Monday, April 28, 2008

Tribeca Film Festival - Sunday, April 27 (part 1)

This was my most ambitious day at the film fest. I saw 4 films!

The first film I saw was Chevolution, a documentary about the iconography of Che Guevara. The first section was about Che himself, and the events in Cuba leading up to the taking of the photo, perhaps the most widely recognized portrait in the world. Next there was some discussion of how the culture, politics, and aesthetics of the times helped make it into such an iconic image. With the lack of copyright on the image, and Che's untimely death, the image essentially became the logo of revolution. The next section was about how the image became co-opted and inevitably exploited by capitalism. Oddly enough, the photographer (Alberto Korda) later reclaimed the copyright in the '90s. His desire, which is now upheld by his daughter, was to protect the integrity of the image (and Che's memory) by putting constraints on the way the "Che brand" can be used.

It's a pretty complex issue. The image means so much to so many different people. The film raises many questions:
* What did Che stand for?
* What does the image of Che stand for? Can the two be separated?
* Is it more true to what Che stands for to let people freely use the image for whatever they want, or to keep it only for things he would believe in?
Really fascinating documentary.

Next I saw Terra. I have mixed feelings about this one. It's an animated feature about a peaceful alien culture invaded by humans. I have a pet peeve about movies that are ostensibly for children, but in fact are way too disturbing for kids. The thing is, the director said that he wanted it to be a more dramatic animated film - they don't have to all be comedies, and that's fair. Just take a look at Princess Mononoke to see how an animated movie can be serious, dark, and represent complex moral situations. But, the film used several conventions of traditional animated children's movies - heroic children that rise to the occasion, cute/funny sidekick, thick-necked foil that's eventually won over, and an irrationally evil bad guy who never heard of the concept of "diplomacy." And yet a good portion of the film is a huge battle scene. We're talking explosions, destruction of a city, and hundreds of casualties, quietly glossed over. The film felt like a cross between Horton Hears a Who and Battlestar Galactica (the new one), and, beautifully done as it was, I just don't think that's really appropriate for children.

Getting really tired now. I'll write about the other two films tomorrow.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Tribeca Film Fest - Saturday, April 26

I saw three films today, plus some shorts.

First up was Bitter & Twisted - the first film by writer/director Christopher Weekes, who also stars in the film. I had mixed feelings about this one. The film starts with the death of a young man, and picks up three years later to see what impact this has had on his family and ex-girlfriend. It was more of a mood and character study, and it has some really effective performances and scenarios. But the plot itself has a lot of storytelling cliches, since the story mostly serves to move things along so the characters can develop in accordance with the way they handle their grief. It was really well done, and for a debut film I'd say it was excellent. But I'd like to see Weekes direct something with a stronger script next time.

Later I saw Man on Wire - an amazing documentary about Philippe Petit, the man who walked a highwire between the Twin Towers in 1974. This was the NY premiere of the film. I have to admit that my response to it was complicated. At the beginning, I felt an irrational sense of anxiety while hearing the people describe how they repeatedly bypassed security to sneak into the towers to do surveillance, and ultimately to set up the wire and perform the trick (which they figured was probably illegal).

But as the film went on, at least some of that anxiety was replaced with a sense of wonder and beauty. And I was able to, as director James Marsh later put it, "reclaim the memory of those buildings for something else." As an added bonus, Philippe Petit himself was there to answer questions after the screening. He, as much as the film, got a standing ovation.

At the end of the night, I saw a midnight screening of Baghead, the new Duplass brothers film. It's hard to know how to talk about this one without giving too much away. It's sort of a combination of a thing-in-the-woods low budget horror movie, with a more character-driven independent movie. Plus it's about four actors trying to write themselves a script, so it's got some great insider-y self-referential things going on. Quite entertaining.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that earlier today I stumbled across the American Express Insider Center. It provided a quiet place to sit for a while between screenings, and they were also showing some of the festivals shorts. I saw 3 of them - "I Think I Thought" (written by, directed by & starring Matthew Modine), "Irish Twins" (written by, directed by, and starring Shiloh & Rider Storm), and a German genre-bending office-heist short called "Shift." Later, waiting on line to get in to Baghead, Shiloh and Rider and their friends were right in front of me. As we walked in I told Shiloh I had seen the short and enjoyed it, and after the screening I ran into them again and told Rider as well. They seemed kind of tired (it was 1:44am), but they were happy to pose for this photo with me!

Tribeca Film Fest - Friday, April 25

This evening I saw my first film of TFF 2008, Sita Sings the Blues, by Nina Paley. It was a very cool animated feature about the story of Sita and Rama. The story was told in four different ways, with a variety of styles of animation.

The basic story of Sita is that she was kidnapped by an evil king from the forest where she lived with her husband, Rama. She was so tremendously devoted to Rama, and he came to rescue her, but then he decided that maybe her purity had been compromised. She proved her devotion to him, and they returned to the kingdom, but then his people were dubious and he banished her, despite the fact that she was pregnant with his twin sons. Through all this, she remained loving and devoted to her husband.

So, the most traditional telling of the story was told in two styles of animation - one painted, and one a sort of stop-motion looking style done with postcard images of the characters.

This was intertwined with a more casual, improvised discussion of the story by three "shadow puppets", and segments where blues songs from the late 1920s were used to show another side of the story. The fourth element, woven throughout the film, is the tale of the animator herself, who was living in India with her husband when she returned to New York for a business meeting and he dumped her by email.

It was beautiful, funny, and kind of brilliant.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Tribeca Film Festival Plans

Several people have been asking me what I'm going to see at TFF this year, so I figured I should probably just post it one place, with links and all kinds of bloggy goodness. Also, this can serve as a reminder that I'll be posting reviews, photos and other interested tidbits throughout the festival.

So here's what I'm planning to see (and yes, this schedule is a little bit mad):

Friday Apr 25
8:15PM - Sita Sings the Blues

Saturday Apr 26
1:00PM - Bitter & Twisted
5:30PM - Man On Wire
11:59PM - Baghead

Sunday Apr 27
1:30PM - Chevolution
4:00PM - Terra
6:00PM - Trucker
9:30PM - Idiots and Angels

Wednesday Apr 30
9:00PM - Milky Way Liberation Front

Thursday May 1
10:30PM - Hotel Gramercy Park

Friday May 2
6:00PM - War, Inc.
8:15PM - Let the Right One In

Saturday May 3
12:00PM - Theater of War
6:00PM - Shorts: Identity Crisis

Sunday May 04
1:45PM - "Made in NY" Narrative Competition Award Winner
5:00PM - Playing

Neglecting my blog

And my scrapbook, too...