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in Filmmaking
on Apr 28, 2009

At the midway point of the Tribeca Film Festival most covering it are walking around with a look of relief as this year’s slate of a tolerable 85 films has made it a less strenuous undertaking to get a good grasp of what the fest has to offer (and it’s nice to step in an air conditioned theater during this heatwave). Here are four titles that have stuck out for me.

Entre nos
A tour-de-force performance by Paoloa Mendoza, who also shares writing and directing credits with editor Gloria La Morte, this very personal tale follows a Colombian woman’s struggle to provide food and shelter for her two kids after the father leaves them. With no source of income Mariana (Mendoza) sells empanadas on the street and collects cans, but when she can’t pay the rent they have to spend their nights sleeping on park benches or in dingy hotels when they have enough money. The film does not get preachy about the family’s situation or tries to shock the audience with the lengths the mother will go to get money, instead we watch an inspiring story of what a mother does during an unthinkable situation to provide her kids with a better life while also teaching them about pride and the value of family.

The House of the Devil
Using the horror genre to develop his own style of filmmaking, Ti West (The Roost, Trigger Man) delivers a slow-brewing horror that’s so authentic if you came across it on TV you’d think the film was made in the late ’70s. Using all the traditional elements that are in horrors — the shy, conscientious brunette in the lead (Jocelin Donahue), the disturbing family she encounters, the ditsy friend (Greta Gerwig) — West uses most of the film as a tension builder by using long tracking shots and a chilling score which leads to a horrific climax that’s worth the wait (though I’m a little disappointed with the last scene).

The return of Dutch filmmaker Cyrus Frisch to Tribeca after premiering his cell phone-shot feature Why Didn’t Anybody Tell Me It Would Become This Bad in Afghanistan here two years ago, like all of his work Dazzle tests the audience with unconventional storytelling as he focuses on a troubled girl’s life through a chance phone call with a doctor calling. But to put us more connected with the phone conversations, Frisch often only plays the dialogue and leaves the screen black so all our senses are on the words being said. Through the film we’re granted access to what the girl is looking at outside her window in Amsterdam, which often are vagrants hanging around the canal, as well as visuals of stories the doctor (voiced by Rutger Hauer) tells. The film is a moving portrait that centers on love, death and moral responsibility.

Racing Dreams
Another filmmaker returning for a second time, Marshall Curry comes back after winning the Audience Award for his Oscar nominated doc debut Street Fight in 2005. Probably the most sellable film I’ve seen so far, Curry’s Racing Dreams is Hoop Dreams for Nascar fans. Looking at the lives of three teenagers who race go-carts (basically the Little League of Nascar), Curry highlight the kids and their parents as they race five times over the course of a few months to declare a national champion of the World Karting Association’s National Pavement Series. Curry captures the intensity of racing in the small carts, making 80 mph look like they’re going 200. But like most docs that highlight something competitive, it’s the human interest story of the subjects off the track that is the most compelling. Curry finds remarkable kids to follow, all with interesting backstories and personal issues that they can escape from when they get on that track.

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