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Volume 19 Issue 50 | April 27 - May 3, 2007

A Downtown Express Special Supplement

Tribeca Film Festival 2007

All photos Courtesy Tribeca Film Festival

“Chops” highlights the annual “Essentially Ellington” competition based at Jazz at Lincoln Center, which invites high school jazz bands from across the country to compete in a head-to-head competition.

A sporting event comes to Tribeca

By David Johnson

One wouldn’t naturally combine sports with movies, or sports movies with a film festival, but then again, the Tribeca Film Festival is not your typical movie event. The latest addition to the festival — and curated precisely to entice a whole new crowd of moviegoers — the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival has already generated quite a bit of buzz among Tribeca fans who have quickly pounced and bought tickets for this unusual slate of films.

“My desire when I started talking about it was: ‘How do we get people who don’t go to independent films to come out for these independent films, and for Tribeca? How do we get that message out, that there are films out here for you, that you’ll want to see,” said Nancy Schaefer, Tribeca programmer and one of the key organizers of the sports film series.

Schaefer said she found the answer in a mix of some 14 titles that run the gamut of competitive stories about jazz band competitions to intense poker games and a documentary about the life of famous Mexican boxer Julio Cesar Chavez.

In a press release announcing the event, Tribeca co-founder Jane Rosenthal points to the history of the event, and notes that already, “over the last five festivals, we have shown almost 30 narrative and documentary films which explore sports and their audiences.”

“Planet B-Boy” is a documentary about an international breakdancing competition and a product of the Tribeca All-Access program, which pairs aspiring filmmakers with industry insiders.

Given this historical level of interest in the genre, and the sheer numbers of sports films that were already being submitted for consideration, Schaefer said that Tribeca organizers started tentatively discussing a sports film series with sports channel ESPN before the 2006 festival. Plans were finalized last fall, and Schaefer said the response since has been staggering, as some 150 titles were submitted, competing for a final slate of 14.

One of the films, “Planet B-Boy,” is a documentary about an international breakdancing competition and a product of the Tribeca All-Access program, which pairs aspiring filmmakers with industry insiders. Another, “The Grand,” features an unlikely poker match, that finds Woody Harrelson, comedian David Cross and filmmaker Werner Herzog, in addition to other famous personalities, taking part in an elaborate mockumentary.

One of the most anticipated titles is Michael Apted’s documentary “The Power of the Game,” which ties together six individual storylines from the 2006 World Cup, chronicling stories of triumph and adversity from around the globe as they play out against one another.

Schaefer also points to a handful of films that don’t quite seem to be featuring traditional sports. “The King of Kong” uses the famous early video game “Donkey Kong” as an entry point into the world of competitive gaming. “Unstrung” features numerous tennis celebrities, but focuses almost exclusively on the lesser-known high school players who compete each year to win the junior tennis national championship. “Chops” highlights the annual “Essentially Ellington” competition based at Jazz at Lincoln Center, which invites high school jazz bands from across the country to compete in a head-to-head competition.

Beyond the screenings, the series culminates in a Tribeca Talks panel discussion titled “No Pain…No Gain…” that features former New York Giant Tiki Barber, who will talk about the transition from the sports field to the broadcast booth. There will also be a special “Sports Saturday” program, scheduled for the last Saturday of the fest, May 5, where visitors will have a chance to watch and participate in a variety of sporting events, including a BMX bike jump, a New York Giants training camp and a live stunt performance by the New York Redbulls street soccer team.

Looking beyond 2007, organizers are hoping the ESPN Sports Festival will become more than just a one-year event. Schaefer said in the long-term, she hopes it will become a stand-alone event that occurs in New York — or elsewhere — at some other point in the year, aiding filmmakers and athletes to connect with a whole new crowd of moviegoers.





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