When I was nineteen I had the opportunity to go to this thing . . . well, it was basically a summer camp for new models. Forget the reason we were supposed to be there; what mattered was that for one week everybody partied. We had jobs to do, but this was sort of ancillary to the greater purpose (which was to party). Some people worked and partied, some people just worked, some people partied after they worked, and some people just partied. I would have set the percentage of people who just worked at something like 2%. Why am I telling you this? Because at some point during the last week of Tribeca—probably Thursday—it occurred to me that film festivals are no different, and really, that’s sort of what makes them special. The first year I covered Tribeca in 08, I worked uber hard (I had no other obligations), and I accepted a few of their mixer/party invitations and hobnobbed and it was all quite fun. In year three, because of my schedule I didn’t mix at all. It made the actual film-going experience more critical, serious, but if it hadn’t been for having a couple of steady screening partners it would’ve been a rather lonely experience, the lowest in some respects although to be fair, Tribeca has always been fun to some degree.
2011 definitely brought the Fun back. For instance, seriously, what's not fun about being the only person on the red carpet armed with nothing but a cameraphone? Who cares when you have the longest arms:
This year? I went all out. I screened about 40 films, adopted an entire screening family, fraternized with the volunteers and hit every event I could. And let me tell you: Film people like to party. I’ve been to a few parties in my life, as you might guess, but generally speaking, the big ones are saddled with pretentious guests or pretentious staff; somebody’s always pretentious and it just ends up being a reason to get dressed up and little else. The Tribeca events on the other hand were a blast, and the amount of fun people were having made it all the more sad when it ended. But I digress, you didn’t come here to listen to me go on an on about the free Heinekens.
But that’s not going to stop me from talking about Fun! (Yes, the capital was necessary.) And speaking of Fun, how about some new Fun awards that exist solely because I just made them up:
To Scandinavia, for bringing the Fun-est films to Tribeca.
Norway stepped up to the plate this year with Trollhunterand Turn Me On, Goddammittwo films that were about as good as you could get in terms of film-going satisfaction. Both films were visual masterpieces, but Trollhunter in particular played like the type of film you’d play at a viewing party. We watched it sober; I can only imagine what it would be like with drinks involved.
An honourable mention must go to Gnarr, the documentary about an unlikely comedian who takes his jokes all the way to the mayor’s office in Iceland’s capitol. Can we include Iceland in Scandinavia? Not really? Too bad, the executive decision (of me) has been made! In all seriousness though, it has to be mentioned that Gnarr is so brilliant because the man is laugh-out-loud funny with only clean jokes. Through 80 minutes he never curses, and yet he has a way of belittling his opponents publicly that’s nothing short of genius, especially because these politicians—who know they could run circles around him in terms of experience—know that haven’t got a chance.
It’s rather difficult for me to put just into words mow much I loathed it. And yet, every time someone asked me to explain exactly what it was that I didn’t like, I felt my inner juices flowing. I got worked up. My monologues were both lively and epic. I probably talked about Rainbow about as much as I talked about Lotus Eaters—a film I absolutely loved—and that’s saying something. So perhaps it should be assumed that director Panos Cosmatos did it on purpose. I mean, of course he did it on purpose . . . right?
To Shakespeare High, the first (and perhaps only) Fun documentary to be made about high school.
We get it. The American school system sucks. Educational systems around the world have issues and all want to be better than each other. This year Tribeca brought us The Bully Project, a cutting commentary on, you guessed it, bullying. And then there was Our School, the Romanian doc about institutionalized racism and segregation against Roma (Gypsy) children in their school system. Both films tell extraordinary stories and do nothing short of pissing you off to no end, and if you were string these together with Waiting for Superman and The Lottery, you’d be left to question the point of even having children in the first place. But then came Shakespeare High, another high school doc featuring some down-and-out kids, only these kids are driven by a purpose: Shakespeare.
Each year these high schools throughout Southern California put on minimalist performances in a regional DTA Shakespeare competition, and you know what? It blew me away. You want to talk about evening the playing field? You get six actors, two chairs and no props: have at it. You have the L.A. School of Performing Arts, with their classically trained thespians bumping elbows with Hesperia High, a school that touts a bunch of teenagers who live in the desert with nothing to do on weekends but practice more Shakespeare. Some of the students featured are privileged, but most are not. But if there was ever a reason to want to support a cause like funding arts programs in school, this film is an excellent place to start. Hats off for putting a smile on my face.
To the Kings of Leon, for having the Funnest rock family.
If you know Kings of Leon, chances are you know the Followill brothers. If you know the Followill brothers, chances are you know they’re from Tennessee (by way of Oklahoma) and that they come from a deeply religious family. If you know that then you probably know there’s nothing religious at all about their music. And if you know that, chances are you still don’t know how downright funny they can be. A rockumentary that takes all of the pretentiousness out, Talihina Skyplays like a bunch of embarrassing home videos the band eventually agree to let you see. It’s hard to watch and not come away with a newfound affection for Southern redneck folk, even if they occasionally let a homosexual or colour joke slip. Trust me, you won’t mind.
Honestly, I don’t know if the 10th anniversary of the Tribeca Film Festival had the strongest batch of movies ever. But I do know that A) the documentaries get better each year, and B) this was certainly the most fun year I’ve had covering it. And with that, here are my top features and documentaries of the festival (my vote for best of is marked with an *):