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in Filmmaking
on May 1, 2007

As the Tribeca Film Festival wraps up its 6th year this weekend its clear that as it expands throughout the city confusion mounts within the industry on what it actually is – a venue for high profile films or discovering new talent (I’ll go into greater detail about this in my Festival Wrap-Up in the Summer issue). But having attended every year there’s one thing I’m always impressed by: the documentaries. And this year is no exception.

Two that I’ve enjoyed equally but are completely different in tone and style are Alex Gibney’s Taxi to the Dark Side and Bruce Broder’s Chops, both of which are making their World Premieres at the fest.

In Taxi, Gibney uses the same investigative style which garnered him an Oscar-nomination for Enron: the Smartest Guys In The Room as he examines the torture methods the U.S. military has used on detainees during the Iraq war, specifically at the prisons in Bagram, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. The main focus is on the murder of one detainee, a taxi driver named Dilawar (pictured above), who was accused of being the getaway driver for a terrorist act but was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. Through the film Gibney peals away the layers of inferiority by interviewing the unqualified interrogators who were at the prisons (they say they were only following orders), along with showing never-before-seen images from inside the prisons which make the pervious stills we’ve seen from Abu Ghraib look tame. Gibney also interviews a former detainee at Bagram and GITMO. But as chilling as what was done in the prisons, what’s more horrific is seeing the blatant disregard of the Geneva Conventions by the Bush Administration.

The only thing that may hurt Taxi‘s chances for distribution is with the slew of war docs that have already come out in the past 3-4 years, audiences may be a little burnt out.

On a lighter note is Chops, a doc that follows a Jacksonville, Florida high school jazz band as they prepare to compete at the annual event: Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival. Comparisons could be made to Spellbound or Wordplay as director Bruce Broder follows the gifted students of the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts as they practice for the competition. But what’s different is it not only shows their talents but how feeding off on another’s abilities makes them create unbelievable music.

Broder also briefly highlights two schools in Seattle who always do well at Essentially Ellington to create an underdog story, but the real draw is the music. Close your eyes and you couldn’t tell teenagers are playing the instruments. A must see for fans of jazz.

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