RECAP: 2011 Tribeca Film Festival

The Tribeca Film Festival was founded on an ideal of community service, and this year, in addition to the street fair, drive-in movie and other community events and programs, you might say that the notion of community was extended to all of us who make up the film community. During the festival, streaming video was provided so that anyone in the U.S. could watch selected features and all the short films.

Now that the festival is over, you can check out the website (tribecafilm.com) and see highlights: various panels, discussions, red carpet arrivals, and some films via Video on Demand. So, if you had to miss the excitement of being there and feeling the audience response around you, you don’t have to be completely out of the loop. Hopefully, next year you can be in New York and will be able to see the films on the big screen.

This year’s films dealt with subjects and genres for every taste: comedies, dramas, horror movies, adventures, thrillers, and many strong documentaries. They came from many different countries, and represented a range of budgets. Some of the films will be at your local cinema shortly; some were at Tribeca to find an audience and a distributor.

The winner of the Best Screenplay Narrative Award was Turn me on, goddammit. A Norwegian film written and directed by Jannicke Systad Jacobsen, the title suggested frat boy humor to me, but it was a small, gently humorous coming-of-age film. Yes, it was about sex — a 16-year-old girl’s intense interest in sex, spiked by her vivid imagination — but it was actually more about being an outsider in high school. At 75 minutes, it may have been the shortest feature.

THE FILMS THAT I LIKED

I concentrated on the narrative films, and tried to see as many as I could. It was a marathon, but here are mini-reviews of some of the films that I personally liked a lot. I judged them on these simple considerations: Each of these involved me emotionally, drew me into its world, and kept my attention throughout. To my mind, that’s not possible without a strong screenplay.

THE GUARD
John Michael McDonagh has written and directed this absolutely hilarious comedy about a guard (policeman) in Galway, Ireland. Brendan Gleeson’s deadpan delivery of the most outrageous, un-PC remarks is brilliantly and unexpectedly funny, and at the same time, he’s very likable. Don Cheadle is a wonderful foil as the straight-laced FBI agent. In case it isn’t already being planned, I would love to see a sequel or maybe a TV series because I really loved these characters. LOL.

LAST NIGHT
Writer/Director Massy Tadjedin has fashioned a glamorous, romantic story in chic and shiny New York City that throbs with underlying sexual tension. The main characters (Keira Knightly and Sam Worthington) are beautiful people who have been happy in their marriage. But when the question of infidelity is raised, it threatens to destroy the foundation of their life together. With no ticking time bombs or lurking slashers, this adult drama, which is full of believable, conversational dialogue, never relaxes its dramatic hold.

ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS
This charmingly sweet comedy, a French bon bon, is a perfect blend of warm romance and silliness. The screenwriters Jean-Pierre Améris (who also directed) and Philippe Blasband created this humorous tale of two extremely shy people who both care about chocolate and worry that they will never find love. A combination of sympathetic characters and brilliant comic timing makes this a frothy, fun experience.

DETACHMENT
Carl Lund wrote this powerful, heartwrenching and meaningful drama. Adrien Brody plays a substitute teacher who, despite his own personal problems, wants to make a difference, wants to be helpful to young people. The intensity of Brody’s performance, along with the rich characters created by the star-studded cast (Marcia Gay Hardin, Christina Hendricks, Lucy Liu, James Caan, Blythe Danner, Tim Blake Nelson, Bryan Cranston, William Petersen, and the astonishing newcomers, Sami Gayle and Betty Kaye) make this an emotional ride. Tony Kaye, the director, has lightened the film with animated illustrations and other stylistic touches, but it is essentially a serious portrait. (In fact, I’ve been a substitute teacher and I can assure you that the classroom in this film is not an exaggeration.) I truly hope that all educators, parents and politicians watch Detachment, and that it motivates dialogue about the state of education in the U.S.

BLACKTHORN
What if Butch Cassidy didn’t die in Bolivia as we’ve been led to believe? This is a cleverly imagined story of the adventures that the outlaw might have had once he reached a good old age. Sam Shepard is the older Cassidy, a weathered, mysterious man who now calls himself Blackthorn. This modern western (we’re not always sure who the good guys are) was written by Miguel Barros in English. Mateo Gil, known in Spain for his screenwriting, has directed this large-scope narrative using the breathtaking Bolivian landscape as a backdrop. The film’s events are often surprising, and the quiet moments are touching.

THE TRIP
This is like My Dinner with Andre-on-the-road-with-comics. Michael Winterbottom has directed the film starring the British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon who travel the English countryside, visit beautiful sites and dine on fabulous foodie meals and talk throughout. There is a plot, but it’s their smart, bantering conversation that makes this an unexpectedly funny trip.

RANDOM MENTIONS

There were a number of films that I appreciated for various reasons (not necessarily the screenplay) and so I mention them because they may be of interest to some of you.

For those who like small character dramas, consider:
Roadie because of Ron Eldard’s extraordinary performance as the roadie who must face the sad decline of his career. (Written by Gerald Cuesta and Michael Cuesta, who also directed)
Everything Must Go because Will Ferrell proves he can be a serious actor. (Written/directed by Dan Rush)
Rid of Me because of the quirky characters (Written/directed by James Westby)

For those who have an interest in political activism, consider:
The Bang Bang Club is based on the memoirs of a group of South African photojournalists who photographed events in the 90s. Dramatizing real events can be tricky, but this film illustrates the sense of danger, explains the need to witness, and raises the question of why anyone would put himself in harm’s way as they did. (Written/directed by Steven Silver)
Flowers of Evil, an unlikely romance, and also a portrait of a moment in Iran’s recent history. For its use of social media, which furthers the plot and creates a sense of immediacy (the actual YouTube videos are listed in the final credits). Also for the joyous breakdancing. (Written by David Dusa, Raphaëlle Maes and Louise Molière)

I was disappointed in some of the films because I had high expectations, and they seemed to be merely okay. Of course, there were a few films that were complete duds in my mind, but most had something about them that was of interest.

Although I can’t really presume to know what was in the minds of the judges, it seemed to me that they favored the smaller films that probably could use the boost of publicity over the better films that were already on their way to the multiplex. But that’s a completely subjective response, which is basically how I judged the films above.

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