Sushi, sports, Shakespeare, social injustice, an Islamic “Spellbound,” an Israeli slasher film and a whole lotta shakin’ (as in music films) are goin’ on at Tribeca, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year with a few more more features, fewer categories, and a certain concentration on the artistic process — inside the movies and out.
“What stands out to me is the way some of the films were made,” says David Kwok, Tribeca’s longtime director of programming. “Quite a few by very close-knit teams” — including the folks behind what could surface as the festival’s breakout it, “Rid of Me,” from director James Westby and starring his partner-producer Katie O’Grady. Others: “Maria My Love,” directed by Jasmine McGlade Chazelle and produced by Damien Chazelle (he directed, and she produced, the culty hit “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench” of several Tribeca’s ago); and “Stuck Between Stations,” one of the many dramas that will be bringing the war(s) back home, is directed by Brady Kiernan and produced brother Spencer.
No self-respecting indie-minded film festival would be complete without a raft of first-timers and a complement of female directors, and Tribeca has both, says Kwok.
“So many films are being (screened), though, that there are going to be certain ones that sort of relate to each other,” he says. “One theme that’s surfaced is this kind of underdog story, a regular person going up against a huge institution. So you have a film like ‘Semper Fi,’ which is a guy against the military. You have ‘Gone,’ about a mother going up against police and corruption.”
Not all such subjects are quite so sobering: The Icelandic documentary “Gnarr” chronicles the comedian Jon Gnarr’s run for mayor of Reyjavik, a campaign that not only put the subject at odds with the establishment, but with the very idea that there should be propriety in politics.
Tribeca remains international in scope, but executive director Nancy Schafer says American films, from less-than-predictable places, are one of this year’s attractions. “One of the things I was truly surprised by, and really pleased by,” she says, “is that David and Genna (Terranova, senior programmer) managed to find these great regional American filmmakers from Portland, Iowa and Minneapolis, and there are just some nice films from places in this country that I don’t think we’ve seen at this festival in a bit.”
New York, as always, is in the house. “But none of us thinks like that. The way the programmers work is they look at everything and try to program the best stuff possible. Obviously, there are a lot of New York stories — ‘Limelight,’ for instance,” she says, referring to the Billy Corben doc about the notorious Peter Gatien’s reign over Manhattan nightlife in the ’90s. “And plenty to bring people together. But I was really pleased by the American stuff.”
One literally cannot avoid music at the festival this year. In addition to the opener, “The Union,” Cameron Crowe’s portrait of the late-inning partnership between rock icons Elton John and Leon Russell, there’s actor-cum-director Michael Rapaport hip-hop doc “Beat, Rhymes and Life,” Whitney Dow’s “When the Drum Is Beating,” and “God Bless Ozzy Osbourne,” by Mike Fleiss and Mike Piscitelli.
“I said ‘Really? Is this like a reality TV show?’ ” says Schafer. “But I watched it and was completely blown away. You’d never have known, from everything else he’s ever done. And there’s ‘The Swell Season,’ which is highly anticipated for fans of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova of ‘Once.’ So there’s just a lot of things people will pay attention to.”
This year’s Tribeca will mark two years since Geoff Gilmore joined Tribeca Enterprises as chief creative officer after nearly two decades at Sundance. How has he changed the menu?
“He’s not directly involved in the programming,” says Schafer, “but for that matter neither am I. The programmers program and I watch and Gilmore watches and both he and I have a lot of friends in the industry, so we’d be watching a lot of films anyway. But neither of us tells David how to program. I think Gilmore was very influential when we were trying to rethink the structure of the festival. He helped with the bigger picture.”
The 2011 edition has been “streamlined,” in Kwok’s word, from eight sections to five — two main competitions, where auds will find docs like “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” or dramas like India’s “The Kite”; Cinemania, home of “Rabies” from Israel; Spotlight, which offers the likes of “Shakespeare High”; and Viewpoints, which offers such docs as “Donor Unknown,” which concerns another issue that keeps popping up at Tribeca, in vitro fertilization. Sink or swim, Tribeca seems to have diversity in its DNA.
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