Tribeca Film Festival just turned 10 years old, opening last night with Cameron Crowe’s documentary “The Union” featuring Elton John and Leon Russell. And, I am (clearly) back covering the fest for Awards Daily. I have always been a supporter of the festival and not only because I have helped run the box office for the past 6 years Since this is more than likely my final year working for the festival, I plan on digging deep, seeing as many films and panels as possible. And perhaps (finally!) attend a few parties as well….gotta go out with a bang after all.
Tribeca’s mission has always been to highlight New York films and/or New York filmmakers, as well as remain loyal to past festival participants, such as Edward Burns and Alex Gibney. Robert De Niro (the festival’s co-founder along with Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff) was recently quoted as saying that his purpose was and is simply to revitalize the Tribeca neighborhood after September 11. And although most of the venues have moved a bit uptown, the Tribeca neighborhood has continued to change in landscape. Let’s just say that it’s much easier to find something to eat during my lunch break than it used to be. But TFF was never all NYC.
The festival also included more seclusive events, ones that were virtually impossible to attend (which always alienated and intrigued a buzz obsessed audience) even when the films (“Shrek Forever After,” “Baby Mamma,” “Lucky You,” to name a few) they dangled rarely came close to the best the fest had to offer, and almost always ended up in wide release weeks, sometimes days, later. When I am wearing my box office employee hat I often have to deliver the bad news to a patron that a star studded film is no longer available, often nudging them away from the bigger name films altogether (no worries Tribeca bosses…those films are already sold out anyway!) and toward films they might not be able to see otherwise. Although this year, many smaller films were the first to go, the “must see first” mentality lives on. And I totally get it: I would be lying if I didn’t say I loved telling people that I had already seen “Black Swan” months before it was released, but I do wonder if I missed out on films never shown elsewhere…ones that weren’t using the festivals as a launching pad, but as the main event.
The role of the film festival has changed in the past few years. Sundance has become the film equivalent of the Iowa caucus with Toronto the last stop before the end of Oscar’s primary season. Tribeca, while secure in its own skin still seems to be searching for its place in the festival world, not entirely due its own faults. Some folks will simply never give the festival a break. TFF has often been criticized for not having a narrow, streamlined voice that can be summed up in a a few words. Sundance = Indie films. Toronto = Oscar films. The programmers attempt to rectify this by creating different sections (in addition to the World Narrative/World Documentary competition categories) such as Viewpoints (a snapshot of international independent cinema) and Spotlight (anticipated releases).
Since I can’t see/review everything, (Tribeca is a scheduling beast!) it has become one of my goals to deduce what I think might not only be Oscar bait, but also enjoyable to AD readers, myself included. And sometimes it’s the customers who let me know what to see. Last year, “When We Leave” was completely off my radar until the buzz became deafening . Eventually it won the Best Narrative prize as well as Best Actress. I thought the film would have a shot at the Oscars for both foreign film and actress. I was 1/2 right. It was Germany’s entry for FF, but with a loaded actress category and little PR backing, Sibel Kekilli had to “settle” for the German Oscar. Looking back, it is pretty obvious she never had a shot. But that’s part of the game. Even Dave Karger makes mistakes. Remember when he had “How Do You Know?” as a possible Best Picture contender? While covering a festival like Toronto might be easier in terms of predicting awards love, Tribeca is truly a crap shoot. Will there be another “Taxi to the Dark Side” in the mix this year? Or even a “Let the Right One In?”
Tribeca wouldn’t be Tribeca if we didn’t have an Ed Burns film, and this year he gets the closing night slot with his look at the trials and tribulations of relationships: “Newlyweds.” The other stalwart Alex Gibney returns as well. Last year, he had 3 films in the festival, including eventual Oscar contender “Client 9: the Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer” (the best, if disappointing…for me at least…of the 3). This year he has “Catching Hell,” a look at die hard sports fans through the focus of Steve Bartman, the life long Cubs fan, who potentially lost the National League pennant for the Cubs in 2003 by touching a foul ball headed for the stands. I am very intrigued by what appears to be a new direction for the filmmaker. Having never been a sports fan, I am oddly attracted to this film. I love when a documentary can take a subject matter I not only know little about, and honestly, couldn’t have cared less about prior to seeing it, and hook me.
I am also excited about the sci-fi/horror offerings this year. The festival has always included a few “late night” horror films in their slate, but this year the programmers have truly embraced their dark side. I mentioned a few in my early preview, including “Grave Encounters” and “Rabies” two films I will definitely be seeing next week. And also “Saint,” which depicts good old St. Nick as a murderous Bishop seeking revenge. I already caught “Saint,” and it was quite a blast. Nothing groundbreaking in terms of the genre, but it achieves its purpose with plenty of scares and just the right amount of camp. I know I have talked here and there about the oddities of press screenings, but I have never experienced one like the one for “Saint.” Occasionally critics will allow themselves to chuckle at comedies, or even put down their pens long enough to truly experience the film. But with this one, the journalist wall was up from the start. I have always seen myself as a fan first, a writer/critic/blogger second, and I am definitely a fan of horror, so my guard was completely down. For a while I tried to grasp on to my “journalistic” integrity, but I eventually let go and went along for the ride. So what if I was the only one in the room yelping with fright?
After a difficult and daunting Oscar season, I decided to make my Tribeca experience a bit lighter than last year. Not all docs, all the time. In addition to the horror films, I have chosen some narratives that will more than likely never see a critic’s award, but will hopefully be enjoyable nonetheless. I have already seen “Stuck Between Stations,” starring Zoe Lister-Jones and Sam Rosen (who also produced and co-wrote the film) as former childhood classmates, now adults, spending a night together that will more than likely end with them parting ways. I have a feeling a few critics may have some problems with the film, can’t really explain why…well, OK, I will try. Maybe because of the obvious similarities to “Before Sunrise.” Maybe because the synopsis uses the word “zeitgeist.” (Can we please retire that word when discussing film?) It is very touching and naturalistic at times, even though the cinematography and technical devices used give it less a documentary feel than Sunrise, but not at the expense intimacy.
Oscar nominee Karen Black (“Five Easy Pieces”) has a standout supporting role in “Maria, My Love.” Judy Marte plays a young woman who is trying to find her way after losing her Mother. She begins a new romance and also befriends an emotionally damaged hoarder (Black) but is unsure if she is ready to take on either relationship. With Marte as the realistic anchor of the film, Black has room to play. It is a bold role, and she tackles it full force.
Last year (how many times can this be said, huh?) was the year of the documentary, and Tribeca had its fair share, although very few of the docs I screened saw the light of day in terms of wide release. This year, I have already seen “The Swell Season” which follows “Once” stars, Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard on their concert tour post Oscars. For me, the film is a real standout. Oscar has never embraced entertainment docs, but this film could turn that corner. I’m sure the Academy will see the film and feel partially responsible for it. Not only will they be honoring the movie, they will be rewarding their own good judgement. I will be seeing it one more time and will more than likely devote an entire piece reviewing the film.
Continuing on the entertainment front we have “Carol Channing: Larger Than Life” and “God Bless Ozzy Osborne.” Although Channing is a legend, I actually know very little about her personal life/journey. I have a feeling that the film is going to be a love letter, which is entertaining, but not always profound. With Ozzy, I’m not sure what we can learn that we don’t already know…especially after “The Osbournes.” Perhaps without the comic angle, we might see something meatier. Last year the entertainment sub genre reached quite the peak with Joan Rivers: a Piece of Work. We will have to see if these two can live up to that.
Of all the docs on the slate, I think I’m most interested in “The Bully Project,” a film that chronicles a year in the Sioux City Community school district. I wondered (and still do, a bit) if kids in high school would really interact honestly in front of cameras, but from the footage in the trailer, it looks like the filmmakers accomplished the goal of showing us a searing and honest portrayal of high school bullying. In a time when intense rhetoric is the norm, I’m hoping they address/uncover the reasons bullying has truly gotten out of hand.
I think that should give you all a bit to chew on for now. It’s going to be a very busy and hopefully fun 11 days!