A spotlight shines through where a dark cloud once hung, bringing light once again through the power of cinema. Some of the world's best main stream, independent, foreign and documentary filmmakers have descended upon lower Manhattan once again, as the Tribeca Film Festival opens for its tenth anniversary season.
From April 20th - May 1st, the city's downtown theaters will hold screenings of 93 rigorously selected films, host panel talks involving a number of famed directors, celebrate with a family festival and even and screen an old-time "drive in" movie. It's a community celebration made even more special by the tragedy from which it was borne; founded by Robert DeNiro, producer Jane Rosenthal and husband Craig Hastkoff, the festival was initially conceived an effort to revive what had become a ghost part of Manhattan.
"Initially, it was really about how we could help our community," Rosenthal told The Huffington Post. "We're not construction workers, we're not fire fighters, police officers, steel workers, not part of FEMA. We felt completely helpless in terms of what was going on. We had, a few weeks after 9/11, my husband and I went down to Little Italy and there was no one in Little Italy, it felt like we were the only ones there aside from the restaurants. They were just waiting for people to show up, and people weren't coming downtown."
Rosenthal, with over 70 film and TV credits to her name, reached out to DeNiro, her longtime friend and collaborator. Now, the 13 day festival will boast 93 movies from over 5500 selections, including a number of major star vehicles making their world premieres. For those in New York, each film will air a number of times; those out of town can join in with the online festival, featuring streaming movies, special features and web cams that keep an eye on all the action.
There should be something for everyone at Tribeca, with every genre and medium covered. There are Hollywood stars -- Will Ferrell, Adrien Brody, Ryan Phillippe, Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington, to name just a few -- as well as actors and actresses making their first appearances in the spotlight.
"A good festival has a good mix of films. It has everything from the small, experimental and art house films to the bigger pictures," said Nancy Schafer, executive director of the festival. "Big pictures drive awareness and they're important in that way, but there's a lot of other ways to get awareness, too. So what you want from a really big picture is to shine a light on not only itself but everything else on the slate."
With the festival doubling as both a celebration of film and a competition between them, the directors have put together an impressive list of judges for the myriad different categories. Included amongst them are David O. Russell, David Gordon Green, Dianne Wiest, Souleymane Cissé, Whoopi Goldberg, Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Rainn Wilson, Anna Kendrick, Michael Cera, Denis Leary, Nora Ephron and Jason Sudeikis.
Here's a taste of some of the films that are being shown at Tribeca:
"The Bully Project": A haunting look into the real lives of students suffering terribly from their classmates' taunts and torture. Through the eyes of a number of middle and high schoolers, the producers show uncut footage of bus ride beatings, school yard name calling and all kinds of unspeakable abuse happening in schools across the country. Interviews with the taunted yet resilient students bring both tears and inspiration; interviews with the families of students who ended their lives in the face of endless bullying brings instant heartbreak. A true call to arms to pitch in to end the scourge of bullying and teach our children to live as one.
"My Piece of the Pie": A witty French look at the collision of two very different worlds: the handsome, cocky financial pirate who shorts and brings down companies for fun, and the pretty but exhausted factory worker whose entire life is turned upside down when her factory is liquidated and she loses her job. By way of fate, she begins to work as a maid and then nanny for the charming pirate, and sparks fly, both romantically and when it's discovered that he was the one that helped take down her factory.
"My Last Round": Intense and brooding, this Chilean portrait of working class Mexico is short on dialogue and long on angst-filled glances and emotional turmoil. A sort of cross between "The Wrestler" and "Brokeback Mountain," it's a story of a forbidden relationship between a burnt out boxer and delivery boy, both unhappy and isolated in their new urban home. The introduction of brain injuries and a woman who threatens to tear them apart add to the compelling misery.
"Last Night": One of the spotlight films at the festival, Hollywood A-listers Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington star as a loving couple whose relationship is rocked by unjust jealousy, time apart and a surprise visitor from one of their pasts. Taking place all within a 36-hour period, it's a confined drama that tests our moral fiber and makes us question our values.
"The Trip": A British television show condensed into a 90 minute movie, Steve Coogan's road trip film is a profoundly unhappy, multi-meta project that blurs the line between fiction and reality many times over. Coogan, a veritable TV icon in Britain, plays himself in what seems too miserable to be a truly fictional mockumentary. He's appeared in a number of American films, but laments his relative American anonymity and seemingly doomed fate to a career limited to the few cable channels in England. Given that he's doing so in a British television show that's been modified to be a film screened in America adds a level of depth that will keep the viewer wondering what the reality truly is.
"Treatment": A film about the difficulty of making a film. A sort of screed against the warped values of Hollywood stars, this is a low-budget indie film that stands for something. When a desperate wannabe screenwriter hears that the actor he envisions starring in his screenplay is headed back to an expensive, posh rehab facility, he convinces his wealthy writing partner to put up the money for him to check into the facility so that he can chase down the star and sign him for the film. What he finds is that perhaps he needed the trip to rehab more than he even knew.
"Romantics Anonymous": A charming French film that highlights the country's two most famous exports: romance and chocolate. Two beyond painfully awkward middle aged loners are drawn together at a chocolate factory; he's the hardened yet insecure owner, while she's the shy new employee. Her talent for making chocolate is renown, but her crippling social anxiety may keep her from delivering on all of her promise, both romantically and professionally.
"Turn Me On, Goddammit": A Norwegian coming-of-age story about a teenage girl cast out of her social circle and into an isolated hell in her small mountain town. Quirky and cute, it captures the yearning and desperation of being a teenager while not taking itself too seriously. Unlike most American teen-movies, it's simple and appropriately small in stature.
"Everything Must Go": Will Ferrell stars as a lapsed alcoholic who loses his job, and then comes home to find that his wife has kicked him out of hte house. Undeterred -- and with no where to go -- he sets up camp on his front lawn, flanked by all of his earthly possessions. A law-mandated yard sale provides an opportunity to purge and start anew, but will he take advantage?
"Catching Hell": From the prolific director of the Eliot Spitzer documentary "Client 9" and the Oscar-winning "Taxi to the Dark Side," comes a look at the hellish life of Steve Bartman, the fan who interfered with a foul ball in a Chicago Cubs playoff game and, as fans claim, prolonged their championship draught curse.
"The Bang Bang Club": Ryan Phillippe and Taylor Kitsch star in the true story of four brave photojournalists who captured the terrible violence that marked South Africa's shift from the scourge of Apartheid to democracy.
For a full list of films, screening times and other interactive opportunities, click over to the Tribeca Film Festival's website.