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Documentary Community Embraces Tribeca Fest

A dozen non-fiction films to preem in competition

Documentaries “Street Fight,” “Jesus Camp,” “Which Way Home” and “Taxi to the Dark Side” have two things in common: Oscar nominations (which “Taxi” would go on to win) and world premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival.

It’s no secret the majority of docs that garner Academy recognition debut at Sundance or Toronto. But in recent years Tribeca has stepped up its game and become a top-tier doc showcase.

Since 2010, five Tribeca doc debuts — “Under Our Skin,” “Soundtrack for a Revolution,” “Semper Fi: Always Faithful,” “Bully” and “Which Way Home” — made the Oscar shortlist.

This year, the fest introduces 12 docs via its World Documentary competition. These include “1971,” a pre-WikiLeaks story about Vietnam-era activists; “Misconception,” a look at the consequences of population growth; and “Regarding Susan Sontag,” focusing on the seminal cultural critic and writer.

Frederic Tcheng’s “Dior and I,” about Raf Simons’ first collection as the fashion house’s artistic director, will serve as the opening-night film. While the helmer admits Tribeca is packed with “a lot of films,” he isn’t worried about getting lost in the shuffle.

“I think the ones that are in competition are the ones people are really paying attention to,” says Tcheng.

Timing, location and perhaps a rejection letter from Sundance drive some to Tribeca. But no matter what the impetus, director Marshall Curry says both are strong doc platforms. He should know. Curry has garnered two Oscar nods for “Street Fight,” which premiered at Tribeca in 2005, and “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front,” which debuted at Sundance in 2011.

Curry’s latest non-fiction feature, “Point and Shoot,” about Baltimore native Matthew VanDyke and his decision to join Libyan rebels against former leader Moammar Gaddafi, is bowing at Tribeca.

“I think there are pros and cons to both festivals,” Curry says. “Both are big ponds, and it’s easy to feel like a small fish in both Park City and in New York City. Sundance has the advantage of a captive audience — everyone is there, and they are there to see movies and do deals.

But Tribeca screenings are right next door to any distributor who wants to see your film.”

Still, first-time filmmakers Jimmy Goldblum and Adam Weber (“Tomorrow We Disappear”) say premiering in New York City is a “blessing and a curse.”
“(The city) is oversaturated with so much stuff,” Weber explains. “But when there is something awesome going on, it really isn’t hard to attract people, and Tribeca continually brings New Yorkers awesome films.”

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