With 12 full length documentary films in the WORLD DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION, 5 out of the 8 films in the ESPN SPORTS FILM FESTIVAL plus numerous documentaries peppered throughout the other sections of the festival, documentaries have secured a solid place at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Right after its successful premiere at the Berlinale earlier this year, Brazilian filmmaker
Jose Padilha brought his charged/ powerful/ hard-to-swollow documentary GARAPA to New York. In this black and white verite work, the filmmaker spends time with three Brazilian families struggling to feed their children and barely staying alive. It’s a devastating portrait that makes one understand the viscious cycle of poverty – because if you don’t have enough food, you don’t have any energy and if you don’t have any energy, you just can not do anything about changing your situation. An important film that transcents from the personal to the universally political.
A documentary juxtaposing the personal with the political in the most literal sense was Kirby Dick’s film OUTRAGE – a survey of today’s US political scene and its closeted gay politicians. Very timely considering the ongoing debate in the different US states re. same sex marriage, AIDS funding and gay rights. Remember former Idaho Senator Larry Craig or Florida’s Govenor Charlie Crist? Dick points at the hypocracies of these legislators and at the same time shows that it is very much possibly to continue and ones career and thrive after outing oneself/ coming out of the closet.
In light of the fact that the capital of Germany, Berlin, has reelected its openly gay mayor Klaus Wowereit – the mayor who coined the term – I am gay and that’s ok – it is tragic and very sad that a film like this still has to be made in the US.
Magnolia Pictures picked up the film for domestic distribution and it is currently in the theaters.
Looking back in time – and celebrating African American music from the early 1970’s is Jeff Levy-Hinte’s feature length documentary SOUL POWER. In 1974, Mohammed Ali and George Foreman’s famous RUMBLE IN THE JUNGLE fight in Kinshasa, Zaire was accompanied by a weekend long concert of some of the best African American and African soul musicians like Celia Cruz, Miriam Makeba, James Brown and many more. At the time, Leon Gast and a handful of top notch cinematoraphers, amongst them Albert Maysles, Kevin Keating, Paul Goldsmith and Roderick Kwaku Young traveled with the musicians to record this uniquely powerful event on and off stage. More than 30 years later, filmmaker Levy-Hinte, went back to the archives, retrieved, cleaned and transferred all the footage that never made it into Leon Gast’s 1996 academy award winning WHEN WE WERE KINGS and produced an energetic and engaging concert film that at the same is an important document of its time. The film was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics and will be in the theaters later this summer.
Returning back to the present and New York City, P STAR RISING by NY based filmmaker Gabriel Noble is the portrait of Priscilla Star Diaz, a young hip hop artist and member of the cast in PBS’ children program ELECTRIC COMPANY, and her father Jesse and sister Solsky. Noble followed the family over the course of four years as Priscilla and her father struggle and succeed in building her career and at the same time strengthen their family bond. While addressing the difficulties of Priscilla’s father to manage his daughter’s career and living his unfulfilled dreams through her, the Diaz’ overcome these obstacles and manage to build a home and life for themselves. Filmmaker Nobel established a most trusing relationship with his subjects that never feels exploitative but genuine and real.
Also looking at young stars rising is Beadie Finzi’s documentary ONLY WHEN I DANCE – where she follows Islabela and Irlan two Brazilian ballet dancers from Rio and their dream to become a member of a world known ballet company. British filmmaker Finzi follows the two over the course of one year – in which one’s dream comes true and the other is shattered. Besides showing the ruthlessly competative dance world, Finzi also addresses the love, dedication and hardship that not only the dancers but also both dancers’ families go through to allow their children to pursue their dreams.
And finally, moving over to the poetic and visually seducing side of documentaries, ANTOINE by Argentinian filmmaker Laura Bari is a what Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s AMELIE was to fiction films. A most magical, visual feast and the story of a 5 year old Vietnamese boy Antoine living in Montreal, Canada. Mixing fact with fiction, Bari spend 2 years with Antoine at home, in school and with his little friends – and portraits him enjoying life and playing out some of his precious dreams, like driving a car, owning a cell phone and being a private eye. A charming piece that does not dwell on Antoine’s disadvantages, but favors his creativity, uniqueness and character.
There were plenty more documentaries at the festival this year – and this is only a small selection.
Looking at diversity of subjects, locations and styles, documentary films are alive and kicking – and are waiting to be viewed.
For more information on the festival and its films, please visit