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Tribeca: Leaner and Nicer

in Filmmaking
on Apr 17, 2009

That’s how Stephen Holden opens his preview of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in today’s New York Times.

Beginning next Wednesday with the world premiere of Woody Allen‘s Whatever Works, Allen’s first film in four years set in Manhattan, the 8th edition of TFF will be a smaller and less serious in theme than its previous years, as Holden points out:

The 12-day festival’s identity as a hybrid of serious film forum and family-friendly community celebration catering to cinéastes and tourists alike is now firmly established. At Tribeca highbrow meets no-brow with everything in between.

Leaner means smaller but more discriminating. Tribeca, like almost every other arts institution, has had to pull in its wings. Since 2007 the number of feature films shown has dwindled by more than 40 percent: 85 this year (45 are world premieres), down from 120 last year and 157 in 2007. Shrinkage has its positive side. Tribeca is no longer a catchall showcase for uneven movies (especially American independent films) seeking a festival imprimatur, and complaints that it is a dumping ground have subsided….

Overall the tone of this year’s selections is deliberately lighter than in the past, said Jane Rosenthal, one of Tribeca’s co-founders. That choice, she said, was partly a response to the economic downturn. Tribeca was conceived in the wake of 9/11 as a community redevelopment project for Lower Manhattan and as an antidote to the city’s despair and fear in the months following the terrorist attacks.

Now the festival finds itself addressing a different neighborhood crisis, the Wall Street meltdown, which over the past six months has devastated many small businesses in the financial district. Once again Tribeca hopes to give the city a lift.

Below are a list of films playing at the fest that have caught our eye (some of which we’ve been able to see). And check back during the fest as we’ll be posting news and notes throughout.

Seven Minutes in Heaven (dir. Omri Givon)
A young woman struggles to reconstruct her memory of the events immediately following the Jerusalem bus bombing that took the life of her boyfriend and left her back badly scarred. Part memory play, part love story, and part metaphysical thriller, this startling debut feature announces Givon as a forceful storyteller and exciting new voice in international cinema.

Stay Cool (dir. Michael Polish)
Henry McCarthey (Mark Polish) returns home to give the commencement speech at his high school. But even after almost 20 years, it’s as if he never left—he again wants the girl, gets suspended by the principal, and is grounded by his parents. This charming comedy, featuring Winona Ryder and Hilary Duff, reminds us that time certainly does fly and old flames are hard to put out.

Vegas: Based on a True Story (dir. Amir Naderi)
Acclaimed director Amir Naderi applies his inimitable cinematic style to Vegas, a timely and complex fable about our current economic crisis. The film takes place away from the glittering strip of mega casinos, but the greed of Sin City is just as pervasive on the desert outskirts, where an otherwise happy family is thrown into turmoil after learning of a forgotten fortune that may be buried beneath their home.

Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi (dir. Ian Olds)
In 2007, the Taliban kidnapped 24-year-old Ajmal Naqshbandi and an Italian journalist. Naqshbandi was one of Afghanistan’s best “fixers”—someone hired by foreign journalists to facilitate, translate, and gain access for their stories. This gripping, tragic story is a behind-the-scenes look into the dangerous and unseen world that happens before we get the news.

Only When I Dance (dir. Beadie Finzi)
Two teenage ballet dancers from the working-class favelas of Rio are determined to dance their way to a better life, but to do so they must grow up against harsh prejudice, doubt, and some of the best dancers in the world. This inspiring doc trails their path to beat the odds and follow their dream of making it in the elite world of professional ballet.

Outrage (dir. Kirby Dick)
Academy Award®-nominated filmmaker Kirby Dick (This Film Is Not Yet Rated) delivers a searing indictment of the hypocrisy of closeted politicians who actively campaign against the LGBT community they covertly belong to. Outrage boldly reveals the hidden lives of some of our nation’s most powerful policymakers, details the harm they’ve inflicted on millions of Americans, and examines the media’s complicity in keeping their secrets.

Shadow Billionaire (dir. Alexis Manya Spraic)
When DHL founder Larry Hillblom disappeared following a 1995 plane crash off his Micronesian island home, dozens of would-be heirs from the Philippines came out of the woodwork to lay claim to his mega fortune. Within the framework of the fantastic legal battle, Spraic’s debut doc slowly uncovers the stranger-than-fiction life of this eccentric billionaire.

The Girlfriend Experience (dir. Steven Soderbergh)
Director Steven Soderbergh follows five days in the life of a $2,000-an-hour Manhattan call girl (adult film star Sasha Grey) who thinks she has her life totally under control. She even has a devoted boyfriend who accepts her lifestyle. But when you’re in the business of meeting people, you never know who you’re going to meet next. Read our interview with Soderbergh and the film’s star Sasha Grey in the upcoming Spring issue of Filmmaker.

Still Walking (dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda)
Years of tension kept barely below the surface threaten to run over when two middle-aged children visit their elderly parents on the 15th anniversary of their older brother’s accidental death. Patient, real-time pacing and a delightfully muted wit from the curmudgeonly old-timers highlight acclaimed director Kore-eda’s (Nobody Knows) domestic drama.

Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (dir. Damien Chazelle)
First-time director Damien Chazelle infuses his black-and-white, 16mm vérité-style relationship drama with all that jazzy romance of an old-Hollywood musical. Backed by a grand, alternately rollicking and melancholy score, Guy and Madeline tracks a pair of young lovers in Boston after they separate, search for new romance, and perhaps find their way back to each other.

Entre nos (dir. Paola Mendoza and Gloria La Morte)
Adoring mother Mariana (talented codirector Paola Mendoza) has toted her two children from Colombia to New York to indulge her husband’s whim. But when he abruptly abandons the family, she’ll have to rely on her own imagination and courage—and that of her remarkable kids (breakthroughs Sebastian Villada and Laura Montana)—to survive insurmountable odds during their first summer in the United States.

P-Star Rising (dir. Gabriel Noble)
In the early ’80s, Jesse Diaz was a rising star in the hip-hop world. Now a broke single father in Harlem with two children to support, Jesse finds a shot at redemption in his nine-year-old daughter Priscilla Star, a precocious and immensely talented rapper. Director Gabriel Noble follows four years of father-daughter ups and downs as they navigate the grit and the glamour of the music biz.

All synopsises from the Tribeca film guide.

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