Volume 20, Number 48 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | April 13 - 19, 2011
Photo courtesy of the Tribeca Film Festival.
The Elton/Leon/Cameron doc “The Union” opens the 2011 TFF
Photo courtesy of the Tribeca Film Festival.
Burns, baby, Burns: Tribeca resident and frequent TFF content provider Ed Burns’ “Newlyweds” screens on closing night (April 30).
Photo by Robert Benavides, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
L to R: Phife Dwag, Q-Tip, Jacobi
Photo courtesy of Orchestre Septentrional
See “When the Drum is Beating”
Photo by Jurgen Schadeberg
Miriam Makeba, 1955 — poised to become “Mama Africa.”
Tribeca Film Festival expands reach, continues reinvention
With 93 features to choose from, common themes emerge
COMPILED BY SCOTT STIFFLER
First impressions and early image-making efforts tend to stick long after the sizzle has worn off the branding iron. Say “Sundance” and indie grit comes to mind. “Cannes” conjures Riviera glam and that internationally recognized Palme d’Or jury prize logo plastered on the posters of winning films.
The Tribeca Film Festival, though, rapidly evolved from its year-one reputation as an event whose mission (bring crowds back to lower Manhattan after 9/11) loomed larger than its creative content. Ten years later, the upcoming anniversary of 9/11 is poised to be commemorated, reexamined and exploited — but TFF no longer references that association to garner attention. It’s become a local fixture by spreading far beyond Lower Manhattan.
That happened as much out of necessity as design. A decade later, Tribeca still has surprisingly few cinemas able to accommodate the robustly attended festival (most screenings take place in the East Village and Chelsea). Rather than champion the construction of a brick and mortar neighborhood multiplex, TFF 2011 is more concerned with establishing a presence on millions of smaller screens around the world. Through cable systems nationwide (locally, Time Warner), the distribution label Tribeca Film will deliver Movies on Demand from April 20 through June 23. And at www.tribecafilm.com/tribecafilm, digital festivalgoers will be able to access features and shorts from 2011 and years past — plus a host of interactive options (including daily video and blog updates from Tribeca filmmakers).
Outside the electronic realm, the tactile TFF experience offers red carpet arrivals, panel discussions, post-screening director Q&As, a Drive-In and a family street fair. But for all the surrounding activities, the marrow of TFF is still found in that beefy roster of films.
Do a digital flip through the Film Guide at www.tribecafilm.com, and a philosophy begins to emerge. The sophomore effort of Director of Programming David Kwok, nearly a third of the 93 narrative and documentary feature films share a handful of common subject matter — giving the festival a thematic sprawl as large and ambitious as its digital presence. Here are some of those themes, as well as a few uncategorizable potential favorites.
For ticketing and venue info, turn to page 27. To access the schedule of screening dates and times, visit www.tribecafilm.com (where films titles are listed alphabetically, along with a synopsis and frequent options to view the trailer or connect with the filmmakers via Twitter and Facebook). Nearly all of the features will screen at least twice (most of them, four times) between April 20 and May 1.
OPENING NIGHT: “THE UNION”
Documentary; 2011, 90 minutes.
Directed by Cameron Crowe
Love-him-or-hate-him director Crowe may have found a kindred spirit in dinosaur rocker or rockin’ dinosaur Elton John. The opening night screening of this documentary chronicles John’s life — with a focus on the creative process involving a collaborative album with Leon Russell. The free outdoor screening (followed by a live performance by Elton John) takes place on Wed., April 20, 8:15pm — at North Cove at the World Financial Plaza. Arriving very early would be a very good idea. Many will certainly be turned away, but the film also screens at 2:30pm & 10pm on Thurs., April 21; and at 8:30pm on Sat., April 23 — at AMC Loews Village 7.
CLOSING NIGHT: “NEWLYWEDS”
Feature Narrative, 2011, 93 minutes.
Director/Screenwriter: Ed Burns
Leave it to firmly established resident Ed Burns to keep things local. Shot entirely in Tribeca, Burns continues his prolific streak of zeroing in on the heroic, tragic, petty and profound games people play. This time up, the screenwriter/director/co-star zeroes in on a wife whose husband comes with family, friends and exes loaded down with baggage. One screening only, on Sat., April 30, 6:30pm at BMCC Tribeca PAC.
FILMS SET IN, OR ABOUT, NEW YORK
BEATS, RHYMES & LIFE: THE TRAVELS OF A TRIBE CALLED QUEST
Feature Documentary, 2011, 98 minutes.
Directed by Michael Rapaport
Formed in 1985 by East Coast hip-hop pioneers Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Jarobi White (before there was a thing called East Coast hip-hop), A Tribe Called Quest married sophisticated jazz-infused beats with cerebral and introspective rhymes without sacrificing good vibes or good times. Those good times came to an abrupt halt when the group dramatically disbanding in ‘98. Actor Michael Rapaport’s debut documentary is cut from eight months of total access to the history and inner workings of the Tribe. De La Soul, Kanye West, Common, Mos Def, Ludacris, Beastie Boys, Busta Rhymes, Mary J. Blige and more pay tribute to the living legacy.
GARDEN ROLL BOUNCE PARKING LOT
Short Documentary, 2010, 5 minutes.
Directed by Melissa Friedling
A Brooklyn-based Bangladesi immigrant family recalls how a spool of found film became the lattice support for their urban garden.
Feature Narrative, 2011, 95 minutes.
Directed by Michael Cuesta
After 20 years of serving as a roadie for Blue Oyster Cult, Jimmy gets the boot and returns to his childhood home in Queens to find his mom in the early stages of dementia. As if that weren’t disorientating enough, his high school crush is married to an old rival.
NEW YORK SAYS THANK YOU
Feature Documentary, 2010, 86 minutes.
Directed by Scott Rettberg
New Yorkers whose lives were touched by September 11 travel the country helping communities rebuild after disasters.
Feature Documentary, 2011, 92 minutes.
Directed by Billy Corben
This used to be a fun town, remember? “Limelight” takes you back to a not-too-bygone era when clubland’s Peter Gatien was the anything-goes king of Limelight, Tunnel, Palladium and Club USA. Years later, Limeligtht is a lackluster mall — and Gatien’s empire has long since crumbled under the pressure of changing times and legal battles that exiled him to Canada.
Feature Documentary, 2011, 85 minutes.
Directed by Gretchen Morning and John Morning
When retired New York copy Kathy Gilleran gets a call letting her know her gay son has gone missing in Vienna Austria, her search for the truth leads to a homophobic cops, unexpected discrepancies in the investigation and suspicious circumstances.
A MATTER OF TASTE
Feature Documentary, 2011, 68 minutes.
Directed by Sally Rowe
Badass hotshot chef Paul Liebrandt was a rising star of the NYC restaurant world. Then, the city’s post-9/11 temperament put the kibosh on the type of hyper-modern dishes he built his name on. This documentary looks at Liebrandt’s decade-long quest to become successful and relevant again — in the eyes of critics, chefs, customers and restaurant owners.
Feature Narrative, 1980, 134 minutes.
Directed by Alan Parker
You got big dreams? You want fame? Before Debbie Allen asked those immortal questions each week on the small screen version, Alan Parker’s 1980 look at a romanticized pre-Giuliani New York made a case for pursuing your craft at New York City’s High School for the Performing Arts. With brief nudity! Thurs., April 21, 8:15pm. Part of the Tribeca Drive-In program.
THE MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN
Feature Narrative, 1984, 94 minutes.
Directed by Frank Oz
After he was Yoda but before he helmed “In & Out,” Frank Oz did double duty as co-star (star?) Miss Piggy and director of this Muppet-infused take on the old let’s-put-on-a-show scenario. Kermit and company take it to Gotham when they decide to fulfill their dream of seeing their musical “Manhattan Melody” play on the Great White Way. Cameos by Liza Minnelli, Dabney Coleman and Gregory Hines in their prime (plus gritty and idealized visions of the city) make this a perfect Tribeca Drive-In movie.
Feature Documentary, 2011, 90 minutes.
Directed by Mika Kaurismäki
Rare archival footage, interviews and excerpts from legendary performances spanning five decades are used to tell the life story of Miriam Makeba — whose songs brought the injustices and suffering of Apartheid to a global audience. Exiled from South Africa, Makeba was in for even more trouble in the US — when her marriage to Black Panther Stokely Carmichael led to cancelled record deals and tours. Appalled at American racism, she continued life as an activist upon moving to Guinea. Makeba’s trailblazing vision was vindicated, though, when she became the first black female representative to the United Nations.
Feature Documentary, 2011, 88 minutes.
Directed by Maggie Betts
When a Zambian subsistence farmer in a polygamous marriage discovers she is both HIV-positive and pregnant, she must brave family dynamics and village politics.
THE BANG BANG CLUB
Feature Narrative, 2010, 106 minutes.
Directed by Steven Silver
Based on a true story, Ryan Phillippe, Malin Akerman and Taylor Kitsch star as four combat photographers risking life and limb to document the first free elections in post-Apartheid South Africa.
SMALL TOWN STORIES
Feature Narrative, 2011, 93 minutes.
Directed by Gaby Dellal
The pristine white snow of this Rocky Mountain town ought to be your fist clue that not all here is pure and good. The whole tight-knit town tries to sort out who’s to blame when tragedy befalls the young son of a well-meaning father and an alcoholic mother. Jeremy Piven, Elizabeth McGovern, Mira Sorvino and Kate Walsh star.
THE BLEEDING HOUSE
Feature Narrative, 2011, 86 minutes.
Directed by Philip Gelatt
It stands to reason, in the world of film at least, that any family who lives on a back road outside of town turns out to be the Waltons or the Mansons. This being a horror/thriller, guess which way the pendulum swings when it comes to the Smith family. The real trouble starts when a sweet-talking Texan shows up on a mission to make the Smiths atone, or at least pay in blood, for past misdeeds.
Feature Documentary, 2011, 80 minutes.
Directed by Alma Har’el
As 1960s California development The Salton Sea continues to rust and decay, nonfiction storytelling and choreographed dance are used to explore the lives of a bipolar seven-year-old, a lovelorn football star and an octogenarian poet-prophet — all of whom seem as damaged as the abandoned landscape.
Other small town-themed films: “The Guard,” “The Good Life,” “Higher Ground,” “Magic Valley,” “Our School,” “A Quiet Life,” “Splinters” and “Turn Me on, Goddammit.”
DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME
Feature Narrative, 2010, 122 minutes.
Directed by Tsui Hark
If the production stills are any indication, the selling of this film as a “fantastical steampunk version of ancient China” is right on the money. Home from years of exile, legendary sleuth Detective Dee returns to solve a mystery as to clock ticks towards the coronation of the country’s first empress.
LET THE BULLETS FLY
Feature Narrative, 2010, 132 minutes.
Directed by Wen Jiang
Will China’s highest-grossing film ever translate? Probably, since the script combines elements of classic western gunslinging showdowns, Robin Hood heroes vs. villains, comic pratfalls and endless plot twists. Set during the Age of the Warlords in the 1920s, an outlaw (actor/director Jiang Wen) cleans up his act and becomes a hero of the oppressed when he takes on a corrupt politician and a ruthless mobster (Chow Yun-Fat).
WHEN THE DRUM IS BEATING
Feature Documentary, 2011, 84 minutes.
Directed by Whitney Dow
Haiti’s most celebrated big band, Septentrional, gets the well-deserved retrospective treatment in this documentary charting the history of Haiti from as it reveals a wealth of live rehearsal and performance footage.
CAROL CHANNING: LARGER THAN LIFE
Feature Documentary, 2011, 83 minutes.
Directed by: Dori Berinstein
What’s the story behind that infectious grin and unmistakable voice? Pretty much what you suspected. It turns out that the Carol Channing you get in film and on TV variety and talk shows is pretty much the same colorful, vivacious person in person. This documentary follows the 90-year-old icon around as she continues to live well and look swell.
Feature Documentary, 2011, 74 minutes.
Directed by Pablo Croce
Mixed Martial Arts might get some overdue respect — when audiences get an all-access pass to witness the relentlessly focused and driven Middleweight Ultimate Fighter Anderson Silva as he preps for his 12th straight win.