There are a number of ways to work through a festival program. One can look at the different festival sections, divide between the main program and the sidebars, report about the films that were picked up for distribution, write about the works one really liked (or not at all), group the film into common themes, search for an overarching focus, or simply write about entries from one specific country — which is what follows – a review of the German entries at this year’s Tribeca International Film Festival. A second report will look at some of the highlights from this year’s edition; including winners of official awards as well as some of the favorite discoveries I made during the past days.
But for now, let’s look at the films from Germany:
In the World Narrative Feature competition was Feo Aladag’s debut WHEN WE LEAVE (DIE FREMDE, 2010), celebrated its North American premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival after screening at the Berlinale Panorama section, where it was awarded with the Europa Cinemas Label as best European film. WHEN WE LEAVE stars Sibel Kekilli (best known for her powerful performance in Fatih Akin’s award winning feature HEAD ON, (GEGEN DIE WAND, 2004) as Umay, a young Turkish mother, who together with her young son leaves her husband in Turkey to return to her family in Berlin. But instead of being welcomed back into the family, insurmountable cultural values stop Umay from leading an independent life as a single mother. Aladag’s moving family tragedy slowly builds from bad to worse to a final deadly catastrophe and Kekilli portrays Umay with an inner calm, strength and stoic determination that is haunting and touching at the same time. For their strong work, Aladag and Kekilli both received top awards from the jury: Sibel Kekilli was named Best Actress in a Narrative Feature Film and Feo Aladag received The Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature.
Likewise in competition, however in the World Documentary Feature category was Alexander Gentelev’s documentary THIEVES BY LAW (DIEBE IM GESETZ, 2009). Credited as a German-Israeli-Spanish co-production and executive produced by German Simone Baumann of Leipzig’s LE VISION, Gentelev’s documentary portrays three high profile Russian businessmen who made their fame and fortune first outside and now within the law. With unprecedented access, Gentelev’s protagonists show us around their homes, take us on trips to the Russian countryside, the French Riviera, and the outskirts of Moscow to shed some light onto their unique life stories, yet leaving plenty of blank spots to fill in. To better understand how these former convicts were able to become such powerful public players, Gentelev puts their careers into the context of Russia’s most recent history. From the collapse of the former Soviet Union to the emergence of a free market, the filmmaker points out how the economic and political changes laid the foundation for this new class of authoritarian businessmen to emerge and establish themselves in today’s Russian society. Fearlessly, Gentelev follows these fierce characters and delivers a densely packed documentary that offers first glimpses into an otherwise closed society of power players.
In an ongoing collaboration between the sports network ESPN and the festival, Tribeca dedicates an entire sidebar to films on sports. Part of this year’s program was Björn Richie Lob’s debut documentary KEEP SURFING (KEEP SURFING, 2009) – winner of last year’s audience award at the Munich International Film Festival. Listed in many tourist guides, Munich’s Eisbach river wave is a world-known phenomenon, especially amongst river surfers. Instead of traveling with the water as in traditional ocean surfing, the Eisbach river has a constant stationary wave that allows for surfing on the spot- apparently a much harder task than one would think. Through a handful of colorful characters, all connected to the Eisbach river wave, Lob tells the story of the early beginnings to today’s tourist attraction of Munich’s inner-city river as an exciting and energizing training ground for amateurs and professionals. An accomplished surfer himself, Lob’s documentary is filled with breathtakingly kinetic moments celebrating the skills of Munich’s local and international surf stars.
Keeping with uplifting and energizing subject matter is Fatih Akin’s latest feature SOUL KITCHEN (SOUL KITCHEN, 2009). After its North American premiere at last year’s Toronto Film Festival, SOUL KITCHEN returned to the US and screened in Tribeca’s SPOTLIGHT section before its theatrical release by IFC films. A lively, tragic-comedy with a lots of food and booze, great music and plenty of twists and turns in its story line, SOUL KITCHEN features Akin’s regular actors Adam Bousdoukos (also co-author of the film with Akin) and Moritz Bleibtreu as Greek-German brothers Zinos and Illya – a chaotic yet charming pair of chaps – one a struggling restaurant owner with a failing relationship, the other a petty criminal with a gambling addiction that nearly breaks everyone’s necks.
Loaded with energy and set to the sounds of good soul music, plus some strong female characters pulling the strings and calling the shots, Akin’s two anti-heroes stumble through Hamburg, desperately trying to hold it together…. and fittingly, as all seems lost forever– Akin delivers one more twist to finish with a happy ending!
Closing off and rounding up is German actors Fabian Busch’s writing-directing debut EDGAR which screened in the short film program. A separate review of this engaging short will appear shortly on Cinema Without Borders.
There was much more to talk about, so watch out for a Tribeca sequel – focusing on some festival highlights.
For more information on the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival, please visit: www.tribecafilm.com/festival/