Volume 17, Number 49 | April 29 — May 05, 2005

Downtown Express Photo by elisabeth Robert

Mellini Kantayya, founder of the “Jilted Film Festival.”

The heart of the festival

Films inspired by the spirit that spawned the neighborhood

By Wickham Boyle

Although I still see Robert DeNiro founder of the Tribeca film Festival rooting through the protein bars at the local green market, he is not the ubiquitous downtown presence he used to be. So it is no surprise his festival has acquired more of an uptown gloss. The big launch was The Interpreter, a Nicole Kidman Sean Penn majorly mainstream movie. The premier was at the Zigfield with the after party at MOMA. Still there are some independent happenings downtown.

Tribeca hosted the Jilted Film Festival at the Sugar Club. This festival, the brainchild of Mellini Kantayya, featured films; you guessed it, rejected from other festivals. Kantayya vows to do this every year and will feature comedy shorts that were passed over by less enlightened festivals. www.brooklyntree.com

The outsiders continue to pepper the streets of Tribeca with alternative work. The most comprehensive offering is the Tribeca Underground Film Festival. This event in its second year was begun and curated by Laurence Asseraf. Last year she utilized the space at her A Taste of Art Gallery but this year a larger venue at 22-26 Ericsson Place plays host.

It is a series of short films, animation, and documentary. Over the course of four nights 39 short films, from around the world will be screened. In true festival fashion there are even award ceremonies and Taittinger champagne. Underground runs until this Sat., April 30, with daily free screening from 7 to 9 pm. www.tribecaundergroundfilmfestival.org

There are some quirky films featured in the main festival. One of them, the incredible full length The Lobster Farm, part drama, part love story and ensemble acting the caliber of Broadway. It features Danny Aiello and Jane Curtin and was shot entirely in NYC. Danny Aiello telephoned his fellow actor Bobby DiNiro in the weeks before the festival and complained that this little film had been overlooked. Aiello was livid, so DiNiro, to hear veteran Aiello tell it at the discussion following the screening, gave them a slot at the Tribeca Cinema. One day, one afternoon and free.

I might never have found it save for Kevin Jordan’s innovative marketing. Jordan, wrote and directed the film; fictionalizing his family’s story. The day before its screening, an enormous Thanksgiving-Day-parade-size balloon appeared at the corner of Canal and Sixth Avenue. It was a giant Santa riding a lobster. Santa rode a wild lobster battling the vicissitudes of spring wind and beaconing moviegoers. This movie is the essence of the Tribeca Film Festival, independent people, taking risks, using local, fabulous actors telling a story that could only happen here. It opens in September. wwwthelobsterfarm.com

The extraordinary New York African Film Festival, based on 18th Street, opened and has been screening films that are so amazing you may need extensions to your brain to fully absorb their brilliance. The opening feature “Forgiveness” is a South African film exploring the terrain of forgiveness in a way that is both time and place sensitive and yet so global that it makes poignant arguments for a world where we really do engage in discussions of reconciliation; unlike anything we have attempted to date in this country. The festival continues until the first week of May and then takes to the City parks in the summer. www.africanfilmny.org

When movies move you and bring you face to face with issues, humor, wisdom and brilliance then they are festival-worthy by my definition. Movies to entertain, titillate and pass time are available everywhere theaters, your computer or television. What I’d envisioned from the Tribeca Film Festival was the spirit that spawned the neighborhood; at its nascence Tribeca was a center for artists who broke away to do things differently. The mainstream will always be embraced; it’s the edges that could use a festival.

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