Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Film Festival as Superpower

I ran off to the Tribeca Film Festival last Thursday night. Now here I am, 23 films later, ready to report for blogging duty. Those 23 films include seven shorts, plus three feature selections I watched on my laptop on the bus, after downloading them thanks to Tribeca’s partnership with the amazing new Jaman service. I’m not sure my fellow passengers were as thrilled by the flicker effects of Ken Jacobs’ RAZZLE DAZZLE as I was. The 23 also included two remarkable films I snuck away from Tribeca to catch at the IFC Center and Film Forum, since they’re not likely to make it to Charlottesville soon, Robinson Devor’s ZOO and Johnnie To’s TRIAD ELECTION.

The Tribeca festival has attracted more than its share of gripes. Since it was created after 9-11 to aid in the revitalization of lower Manhattan, the festival has managed to squander the affection of many, not unlike another superpower I could mention, with behavior that is, arguably, imperial. The festival has been accused of stomping on filmmakers and other festivals who won’t let Tribeca screen its desired films first, and being crassly profligate in its hoopla. Being the director of a regional film festival, I’m sensitive to the cries of smaller festivals; our fall event is often turned down by filmmakers afraid of blowing their chances (incredibly slim—4 out of 100) of getting into Sundance, the neighborhood bully faced by fall film festivals.

Yet I don’t think gripers are giving enough credit to the terrific programming by Peter Scarlet and his team. Peter is one of the most knowledgeable and tireless film discoverers I know, and shorts programmer Maggie Kim also has a great eye. Out of the hundreds of films on offer, I was able to carve out a program of extraordinary films on the theme of “family,” since I’m shopping for films to screen in our KIN FLICKS program in November. And much of what I saw was so extraordinary, that I can only hope that my festival in November is as good as the festival I attended this past weekend. What I admired, I will pursue for Charlottesville.

My personal favorite of the weekend was the new documentary, AUTISM: THE MUSICAL. Less than a year ago, I sat on the balcony of the Georgian Hotel in Santa Monica, and met the producer Perrin Chiles, a University of Virginia alumnus, who told me about the project. I can’t say the premise—autistic kids gather to perform in a musical, sounded all that promising, at least to my somewhat jaded ears. But Perrin and his partners, including vet indie producer Janet Grillo and Kristen Stills, wife of Stephen (both moms of autistic children) found fantastic subjects (five kids and their parents) and the perfect director, Tricia Regan. Regan elicits such frank and honest testimonies from the parents, and, with her own camerawork, such a range of awkward, agonizing and exhilarating moments with the kids, that the strong emotional response of the loudly applauding audience felt wholly earned, not tugged.

Other titles I am likely to solicit include FIESTAPATRIA, a Chilean film about a family gathering that gets very messy as political fissures between Pinochet regime defenders and opponents, and the generations, erupt. TUYA’S MARRIAGE, the Berlin Film Festival prizewinner, is a visually stunning portrait of a woman whose extraordinary strength and character supports her damaged family, yet is undermined by the patriarchal norms of her community. THE LAST JEWS OF LIBYA is the amazing accomplishment of a Libyan Jewish émigré grandmother, and first-time documentary filmmaker, who tells the dismaying story of the collapse of a 2500 year old Arab Jewish community through the voices of her own family. MISS UNIVERSE 1929 is the latest film by the great Peter Forgacs, the experimental documentarian who mines home movies to uncover the social history of 20th century Europe. Here, he has hit on a treasure trove of footage by the lovestruck husband of the Jewish Austrian Miss Universe of 1929. The winner of the best short film award, A SON’S SACRIFICE, is about a reluctant Muslim son’s assumption of the reins of the family butchering business. Not likely to be the favorite film of vegetarian viewers, the film is nonetheless a great portrait of a Muslim-American family.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Danielle said...

So glad you liked Jaman! If you're interested, we're also hosting some of San Francisco International Film Festival's films here: http://www.jaman.com/festivals/sfiff

Today, it's SAMT, by director Rob Nilsson. They're only available for 24 hours past the last screening of the film, which is a bummer, but at least you get to watch films from a festival clear on the other side of the country, eh?

On a semi-related note, I saw A Son's Sacrifice in IDA's DocuWeek in LA. It was really engaging and, though a little abrasive on my vegetarian sensibilities, a great story. I'm glad to hear it got the recognition it richly deserves.

1:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard - I love the Film Festival, and though I am moving to Richmond this year, I will definitely be back for the weekend.

Someone already mentioned it, but I think the "House of Yes" is a great choice. It's a creepy family, but a good one, and it's the first time I ever took Tori Spelling seriously.

Another choice might be "Home for the Holidays." It gives just the right level of pain to make it realistic enough to be our own families. I watch it every fall. It's quite seasonal for the festival. Best of luck!

9:25 PM  

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