Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Tribeca 2014 Wrap-Up

Another whirlwind 12 days have come and gone for the tireless organizers and lucky participants of the Tribeca Film Festival. This year’s slate was strong, with a mix of marquee names and neophyte filmmakers (mostly) moving audiences and critics to enthusiasm. Awards were announced Saturday, April 26, and included the below highlights:
'Zero Motivation'

Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature: Zero Motivation. Israel is the only country that requires compulsory military service from both men and women, and the latter bring drama and humor to this foreign entry. Filmmaker Talya Lavie also received the Nora Ephron Prize, or $25,000.  

Best Actor in a Narrative Feature Film: Paul Schneider, Goodbye to All That

Best Actress in a Narrative Feature Film: Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Human Capital (Italy)

Best Screenplay: The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq, written (and directed) by Guillaume Nicloux (France)

Best Documentary Feature: Point and Shoot, directed by Marshall Curry

But with a lineup that included 89 feature films, not to mention countless speakers and supplementary events, the Tribeca Film Festival offered a great deal else of note. Life Partners, for instance, the movie Millennials know as the film on which Blair Waldorf and Seth Cohen met and fell in love (actors Leighton Meester and Adam Brody are now married), was among one of the most pleasant surprises of the festival. Fun and likable, the feature, which chronicles the relationship between two latter-end twentysomething girls (Meester and Gillian Jacobs) as one finds a beau and the other struggles with abandonment issues, is just as relatable as it would like to be.

Then there is the “weird Belgian film” deserving of attention. Like Life Partners, the documentary Ne Me Quitte Pas follows a pair of best friends, in this instance two latter-end middle-aged men struggling with alcoholism and family trouble. The film won the award for Best Documentary Editing, and the jury had this to say of its decision:

This year’s prize for editing celebrates a pair of filmmakers’ ability to give shape, rhythm, and even mythic beauty to a story that might have been, frankly, a sodden mess. For finding luster in the most unlikely places, the winners of this year’s prize for Best Documentary Editing goes to Sabine Lubbe Bakker and Niels van Koevorden for their bittersweet portrait of two Belgian boozers.

There is nothing messy or sodden about the documentary Tomorrow We Disappear, which takes advantage of cinema’s ability to delight the eye, and does just that. It’s a commemorative work documenting artists’ community Kathputli Colony in New Delhi, India. The Indian government is currently trying to displace the Kathputli artists (who have been living on government land for the past 50 years or so) and Disappear captures both the modern turmoil this threat creates among community members, as well as the timeless beauty of community members’ traditional art. Cinematographers Josh Cogan and Will Bisanta use the slum colony’s many shadowed, labyrinthine alleyways and brightly painted buildings to capture images as lovely as doc subject and renowned puppeteer Puran Bhatt’s hand-painted puppet of a prince.
'Tomorrow We Disappear'

The narrative feature Gabriel, helmed by writer and first-time director Lou Howe and starring MacCauley Culkin’s younger brother Rory (who, in person, with his long hair and pale skin, is Byronic) also boasts atmospheric, arresting images – the leitmotif of a reaching, leafless tree, hues of blue and brown – but for the purpose of serving more discomfiting ends.  The film, inspired by a friend of Howe’s who was diagnosed with mental illness as a teenager, tells the story of the titular schizophrenic as, come hell, high water, or the interference of his loving and concerned family, he sets off in search of a childhood crush. It’s a star-making turn for actor and director alike.

Writer Aaron Sorkin is no stranger to the star machine, having played an instrumental role in the career-making turns of Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, and Jesse Eisenberg, as well as fanning second winds for Martin Sheen and Rob Lowe. The controversial screenwriter was on hand last Monday night to discuss his legacy and assert his lack of a political agenda (something many might find difficult to believe of TV’s “The West Wing" writer). Sorkin is a voluble personality who has earned a reputation for contentiousness and pretension, but he comports himself well in person. It’s clear by the many hesitations, pauses, and qualifications of which he took advantage throughout the night he has felt the ill effects of foot-in-mouth syndrome before. But most of what he had to say – we’ve “commoditized nastiness” in popular culture; there’s nothing threatening about the current spate of quality programming on TV because “Movies are awesome. There is no war going on. Film is not going to lose to television;” and “I wasn’t trying to and am not capable of teaching a professional journalism class,” as regards his critically maligned (and recently canceled) HBO show “The Newsroom” – was hardly galling.

The most humble statement Sorkin offered will likely interest any fan, or detractor for that matter, of his distinct “Sorkinesque” style of rat-tat-tat dialogue: “I’m not sophisticated when it comes to politics, when it comes to journalism, or, as you can tell, as articulate” as the characters he writes. “When I write about something I don’t have a sophisticated understanding of, I write it phonetically.” I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone speak like the characters Sorkin writes, but I would like to.

A similar sense of tentatively optimistic ambivalence characterized my reaction to the Storyscapes demonstrations, “innovative and interactive transmedia work across genres,” which took place April 23 through 26. I experienced the Bombay Sapphire Award for Transmedia winner, Clouds, which I don’t think I fully understood but by which I was awed anyway. I viewed the project through a pair of Oculus Rift glasses, a complicated contraption that required one of the demonstrators strap it atop my head – the heavy goggles themselves first, which included a racer-back strap encircling the back of my skull, followed by a large pair of padded headphones.  I then watched a bit of Clouds the documentary, a virtual-reality experience contained entirely within the goggles that featured prominent tech talking heads speaking about tech things. But the Oculus Rift was projecting too many interesting images for me to pay much attention to what was being said. Anyway, I kept changing the speaker – by focusing your attention in the center of a circle that appeared on the edges of your vision, you could “select” another topic for the speakers to discuss. Off you would whoosh, or your sight would, down a tunnel lined with little white lights. Apparently, there was enough material for the doc to run eight hours. A map outlining the various algorithms at play and the many, many possible combinations of questions and speakers, looking like somebody unraveled the heavens and snarled the stars, offered a 2D, but no less daunting for that, look at the effort such a project requires. It was heady.

As was the somewhat similar entry not in competition, Rise. Another virtual-reality, Oculus Rift bid, Rise seemed to have more of a direct or at least obvious link with the world of entertainment. On went another pair of cumbersome goggles-and-headphones. This project was a trailer for a fictional animated crime film named Rise. The computer-generated graphics created the sense of being trapped inside a videogame.  The setting looked like a large indoor parking garage or warehouse space, while your attention was (supposed to be) focused on one figure holding a gun and another, a seated robot, tossing what looked like a small metal box into the air – a bomb, if the ticking sound effects were any indication. Neither figure moved, but the trailer was edited in such a way that, if you were to view the scene head-on, your vision revolved about them, eventually completing a full 360-degree turn during which you “moved” in closer and closer. If, like me, you felt the unnerving proximity to these two characters too unnerving, you could turn your head about and look elsewhere in the parking-garage-cum-warehouse space. The impression that I was in fact standing inside a room was so strong I felt compelled to close my eyes more than once.

Which is no way to view the future of movies. Next year, I’ll be better prepared.

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