Now in its’ 8th year, the Tribeca Film Festival has established itself as a landmark not only in New York’s cultural calender – but also in the world film festival circuit.
Although leaner than in previous years (with less films at fewer locations) the program included 85 feature length films and 46 shorts, and there was still more than enough to choose from.
Following is a selection of what was offered during the 2009 festival. As there are just too many films to cover in one report, this article will start with the feature films and part two will focus on some noteworthy documentaries in the festival.
From Israel, filmmakers Erez Tadmor and Sharon Maymon came to Tribeca to present their collaboration A MATTER OF SIZE. This was Erez Tadmor’s second visit to Tribeca—together with co-filmmaker Guy Nattiv, he presented his first feature STRANGERS at last year’s the festival. STRANGERS is the touching and powerful love story between a Palestinian woman and an Israeli man who meet in Berlin during the 2006 world soccer championship, fall head over heels for each other, and fight to keep their relationship alive against all social and political odds. MATTER OF SIZE again focuses on some of society’s outcasts and their struggles to be accepted in their communities. In Ramala, Herzl (Itzik Cohen) and his overweight friends are constantly and unsuccessfully trying to lose weight. Frustrated and depressed, one day Herzl decides to call it quits, leaves his weight-watchers group, and takes his long time friends along with him. Soon thereafter, at his new job in a Japanese restaurant, Herzl is introduced to sumo wrestling – the ancient, ritualized Japanese national sport – always performed by huge men, highly respected for their size. So Herzl and his friends set out to form their own sumo team and convince the resisting Japanese restaurant owner to become their trainer to lead them to their first public performance. Filmmakers Tadmor and Maymon have assembled an inspiring cast of well rounded actors who move gracefully and look well in the traditional sumo custom, the mawashi. A charming film that makes you laugh with and not at its brave protagonists.
THE SWIMSUITE ISSUE is another film that focuses on a particular sport not often depicted in the cinema. Swedish filmmaker Mans Herngren’s film is based-on and inspired-by the real story of the Swedish all male synchronized swimming team and their rise to fame. Herngren paints a loving picture of his protagonists with all their weaknesses and shortcomings. And similarly to MATTER OF SIZE, the group of friends perseveres to eventually travel to Berlin for the world championship of male synchronized swimming. Herngren, together with his actors, created an engaging and entertaining film about friendship, loyalty and perseverance.
Also from Scandinavia is NORTH by Norwegian filmmaker Rune Denstad Langlo. The film arrived after its successful premiere at the Berlinale where it was awarded with FIPRESCI‘s international critics prize for Best Film in the Panorama section as well as the Europa Cinemas Label, an award to promote European cinema. At Tribeca, NORD celebrated its North American premiere and won yet another award—this time Best New Narrative Filmmaker for filmmaker Langlo. A road movie with beautiful landscape photography of Norway’s north, Langlo’s feature debut chronicles Jomar’s (Anders Baasmo Christiansen) trip and his chance encounters with a variety of charming characters along the way. Along the way, Jomar subtly develops from a depressed young man with suicidal tendencies to a more hopeful and life-affirming person.
Moving on to France, QUEEN TO PLAY is again a debut feature. Directed by French filmmaker Caroline Bottaro, QUEEN TO PLAY stars Sandrine Bonnaire as a chess-obsessed cleaning lady opposite Kevin Kline as an American doctor and her mentor. Primarily focusing on Bonnaire’s character and her development from a quiet-yet-curious maid to a competent chess player and strategist, Bottaro has created a strong vehicle for the two main actors to confront, combat and collaborate with each other. As in chess, each move forces one to pay close attention, and often the following move is not the most obvious one.
And finally, returning back to New York as a location, Tribeca offered the US premiere of ENGLISH MAN IN NEW YORK by British filmmaker Richard Laxton. The film provides an astounding performance for British character actor John Hurt, who portrays the writer Quentin Crisp for the second time in his career. First, Hurt played the eccentric writer in THE NAKED CIVIL SERVANT, based on Crisp’s 1968 autobiography. In 1975, British filmmaker Jack Gold adapted the book into a television feature that became an important testament for openly addressing and discussing gay issues. In 2000, THE NAKED CIVIL SERVANT was voted fourth best British TV program of the 20th century by the British Film Institute.
More than 30 years later, John Hurt again portrays the writer and performer Quentin Crisp, this time during the last two decades his life, starting with his arrival in New York in 1981 at age 72 until his passing in 1999. Set against the backdrop of the AIDS health crisis, Hurt gives a stunning and most tender performance of the aging Crisp. And so during this year’s Berlinale, Hurt was honored with a special Teddy for his outstanding performance.
So much for the feature films at Tribeca; Watch out for any of the above films playing at a festival or theater near you. They are well worth it.
For more information on any of the films and the festival, please visit www.tribecafilm.com