Founded only nine years ago, the Tribeca Film Festival has become a major cultural and economic force in New York City. During the 12 days of this year’s Festival, a great swath of Lower Manhattan was filled with directors, producers, screenwriters, dealmakers, actors, photographers, reporters and volunteers, all rushing through the streets with their distinctive badges flapping in the breeze.
This year more than 5,000 films from around the world were submitted to the Festival. Of those, officials selected 85 feature length films and 47 shorts (amounting to 193.94 miles of film) from 38 countries.
In and around the Tribeca, from April 21 to May 2, banners hung from lampposts, streets were closed, theaters and auditoriums halted normal activities and just about everyone in the neighborhood became a movie-goer and a film critic — including me. Here are the films I saw this year:
Oscar®-winning filmmaker Chuck Workman brings alive the vibrant history of the avant-garde cinema. Through interviews with filmmakers and critics including Jonas Mekas, Kenneth Anger, Su Friedrich, and Amy Taubin, he reveals how this artistic movement highlights subjective vision, sensory experience, and dreams over plot and storyline. Workman couples these conversations with a dazzling array of diverse extracts from experimental films that illuminate for the general audience a qualitatively different kind of moviegoing experience.
- My Own Love Song
In his English-language debut, Olivier Dahan (La vie en rose) sculpts a hyper-stylized and uplifting road movie about family, perseverance, and redemption. Wheelchair user Jane (Renée Zellweger, exceptional) is a fiercely independent ex-singer whose tough exterior hides a secret that has paralyzed her emotional life and career. When her zany neighbor Joey (Forest Whitaker) forces them to skip town, Jane must change her tune. With songs performed by Zellweger and original music by Bob Dylan.
At a carnival, young Josh Baskin (Tom Hanks) wishes he was big-only to awake the next morning and discover he is! With the help of his friend Billy (Jared Rushton), Josh lands a job at a toy company. There, his inner wisdom enables him to successfully predict what children want to buy, making the awestruck, naïve Josh irresistible to a beautiful ladder-climbing colleague (Elizabeth Perkins). But the more he experiences being an adult, the more Josh longs for the simple joys of childhood.
- Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage (Winner: Heineken Audience Award)
For fans and newcomers to the legendary Canadian band Rush, this is the music documentary to experience. Directors Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn embark on a comprehensive exploration of this extraordinary power trio, from their early days in Toronto, through each of their landmark albums, to the present day. Sit back and revel in the words, music, and wonder of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart.
- No Woman, No Cry
More than half a million women each year die from preventable complications during pregnancy or childbirth. In her gripping directorial debut, Christy Turlington Burns shares the powerful stories of pregnant women in four parts of the world, including a remote Maasai tribe in Tanzania, a slum of Bangladesh, a post-abortion care ward in Guatemala, and a prenatal clinic in the United States.
- Into Eternity
Three miles below the earth, the people of Finland are constructing an enormous tomb to lay to rest their share of humans’ 300,000 tons of nuclear waste. To avoid disaster, it must remain untouched for at least 100,000 years. In this poetic, hauntingly beautiful, and thought-provoking doc, Danish filmmaker Michael Madsen ponders how to warn future civilizations that the buried treasure of our nuclear era—unlike the pyramids and great tombs of pharaohs—must never, ever be discovered.
- Cairo Time
In this graceful cross-cultural love story, a happily married woman (Patricia Clarkson) is separated from her husband in the overwhelming city of Cairo. While waiting for his return, she experiences the unique beauty of Egypt with his friend (Alexander Siddig). As their tender friendship blossoms, a series of small yet profound moments changes both of their worlds forever.
With a fresh and intense style, playwright-turned-director Carmel Winters composes a gripping psychological drama about three generations of a family poised to repeat the mistakes of the past. Aisling O’Sullivan (The War Zone) commands the screen as a calloused mother who will do anything to protect her son—even go as far to deny her own past. From the producers of TFF award winner Eden and the Academy Award® winner Once.
- I Scored a Goal
In the history of the World Cup, there are only 55 men who have scored a goal in the final match, and only 34 of them are still living. “I Scored a Goal” is a series of thirty short films, each of which profiles one of these men. The narratives are told in the goal scorer’s own voice — they tell the story of their journey up to the goal, and what the goal meant for them, their team, the game and even their country.
- Last Play at Shea
The intersecting histories of a stadium, a team, and a music legend are examined in a documentary that charts the ups and downs of the New York Mets and the life and career of Long Island native Billy Joel, the last performer to play Shea Stadium. Set to the soundtrack of Joel’s final Shea concerts, Last Play interweaves personal Joel interviews with exclusive concert footage—featuring guests like Tony Bennett and Roger Daltrey.
- Climate of Change
A group of 13-year-olds in India rally against the use of plastics. A renaissance man in Africa teaches villagers to harness solar power. Self-described “hillbillies” in Appalachia battle the big business behind strip mining. Tilda Swinton beautifully narrates this rich and inspiring documentary—from the producers of An Inconvenient Truth—about a world of regular people taking action in the fight to save our environment. Executive produced by Participant Media and the Alliance for Climate Protection.
- Get Low
In 1930s Tennessee, backwoods recluse Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) is feared and shunned by the local townsfolk. Then Felix decides to plan a living funeral to lay his own legend to rest. But behind this surreal plan lies a devastating secret that must get out…. Academy Award® winner Aaron Schneider makes a confident feature debut with this engrossing and slyly funny folk tale of forgiveness and redemption. With Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek, and Lucas Black.
- Please Give
Death, materialism, liberal guilt, adultery, midlife malaise… writer/director Nicole Holofcener (Friends with Money, Lovely & Amazing) makes such topics sing with earnest emotion and devastating humor. Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt star as well-to-do Manhattanites waiting out the death of their crotchety neighbor so they can take over her apartment. Things get messy when they try to make nice with the old lady and her granddaughters (Amanda Peet and Rebecca Hall).
- Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll
Mat Whitecross (codirector of The Road to Guantanamo) paints a stylized, ripsnorting portrait of mercurial British punk rock pioneer Ian Dury (flawlessly portrayed by BAFTA nominee Andy Serkis). From a troubled childhood and a battle with debilitating polio to the effects of fame on relationships and fatherhood, here are the highs and lows of a life lived sneeringly, unapologetically out loud. With Olivia Williams, Ray Winstone, and Naomie Harris.
Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) weaves a visually arresting tale of a lone fisherman (Colin Farrell) who pulls in the sweetest catch of his life—a mermaid-like beauty. But as their passion grows, their dark pasts come to light, and the real world begins to threaten their fairy tale romance. This stunning film will challenge your senses and imagination as fantasy and reality clash on the big screen.
- The Space Between
Lonely flight attendant Montine McLeod (Academy Award® nominee Melissa Leo) becomes responsible for a 10-year-old Pakistani-American boy traveling solo when news of the 9/11 attacks grounds their flight in Texas. After learning of the boy’s direct connection to the tragic events, McLeod musters the compassion she could never afford her own family, and the two embark on a heartrending road trip to meet an uncertain future in New York City.
- The Infidel
Mahmud Nasir (comedian Omid Djalili) may not be the most observant Muslim, but deep down he is a true believer. His life is turned upside down when he learns he was adopted-but most scandalous is that his birth mother was Jewish! And his given name was Solly Shimshillewitz! As Mahmud tumbles into a full-scale identity crisis, a true comedy of religious errors unfolds. With Richard Schiff and Matt Lucas.
- William Vincent
The versatile James Franco (Milk, Spider-Man) stars in the story of William Vincent, a quiet and peculiar criminal uninterested in the fruits of crime. When he falls for a gangster’s (Josh Lucas) favorite call girl (Julianne Nicholson), William is forced to flee New York. But after four years in exile, William secretly returns, intent on rescuing the woman he loves from her dangerous fate.
- Yanqui WALKER and the OPTICAL REVOLUTION
This film explores a now-obscure American expansionist and military dictator, William Walker, who through military force and coercion became president of Nicaragua in 1856. The film blends found footage, documentary photography, ethnographic inquiry, and personal travelogue with experimental film techniques such as hand-processing, optical printing, and time-lapse to detour and derail the various approaches to history-making that have been applied to this story.
- The Travelogues
In The Travelogues, Dustin Thompson creates a more personal story. He travels with his film camera across two continents and compiles a series of mini-narratives, suggestive of loves gained and lost. He generates lyrical images, shot at oblique angles and developed with shifting camera speeds; in each scene, the heightened film grain tends to move the depiction of the natural universe toward abstraction. From the prologue through to the epilogue of his journey, this artist travels a fine line between real and imagined worlds.
- The Arbor (Winner: Best New Documentary Filmmaker)
Brilliantly blurring the borders of narrative and documentary filmmaking, artist-cum-director Clio Barnard beautifully reconstructs the fascinating true story of troubled British playwright Andrea Dunbar and her tumultuous relationship with her daughter. Working from two years of audio interviews, Barnard uses classic documentary techniques, actors, theatrical performance, and Dunbar’s own neighborhood to generate a unique cinematic feast while unraveling the truths of a dark family past.
- The Two Escobars
Born in the same city in Colombia but not related, Andrés Escobar and Pablo Escobar shared a fanatical love of soccer. Andrés grew up to become one of Colombia’s most beloved players, while Pablo became the most notorious drug baron of all time. While adeptly investigating the secret marriage of crime and sports, Michael Zimbalist and Jeff Zimbalist (Favela Rising, TFF ’05) reveal the surprising connections between the murders of Andrés and Pablo.
- Gainsbourg, Je t’Aime… Moi Non Plus (Winner: Best Actor in a Narrative Feature)
From a young man in Nazi-occupied Paris to the sultry crooner who bedded Brigitte Bardot and married Jane Birkin to the vulnerable poet hidden behind a shroud of provocation—Serge Gainsbourg’s is a life large enough for grand treatment on film. One of France’s greatest mavericks is brought back to life (uncannily, by Eric Elmosnino) in this imaginative and visually flamboyant film debut from one of France’s greatest cartoonists.
- Just Like Us
Egyptian-American comic and first-time director Ahmed Ahmed takes us on a hilarious tour from Los Angeles to Cairo, Dubai to Beirut, Riyadh to New York with a gaggle of other stand-up talent, including: Maz Jobrani, Tom Papa, Ted Alexandro, Tommy Davidson, and Omid Djalili (The Infidel). Along the way, taboos of culture and geopolitics are exploded, and a younger generation of both comedy talents and audiences is born.
- Monica & David (Winner: Best Documentary Feature)
Monica and David are in love. Truly, blissfully in love. They also happen to have Down syndrome. Alexandra Codina’s affectionate and heartwarming documentary is an intimate, year-in-the-life portrait of two child-like spirits with adult desires. Supported (and, for more than 30 years, sheltered) by endlessly devoted mothers, Monica and David prepare for their fairy tale wedding and face the realities of married life afterward.
British-Nigerian director Thomas Ikimi builds a thrilling psychological drama around an all-consuming central performance by Idris Elba (The Wire). Black ops operative Malcolm Gray is returning home after a botched mission in Eastern Europe. Holed up in a rundown Brooklyn motel room, he is torn between retribution and personal salvation as he mentally unravels. When the walls close in, his story may be all he can leave behind….
- Meet Monica Velour
In this quirky comedy, Tobe (Dustin Ingram, perfectly cast), an awkward teenage aficionado of 1980s soft-core, sets off in his grandfather’s (Brian Dennehy) used Weinermobile to see his sexual idol perform at a strip club in Indiana. After defending her honor against ruffians who taunt the aging erotic starlet (Kim Cattrall) off the stage, he negotiates his unripe romantic impulses with the reality of her anything but glamorous life as a trailer-park single mother.
- Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives
When a group of transgender women are violently beaten and left for dead, the violated vixens turn deadly divas in this hilariously campy homage to the exploitation films of the ’70s and ’80s (“Transploitation,” anyone?). Loaded with bodacious bods and extreme violence, this revenge fantasy proves that it takes more than balls to get even.
This wake-up-call doc exposes the hidden history of our country’s redistricting wars, mapping battles that take place out of public scrutiny but that shape the electoral landscape of American politics for decades at time, posing a threat not just to democrats and republicans, but democracy as a whole. Featuring stories from nine states, Gerrymandering takes a hard look at the framework of our democracy and how it provides our politicians a perfectly legal way to control electoral outcomes.
- The Trotsky
Like most high schoolers, Leon Bronstein (Jay Baruchel, Tropic Thunder) is having an identity crisis. What differentiates Leon, however, is that he believes he is the reincarnation of Soviet thinker Leon Trotksy and predestined to follow the same path as his namesake. Tackling issues from students’ rights to semi-formal dances, this “revolutionary” comedy will have you united in laughter.
Junior high isn’t easy for anyone— especially if you’re a frizzy-haired, pink-cheeked hermaphrodite like Spork. But when the talent show shines a chance for Spork to show up Betsy Byotch’s mean girls gang, her recently best-friended trailer-park neighbor Tootsie Roll steps up to coach her in booty-poppin’ moves. This ’80s-inspired dance send-up is littered with colorful dialogue from a tween cast with mouths beyond their years.
- The Woodmans (Winner: Best New York Documentary)
The Woodmans are a family united in their belief that art-making is the highest form of expression and an essential way of life, but for photographer daughter Francesca, worldwide acclaim came only after a tragedy that would forever scar the family. With unrestricted access to all of Francesca’s works and diaries, The Woodmans paints an incisive portrait of a family broken and then healed by its art.
- Monogamy (Winner: Best New York Narrative)
Exhibitionism, voyeurism, jealousy, lust. Brooklyn wedding photographer Theo’s (Chris Messina) side business shooting surveillance-style photos of clients on the sly takes an unexpected turn—and creates a rift with his fiancée (Rashida Jones)—when he’s hired by a provocative mystery woman (Meital Dohan). The first narrative feature from Oscar®-nominated director Dana Adam Shapiro (Murderball), Monogamy effectively fuses an absorbing mystery-thriller and a taut relationship drama.