Friday, April 30, 2010


My first Tribeca Film Festival was in 2006, the fifth year and normally I allot a film festival this amount of time to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up. There were already over a thousand submissions and emphasis was placed on Hollywood style premieres, celebs and red carpets. I hated being corralled in with the jostling elbows along that heinous red carpet because that's not what I was about as a writer and podcast producer. The "press" was lumped into one writhing pit of despair and the "Franklin Pass" was getting me nowhere.

Tribeca Film Festival quickly outgrew the Tribeca Cinemas and got very big, very fast at that time with growing pains along the way. After unintentionally alienating the independent media, changes were made to accommodate those solely interested in the indie films and filmmakers who worked their tails off getting films completed and submitted. Since then, the festival found a happy medium by creating two theaters, (Cinema Village East and Chelsea Clearview Cinemas) along with the School of Visual Arts theater, devoted to film reviewers as well as the general public. This effectively has turned one aspect of Tribeca Film Festival into a desired "people's film festival".

People come to the morning screenings, mingling locals and out-of-towners waiting on rush lines. Conversations about films already seen and ones read about can be heard throughout the crowd swelling out into the street after a screening and towards the next theater, walking distance away. This is the real deal and film festival feel especially for indie diehards. It's not unusual to see the likes of Michael Moore looking for a seat at an afternoon screening of PLEASE, GIVE or Kiefer Sutherland in a row of rocking drummers and air guitarists in the RUSH: BEYOND THE LIGHTED STAGE screening (also the only time in a theater where I witnessed a line outside the men's restroom). This is the pulse for a film festival, so it surprised me when the Tribeca Virtual festival was started apparently for those who can't make the screenings, but in effect it's a trendy gimmick growing more couch potatoes. Getting out for the anticipation-heightened crowd buzzing about their film experiences is the best.

In 2006, Tristan Bauer's ILUMINADOS POR EL FUEGO (BLESSED BY FIRE), a riveting account of a veteran from Argentina's disastrous Falklands War won the Best Narrative Award and WAR TAPES, digitized images taken by U.S. National Guards in Iraq directed by Deborah Scranton, won Best Documentary. The Audience Award went to CATS OF MIRIKITANI directed by Linda Hattendorf. Stories like these continue to come out and programmed into the festival lineup. While production value is visibly important like a calculated bodysculpt, good stories and storytelling remain the heart and soul no matter what the budget allows. This 2010 Tribeca Film Festival attests to what it takes as several good indie films and filmmakers shine through at the award announcements.

The first film I saw that took my breath away, WHEN WE LEAVE, written and directed by Feo Aladag, won the Best Feature in the World Competition category (film review on Eye On Indies at and Sibel Kekilli won Best Actress for her performance as an abused wife confronted by strict social and cultural rules. Another great film I saw, BUDRUS, directed by Julia Bacha, a story of a nonviolent demonstration movement worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize won a Special Jury Mention. After briefly meeting Clio Barnard at the "Meet and Greet" for documentary filmmakers, I made a point to see THE ARBOR and was impressed by the interpretation in storytelling. While not the first of its kind, it's innovative and effective and Barnard won Best New Documentary Filmmaker.

Short films are always an audience favorite because it is can be so eclectic and quick to the point. There were quite a number with weak stories and mediocre storytelling efforts; however, production values remained high so I suppose that's what got them in. The ones I liked excelled in these categories and my favorite grouping was "Wishful Thinking" which included A BORDER STORY (Tobias Louie), DELILAH BEFORE (Melanie Schiele), THE POOL (Thomas Hefferon), EDGAR (Fabian Busch), EPIC FAIL (Ragnar Agnarsson), CRIED SUICIDE (Lauren Palmigiano), THE WAKE (Gemma Lee), THE DINNER PARTY (Peter Glanz). My favorite short film, THE CRUSH, written and directed by Michael Creagh, follows a six year old with a ten year plan to marry his teacher Miss Purdy as he confronts her undeserving fiance. A Special Jury Mention for this filmmaker's debut short film. Well done.

Finally, I still have to see AMERICAN MYSTICS this evening and will cap it off with a second viewing of RUSH: BEYOND THE LIGHTED STAGE for a midnight screening. I'm sure the entire theater will be rocking by the end of an extraordinary 106 minutes and I'll put my money on this film to win the Audience Award. I can't help but love the film festival experience LIVE in New York. It's the only way to fly.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Tribeca Shorts: THE NEW TENANTS

Trying to escape from a busybody/new neighbor is a nightmare in itself without the rest of past interconnected characters showing up at the door of THE NEW TENANTS, a fast-paced, chain-reactive, chain-smoking, day-in-the-life of two men and their first day in an apartment that has an unnerving "dead man" history. Joachim Back received the 2009 Oscar for Best Short Film, Live Action which has Vincent D'Onofrio and Kevin Corrigan balancing the other talented and superbly cast actors, Jamie Harrold, David Rakoff, Liane Balaban many of whom were at the Tribeca screening including "the Grandma".

Quick wit and perfect timing every time the doorbell rang, makes this film a high-end, stand out from the otherwise low-end, disappointing shorts segment Hardcore previously known as New York, New York. Most of the the films in this grouping were mediocre, student films with some technical merit but not holding up to the top notch anchor film with weak story lines, little character development, trite dialogue and cliched acting. It was surprising to see this lopsided programming in a prime Saturday afternoon time slot where the full-house, crowd emptied quickly opting to miss out on the filmmaker Q&A. Hopefully, the other shorts groupings are better suited in their respective segments.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tribeca film review: WHEN WE LEAVE

WHEN WE LEAVE is a social drama. A young woman brought up in a traditional, conservative Turkish family in Berlin is married to a husband who beats her and bullies their son. She is a repressed soul, a walking dead living far away in Istanbul. Her in-laws cannot protect her or her son from their family member who swings between rages and warm paternal gestures. How long before it is time to go?

Making their escape, Umay (Sibel Kekilli), hopes to find comfort and support from her family back in Berlin only to find opposition and a surprising reaction as she is confronted by the strict, cultural rules of the community that directly affects her parents and siblings. Her brother threatens to take her son back to his father and Umay attempts to leave the family home that becomes a locked fortress. She calls the police who escort her out, thus causing humiliation for the family.

Smart and resourceful, Umay finds a job and goes back to school. She even learns to flirt with a coworker. Yet she yearns for her family, once very close and supportive especially for her young son who eventually becomes the brunt of shunning and an ensuing custody battle outside of the legal system. Her moments of simple every day life and pleasures are small victories that turn into brick walls between her past and the present she continually attempts to overcome. Where it all can end is anybody's guess.

WHEN WE LEAVE won the Europa Cinemas label as Best European film in the Berinale's Panorama section. Written, directed and produced by Austrian actor Feo Aladag, who has a Master's Degree in Journalism and a PhD in Philosophy, this film becomes an incredible labyrinth of human emotions, beliefs, contradictions, love and loyalty. The decision when to leave comes from an internal switch that flicks off as the last semblance of defeat emerges into an indomitable spirit with a will to survive. If it makes it out in time.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

film festival 2010: TRIBECA

The Tribeca Film Festival press conference is going on now, Tuesday, April 20 with the Festival starting Wednesday, April 21 through Sunday, May 2. New York remains the indie film capital with an equally independent-minded audience despite economic downturns, cuts, merged, and shuttered distribution outlets and funding evaporations. As an accredited media person at Tribeca since 2006, I've seen its transformation from a local, neighborhood-friendly, downtown-centric film festival into a megabeast that needed taming from its out-of-control expansion catering to mainstream media turning into an internationally recognized tour de force welcoming voices from independent media outlets.

Much of the credit can be attributed to Tammie Rosen, vice president for communications at the festival who listened to those of us not interested in red carpet arrivals and celebrity sightings, instead keeping an eye out for that indie gem that shines its way through the hoopla. A seasoned veteran handling film festival media, she understands the difference between media groups and is instrumental in the accommodations made accordingly. The Franklin Pass permits entrance at two designated theaters to film screenings during daytime hours making an integral part of film screenings- audience reaction and filmmaker Q&A - an accessible and critical element for film reviews. Currently, the communications group must still be scrambling, rerouting filmmakers who may be stranded without air transportation because of the volcano erupting last week in Iceland. Technology will most likely step in with virtual connection and while it provides a connection, it still needs attention to detail from production management for each event.

Another streamlined direction is having one guide book that holds all Tribeca Film Festival information. Unfortunately, the graphic designer apparently lacks experience and broke the number one rule in print production - readability. The text, in 6 point type, light gray ink on white stock, is impossible to read, fading into a grayed-out block. Too bad. It could have been a solid handbook. However, I'm happy to gather available and legibly-printed handouts of film groupings - Narrative Documentaries, Road Trip, Horror & Suspense, Romance, Social Issues, Human Rights, Politics, War, Families, Youth, Hispanic & Latino, Irish, Middle Eastern, Health, Environment, (East) Asian, Comedy, Literary, Biography (Narratives and Documentaries), Animated, Art, Women (Films Centered Around) -must still be a special interest group, I guess- Returning Directors and Female Directors.

This brings me to the festival fact sheet for the 2010 director information with 96 as the the total number of feature-length directors in the festival- 19 feature-length female directors; 77 feature-length male directors; 8 first-time female directors, 32 first-time male directors; 9 returning female directors, 11 returning male directors. No matter how you look at it, it's been forever lopsided since the directing days of the first woman director, Alice Guy Blache.

Finally, total submissions for Tribeca Film Festival in 2010 was 5,050. Along with the Tribeca/ESPN Film Festival (7 documentaries), submissions included 1,260 feature narratives, 1,073 feature documentaries, 2,295 narrative shorts, 422 documentary shorts. There will be 44 world premieres, 7 international, 15 North American premieres, 6 U.S. premieres, 12 New York premieres and 1 revival. In twelve days, 496 films will be screened in locations throughout Manhattan. Looking forward to it.

Friday, April 9, 2010


A retired court investigator in Argentina who cannot forget a case gone cold twenty-five years earlier, reopens more unresolved issues than he intended while writing a novel without an ending.

The story alternates between past and present beginning in 1974 Buenos Aires, during a dark political time. Court criminal investigator, Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) is intent on solving the rape and murder of a beautiful young woman, but his search for the truth puts him at odds with the judge and a high-ranking member of the secret police as well as the object of his unrequited passion, Irene (Soledad Villamil), a woman beyond his reach, an upper class, well-educated secretary to the court on an established path for a brilliant career.

Benjamin is moved by the pain and suffering of Morales, the grief-stricken husband. His tenacity, along with sidekick, Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella), alternating between deducing brilliant observation and drunken imbecility, find the murder suspect, Gomez, through the one thing a man cannot change about himself no matter what or for how long and that's his passion.

During questioning, Irene at first objects to, then helps gain Gomez's confession. However, Benjamin's past transgressions wrought vengeful retribution from the repressive secret police eventually allowing the confessed murderer to go free working on their behalf. With their lives in danger, Irene and Benjamin continue to walk the tightrope of a hot, budding romance. Supported by a powerful family, Irene sends Benjamin away to safety to the Andes where her extended family reigns as feudal lords. The farewell train station scene ends their story.

Until the present where Benjamin finds Irene successful as a judge but miserable in mediocrity. The romantic tension is renewed as the pair resume in their game of obsession through the unfinished novel, the unresolved ending of murderer and court case and romantic memories for each other. It is a love story, first and foremost, with the summation that "Memories are all that we have left. Pick the nice ones".

Director Juan Jose Campanella co wrote the screenplay and his deftness keeps the intertwining story focused and emotionally stirring just as the music score (notably violin) by Frederico Jusid. Cinematography is exceptional comparing and contrasting the characters and their emotions against the enormously staid court gallery within an openly corrupt political system against the expansive passion of Argentina's massive crowds in the soccer stadium.

THE SECRET IN THEIR EYE won the 2009 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, winner of the Goya Awards for Best Spanish Language Foreign Film and Best New Actress. It keeps moving until the final memory becomes resolved at 129 minutes. A Sony Picture Classics release, it opens Friday, April 16 in New York and Los Angeles. In Spanish with English subtitles.