Decidedly Downtown: Tribeca Finds Its Focus with Impressive Doc Slate
Like a phoenix rising from the dust, ashes and misery of September 11, 2001, the Tribeca Film Festival launched itself in
Fittingly, one of most noteworthy and moving docs, Man on Wire, pays tribute to the World Trade Center (without once mentioning 9/11) where, in August 1974, the French daredevil and poet of movement Philippe Petit and his motley crew smuggled literally a ton of piecemeal equipment up to the 103rd floor of the South Tower. Once the cable was strung between the
Certainly Petit is an artist of the air, but the festival featured a number of films about visual artists: Guest of Cindy Sherman, Waiting for Hockney, The Universe of Keith Haring and A Portrait of Diego: The Revolutionary Gaze. In Sherman and Hockney, the eponymous artists remain peripheral to the “characters” (there’s no other word for them), who (according to some) semi-stalked the respective art world celebrities.
Hockney’s presence in Waiting for Hockney is primarily through photographs. The real star is
“I paint what I see,” declared Diego Rivera, considered the greatest Mexican painter of the 20th century. Upon the 50th anniversary of Rivera’s art career in 1949, he, photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo and cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa set out to capture el Maestro’s process on film. Before completion, however, they shelved the project. Nearly 60 years later, Gabriel Figueroa Flores (Figueroa’s son) and Diego Lopez Rivera (Rivera’s grandson) discovered the lost footage and, retracing the trio’s steps, revisited their haunts. Archival footage and interviews with Rivera’s friends and relatives establish the historical context, while evocative clips from
As a companion piece of sorts to Steven Soderbergh’s much-anticipated two-part fiction film of another Latin hero, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Chevolution maintains the right balance between irony and repugnance. That iconic image of Che in uniform and beret, replicated everywhere from T-shirts to beer bottles, was snapped by journalist Alberto Korda in 1959 at a Cuban funeral march. Directors Trisha Ziff and Luis Lopez thoughtfully and entertainingly investigate how the photo became the most reproduced image in the history of photography, and came to symbolize revolutions from
Following the court proceedings in Milosevic on Trial during
An unanticipated treasure was Theatre of War, starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline. Director John Walter filmed the preparation of a 2006 Public Theatre outdoor production in New York of Tony Kushner’s new translation of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children. Showcasing this collaborative creative process alone would have made for a noteworthy subject, but Walter deepens the film by including captivating biographical material on Brecht’s life in both Germany and the United States (where the lifelong Marxist testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee that he had never been a Party member) and the playwright’s exploration of the theater as a forum for political ideas and the creation of a critical aesthetics of dialectical materialism. The film is thorough in its history and timely in its observations about the complex convergence between war and capitalism.
Speaking of war and capitalism…for Baghdad High, directors Ivan O’Mahoney and Laura Winter gave four Iraqi high school seniors digital cameras and basic instruction in filmmaking. The result is a wrenching look inside a country tormented and destroyed by a war that has produced four million refugees. Each of the boys—all friends—belongs to a different religion or sect, including a Christian who must hide his affiliation. In between bomb explosions, electrical outages and military-enforced curfews, they listen to American popular music, talk on their cell phones, and do their best to prepare for their final exams, even as they must adapt to a daily world of “no good news.” But when two of the boys and their families (and half the students at their high school) flee north from
In Secrecy, directors Robb Moss and Peter Galison examine how public access to the mounting information about our government’s process and proceedings on, say, the War in
So, enough bummers; take heart. Two especially uplifting films, A Powerful Noise and Kassim The Dream, offer up refreshingly “good news.” Tom Capello’s Noise follows three extraordinary women—in
Finally, the little doc that could…in the quirky, upbeat This Is Not a Robbery, first-time directors Lucas Jansen and Adam Kurland entertainingly stage the strange story of “Red” Rountree (no relation to the author!), a once-wealthy, lifelong law-abiding Texan citizen, who, at the age of 87, became a media sensation after a series of unarmed bank robberies. Using news footage, clever animated re-enactments and taped interviews with Rountree, his friends and members of the legal system, this infectious exploration of an ersatz American outlaw begs the question, What will you do when you retire?
Cathleen Rountree, Ph.D., is a film journalist and critic, and an author of nine books including The Movie Lovers’ Club, which explores the process of creating community through film discussion groups. She covers film festivals and writes extensively about films and directors for print and online publications. Her blog at www.WomeninWorldCinema./org closely follows the works of female directors and global women’s issues as addressed in films.