighting, through injuries, family struggles and financial troubles, for a place at the top. MCCONKEY follows the trail-blazing career of extreme skier Shane McConkey, who changed the sport with his skill, style and daring before leaving it behind, tragically, in his final jump.  Some athletes never get the chance to compete on the world stage. LENNY COOKE is the story of a high school hoops star who seemed destined for the NBA. We catch up with Cooke a decade later, his dream of stardom deflating but not yet dead.

You may have heard of Wilt Chamberlain, one of the tallest and most dominant NBA players in the history of the game. He went by many names, including Wilt the Stilt and Goliath. But in his early days, he was Wilt the bellhop. WILT CHAMBERLAIN: BORSCHT BELT BELLHOP is the story of Chamberlain’s summer job as a teen at a Catskills resort. As the film reveals, even there his legend was growing. Finally, there is PAT XO, a portrait of NCAA basketball’s most successful coach, Pat Summitt, who was forced to leave the game at the peak of her career due to early-onset dementia. Instead of a gauzy retrospective, we get a raw and intimate film that gives us access into Summitt’s world by placing the story, and the camera, in the hands of her son, Tyler.