Trios, Trials and Taxis: Tribeca to a T

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New York, NY — With Tribeca now in full swing, I have blissfully ignored the tedious details of my daily life – the incessant tracking of Obama websites, the weekly hoarding of Arborio rice from my local Gristedes — in favor of the far more compelling dramas playing out on the festival’s screens.

Here’s a short run down of what’s been happening in the past few days:

Armed with my digital camera and reporters pad, I attended Tribeca’s opening press conference last week, attended by an all-star cast including Tribeca co–founder and producer Jane Rosenthal; the new Governor of New York David A. Paterson; NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg; Tribeca’s Artistic Director Peter Scarlet; and director, producer and jury member Doug Liman.

Seeing how my own budget for this festival is slimmer than Hillary’s White House chances, I’ll start with money matters. Rosenthal noted the festival had lowered ticket prices to $15 for a regular evening screening. Matinees and late night screens are $8.00. Special events: $25.00. And a free press pass at Tribeca? Priceless.

Some good news for producers: Governor Paterson reported he would sign a bill to increase the New York state tax credit for producers shooting in the City from 10% to 30% of all below the line costs. Added to the 5% New York City tax credit, that brings the total below-the-line credit to a generous 35%. Hooray! Patterson added that while he is legally blind, he still goes to movies and can see everything on the screen if he sits in the front row. Wherever he sits, he’s a man of real vision in my book.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg is apparently envisioning a thespian future. He noted he’s already appeared in his first TV role in Tina Fey’s sit-com “30 Rock,” and can be seen in the upcoming feature Sex in the City. As if the political stage weren’t enough, the Mayor joked he was contemplating a future career in show business when his terms ends in 2009. I suggest that Bloomberg, Schwarzenegger & Fred Thompson shack up for a spinoff of “Three’s Company.”

My vote for best audience development strategy for Tribeca went to John Hayes, head of marketing at Tribeca sponsor American Express. Hayes announced a sure-fire way to draw mobs of infants-cum-future-cineastes to Tribeca. AmEx is sponsoring the festival’s new “Insider Center,” a hospitality lounge at Union Square that last Friday hosted a meet-and-greet for moms and their babies with comedian Tina Fey, whose current hit Baby Mama (#1 at last weekend’s box office) was the opening film of the festival. Talk about a brilliant scheme to create crib-loads of early adopters to Tribeca…

Among the Festival movies which Rosenthal and Scarlet put on their short list:

Pray the Devil Back to Hello, by Gini Reticker. A documentary about a group of women in Liberia who helped to put into power the first female head of state, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Ramshand Pakistani by New York/Pakistani-based filmmaker Mehreen Jabbar (Competition). Beautifully shot, this film tells the story of a little boy and his father living close to the Indian border, and who get detained for years when they accidentally cross over into India.

Bart Got a Room by Brian Hecker (Encounters section). Coming-of-age comedy starring William H. Macy.

Green Porno by Isabella Rossellini, a series of shorts that depict “how bugs do it”, in which Rossellini also appears.

And now for the movies I can personally recommend:

For their documentary Milosevic on Trial, director Michael Chistoffersen and producer Mette Heide received exclusive access to the four-year-trail of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, who was indicted by the International Criminal Tribune in The Hague for the war crimes. Christoffersen followed the trial from its start in 2002 until Milosevic’s death in 2006. Some of the opening scenes in the beginning of the film reminded me of the famous Eichman trial documentary The Specialist by Israeli filmmaker Eyal Sivan: the horrifying testimonies of the victims and the blank stares of the accused.

In some particularly riveting scenes, the film follows prosecutor Geoffrey Nice QC on a trip to the former Yugoslavia to visit some of the murder sites. These include the Bosnian town of Srebrenica where more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys were massacred in 1995 – the worst case of genocide in Europe since World War II. Near the end of four long years in court, Milosevic died before a verdict was cast — fortunately or unfortunately, we’ll never know.

For their next project, Christoffersen and Mette secured exclusive access to Saddam Hussein’s trial and were able to film behind the scenes. The film is scheduled for release later this year and should be a must-see.

Then there’s the Israeli feature Strangers from Erez Tadmor and Guy Nattiv, based on Nattiv’s short film of the same title, about a Palestinian woman (Lubna Azabal) and Israeli man (Liron Levo) who meet in the subways of Berlin and fall in love.
The movie was shot during the summer of Berlin’s Soccer World Championship in 2006, and also features the second Lebanon war that broke out just after the World Cup finals.
These real events give the film a documentary feel that enhances and adds to its immediacy and urgency, reminding you of how omnipresent the conflict in the Middle East really is and how it touches the every-day-life of Israelis and Palestinians alike, whether they’re at home or abroad.

Man on a Wire by James Marsh is a stunning documentary about Phillipe Petit, the French high wire performance artist who back in 1974 danced on a wire suspended between the two towers of the World Trade Center. Marsh retraces the steps that led to this incredible performance and at the same time draws a portrait of a magical performance artist. The way Marsh stages the illegal set-up for the Twin Tower walk plays as suspensefully as a thriller.

Finally, on Saturday I caught the festival’s section dedicated to the next generation of filmmakers, Tribeca All Access (TAA), now in its fifth year. Think of All Access as Tribeca’s version of Berlin’s Talent Campus, Rotterdam’s Cinemart, Cannes’s Cinefondation or Sundance;s Sundance Institute Labs. All these festivals foster these emerging filmmakers as part of their mission to establish themselves as educational institutions, offering something similar to a post-doctorate at a university.

Like many such programs, each of the filmmakers and producers of the TAA’s 37 selected projects had to pitch to a panel of film professional experts. That warmed them up for the next three days of intense half-our, one-on-one sit-downs with
more than 120 film professionals, including agents, producers, financiers and distributors. For the first time this year, projects from the UK, Australia and Canada were invited to participate.

The trick for these newbie filmmakers is to get into one of these mentoring programs, and then to stay connected. Needless to say, the networking opportunities at Tribeca’s forum were, in a word: Priceless.

I met one of the TAA participants at breakfast the other day, New York resident Miao Wang, who came to the States from China in 1990. Wang brought her documentary Beijing Taxi, which is already well into production. She’s been following three Beijing taxi drivers over the past year, witnessing through their eyes the enormous change and growth challenging China today. She’ll return to film them again during the upcoming summer Olympics.

Speaking of taxis, who can find one around here during the festival? Plus, I’m a bit cheap in that department. So it’s back to the daily grind as I head out to catch the F train home.

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Tanja Meding

Tanja Meding :Since moving to New York from Germany in 2003, Tanja Meding has worked as a producer for Maysles Films and other independent production companies. Amongst others, she produced SALLY GROSS-THE PLEASURE OF STILLNESS by Albert Maysles and Kristen Nutile which aired on WNET/Thirteen and Channel 25 and is now available on DVD from www.reframecollection.org. Since 2007, Tanja has been producing short films by Rosane Chamecki, Andrea Lerner and Phil Harder: JACKIE & JUDY premiered at DANCE ON CAMERA at LINCOLN CENTER was awarded with a PEARL at the POOL 2010 Festival in Berlin. Upcoming this September is a video installation of two new shorts: BOXING and THE COLLECTION at NY's newly opened New York Live Arts building in Chelsea. In addition, Tanja is the co-producer of Gabriella Bier's LOVE DURING WARTIME, a documentary about an Israeli dancer and her Palestinian husband. The film had its US premiere at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival and is distributed in the US through 7th Art Releasing. Furthermore, she is the US co-producer of Pascale Obolo's documentary CALYPSO ROSE, LIONESS OF THE JUNGLE. Currently in development with Claudia Brazzale is RETRACING STEPS, a portrait documentary about a group of international dancers and choreographers and their lives 20 years after they first met in NYC.

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