The 2010 Tribeca Film Festival has ended, but not exactly.
Tribeca Enterprises now includes distribution as part of their organization’s services and will be showing some of the independent films of this and past years at their Tribeca Cinema (a local New York Theatre) as well as other venues, like Caesar’s casinos in Atlantic City and Las Vegas. You still may be able to see the films of the Tribeca Film Festival even though you couldn’t get to New York this year.
Tribeca Enterprises has gone into the digital age, too. During the festival, it was possible to see films online or Video on Demand (VOD). If you go to the website now, you can still see trailers, interviews and panel discussions. Ironically, one of the clever commercials created for the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival thanks the audience for attending, saying that it would have been a “nightmare” to bring it to you. True, you don’t get the whole New York City experience – but in fact, they’re now attempting to bring some of the films of the festival to you.
If you go to the website, you can also see the list of films, filmmakers and actors who received awards in all categories, including for the first time, awards chosen by those who voted online.
The jury awarded the First Place prize for Best Narrative to the German film, When We Leave (Die Fremde), written and directed by Feo Aladag. I wholly agreed with the choice. This was a powerful film, a rare kind of film these days – emotionally riveting and socially relevant. Sibel Kekilli deserved her Best Actress award for her portrayal of Umay, a young mother, a modest woman who has the courage to stand up for herself and her young son. The heartwrenching drama is set into motion by her decision to leave her abusive husband, which is unacceptable to her family, traditional Turkish Muslims who live in today’s Germany. In their community, a married woman is forever tied to her husband, no matter what, and her leaving would reflect negatively on them. It just isn’t done. The conflict created by their love for their daughter/sister and their need to be perceived as proper members of their community is the stuff of real tragedy.
Melissa Leo was presented with a special jury award for her portrayal of the flinty, unhappy flight attendant in The Space Between. Her character takes on the responsibility of caring for a 10-year-old Muslim passenger who was flying alone on that fateful day of September 11, 2001. (At its heart, a two-character road movie, I found it very touching.) I’d like to mention that there were a number of films in which very young actors gave excellent, natural-seeming performances. I wonder if it isn’t dangerous to write major characters who are as young as the ones in When We Leave, My Queen Karo, and The Space Between. These films were so dependent on the children’s performances, it makes me wonder what would have happened if the children hadn’t been cast and directed so brilliantly. (Just asking.)
I can’t describe all the films, but the range of subjects, styles, genres and budgets represented at the Tribeca Film Festival was very impressive – and motivating. Although times may be tough financially, it was encouraging to see so many films that managed to get on the screen. Here are a few highlights from the festival worth writing about:
Part gentle romance, part shiny travelogue, Ruba Nadda (who wrote and directed) captivated me, even though the script was extremely thin and included a large amount of time watching the main character walking around. Usually, walking around means that the screenwriter is filling time, is lazy, is an immature writer or just lacks imagination. But in this case, the walking around is at the astonishing tourist sites that have attracted visitors for centuries, and they are filmed in such a beautiful manner that any Egyptian tourist agency would be pleased. The romance does what it’s supposed to do: makes you care whether or not this unlikely couple get together. Patricia Clarkson and Alexander Siddiq are completely believable as the couple and their low-key, quiet scenes hold the romantic tension with a minimum of dialogue. Sometimes, less is definitely more.
In the Truth is Stranger than Fiction category, The Chameleon, written by Jean-Paul Salomé and Natalie Carter, is based on a true story. It begins with a young man on a road in France who claims to be a boy who had been kidnapped years ago in the U.S. His sister (Emilie de Ravin) comes to claim him. During the course of this fascinating film, tiny inconsistencies arise, alerting the audience to the possibility that things may not be what they seem. Questions raise a red flag for an FBI agent (Famke Janssen) who pursues the truth. The ongoing mystery includes complex, dysfunctional family relationships. Ellen Barkin, all taut and hunched over, looking like a Dorothea Lange depression-era portait, plays the mother with a compelling strangeness. There are unexpected twists right until the very end.
At first I thought that this film was an adaptation of a novel. It has a literary quality – an involving story with original characters and a point of view. Inspired by an anecdote from the 1930s, the screenwriters, Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell, have fabricated an entertaining, satisfying and meaningful drama about the redemptive power of telling stories. Felix, a cantankerous old man (played by the sublime Robert Duvall) wants to arrange for his funeral while he is still alive, so he can hear the stories that people will tell about him. There is a mystery about these stories because he harbors a deep, dark secret and he’s not talking about it. There are wonderful scenes in which the superior actors perform the alchemy of taking words off the page and raising them to the level of fine art. When Felix and his former love, Maddie (Sissy Spacek) take a walk, the subtext of their achingly tender scene made me imagine that Felix hadn’t always been this ornery old guy who could smell like his mule. He may very well have been the kind of young man who shined his shoes before he came to call. So, that piqued my curiosity. I needed to know what had happened. I wanted to know his story, and why he couldn’t tell it.
MORE THAN FILMS: “ILLUSTRATING HISTORY”
The Tribeca Film Festival is more than just screenings of independent films. There are also programs on various subjects of interest to filmmakers and film lovers scheduled at different venues; many are free.
One series called “Pen to Paper,” was about writing. Sponsored by Barnes & Noble, it was held at their bookstore in Union Square. I attended a panel discussion titled “Illustrating History.” Caryn James, film critic for Marie Claire, interviewed Dorothée Van den Burghe (My Queen Karo – her own memoir) and Paul Viraghe (writer) and Mat Whitecross (director) of sex&drugs&rock&roll (a biography of punk rocker, Ian Dury).
Mat Whitecross is known for his documentaries (The Road to Guantanamo) and used his experience to interview people who had been in Ian Dury’s life. After amassing a huge amount of material, he and Viraghe were faced with culling all the anecdotes into a coherent story. Van den Berghe only needed to write down her own memories, but as she read her descriptions, she felt that she only had a boring list. So in both cases, the writers understood that they needed to create a dramatic structure, and that structure might conflict with the chronology of events as they actually happened. Whitecross said that they particularly wanted to avoid the typical “Hollywood biopic” in which chronology often weakens emotion.
They all realized that they had to find a balance between the requirements of the facts and the requirements of entertaining an audience. In addition, they felt it was extremely important to respect the real people who would be depicted on screen, the real people who had given them their trust. They came to same conclusion: the real facts would have to be compromised to convey the truth and the essence of the characters and the story. “Essence” is the keyword.
Van den Berghe made up some moments to create drama in what was everyday life for her growing up in a hippie community. Veraghe and Whitecross fractured the entire structure, and used visual designs of the time along with animation, stagecraft and some surreal elements to get across what Dury was like, a complicated man who could be brash, sometimes unpleasant, clever and entertaining.
Whitecross spoke of the legalities and advised the audience to be sure and get signed releases whenever dealing with people who would see themselves portrayed on screen. This alarmed Van den Berghe, who hadn’t considered doing that; but since her parents have seen the film and liked their screen personas, she assumed that she wouldn’t have to worry about them suing her.
The conversation was interesting and informative, but I wanted to see if the filmmakers had succeeded. Sometimes these talks are more interesting than the films. I saw both films and was impressed.
I thought that My Queen Karo was an enormously charming and touching film, and rose above one person’s story to became a universal statement about the confusions of most 10-year-old children who don’t quite understand the adult world in which they find themselves. For those of us who didn’t grow up in a hippie community in 1970s Amsterdam, it’s also an exotic portrait of a time and place and philosophy of living.
sex&drugs&rock&roll introduced me to Ian Dury. Played by the amazing Andy Serkis, I was fascinated by his contradictory personality. The film includes biographical details of his difficult life (crippled by polio, sent to an orphanage), his volatile, personal relationships, and recreations of his onstage performances. Realistic, dramatic scenes mix with various visual media to create an entertaining and involving film.