Tribeca Film Festival 2009 Guide


For its eighth installment, the film festival frequently criticized for its sprawl and unwieldiness returns in trimmer shape: 85 features will unspool at this year’s Tribeca, down from last year’s 120 and fewer than half of 2005’s record high of 176 titles. Bookended by Woody Allen’s Whatever Works—his first New York–set movie since 2004’s Melinda and Melinda—and the, um, Nia Vardalos–toplining My Life in Ruins, the fest, which runs April 22 to May 3, promises the usual mix of the good, the bad, and the worse. Below, our guide to 10 standouts, plus three titles, unavailable for preview, that we’re eager to see.

Blank City

“It felt like our lives were movies,” Debbie Harry says in Celine Danhier’s well-researched doc on the No Wave and Cinema of Transgression scenes of late-’70s/early-’80s New York. Amiable Jim Jarmusch and others recall the good old bad days of the East Village and LES, where everybody seemed to collaborate with everyone else. All the eyewitnesses wisely temper nostalgia with astute observations 30 years after the DIY heyday, none more so than extra-cranky Lydia Lunch, who notes of the “No Wave” label: “It’s defined by what it isn’t. What is it? I don’t fuckin’ know.”

The Exploding Girl

Zoe Kazan—the only actor who didn’t chew and spit out the scenery in Revolutionary Road—finds a much worthier vehicle for her talents in Bradley Rust Gray’s lovely film about a young woman at home in NYC during a semester break. When not palling around with Al (Mark Rendall) or enduring a series of maddening cell phone calls with her boyfriend, Kazan’s Ivy is frequently seen in moments of silent contemplation while the city blooms and bustles around her.

Film ist. a girl & a gun

For this hypnotizing exploration of cinema as an expression of either Thanatos or Eros, international-film-archive spelunker Gustav Deutsch starts with D.W. Griffith’s maxim (revived by Godard) that all you need to make a film is a girl and a gun. Assembling bits from ethnographic films, war footage, science documentaries, early porn reels, and scenes from 1930s narrative Euro features, Deutsch uncannily collapses all boundaries between the genres, suggesting a feverish celluloid dream—or nightmare.

The Fish Child

Lucía Puenzo reunites with Inés Efron, the star of her promising debut, XXY, in this sapphic Chabrolian thriller. Playing a bourgeois Buenos Aires teen in love with her maid (Mariela Vitale), Efron—who also appears in Lucrecia Martel’s upcoming The Headless Woman—is establishing herself as one of Argentina’s most fascinating young stars. Her gangliness, suggesting Badlands-era Sissy Spacek, and her stealthy sexual confidence are reminiscent of late-’90s Chloë Sevigny.

Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench

This charming Boston-set, black-and-white 16mm musical from Damien Chazelle is the kind of movie a young Cassavetes might have made were he working for MGM’s Freed Unit. The romance and breakup of the titular sweethearts (Jason Palmer and Desiree Garcia) make up the film’s first 10 minutes, leaving the remaining time for Guy’s trumpet solos, Madeline’s tap dance at the tourist-trap resto where she works, and the possibility, as in all great musicals, that adventure lies just around the corner.

In the Loop

An acidic satire of the U.S.-U.K. rush to war in Iraq, British-TV vet Armando Iannucci’s first film skewers both 10 Downing Street and Beltway pomposity/incompetence through an outrageous, verbally aggressive script. As the bumbling Brit minister of information (Tom Hollander) and his handlers fly to D.C. to arrange a meeting with self-important State Department doves and hawks—and a Colin Powell–like general, nicely played by James Gandolfini—ridiculous cultural misunderstandings further add to wounded pride and endless grandstanding.

Soul Power

While editing the 1996 Rumble in the Jungle doc, When We Were Kings, director Jeffrey Levy-Hinte became fascinated with the funky three-day concert that preceded the 1974 Ali-Foreman bout in Zaire. From a wealth of footage, he’s assembled one of the most energetic music docs in years, featuring Celia Cruz and the Fania All-Stars as they entertain passengers on the long flight to Kinshasa; Spinners lead singer Philippé Wynne duking it out with the Greatest; and Sister Sledge, barely out of their teens, grooving backstage.

Still Walking

Hirokazu Koreeda’s touching, acutely observed drama about a 24-hour gathering of the Yokoyama clan—together for their annual remembrance of a deceased son—dissects family allegiances and fissures with uncommon grace. As the surviving son (Hiroshi Abe), his sister (You), and respective spouses and broods settle in at their elderly parents’ seaside home, quotidian events—meal-planning, children playing—subtly shift to the more emotionally raw realm of buried resentment and disappointment, and the futile efforts for parental approval.


The highlight of Tribeca’s Restored/Rediscovered program, the first feature by Bette Gordon—who appears as a talking head in Blank City and whose latest, Handsome Harry, also plays in the fest—captures the scuzzy beauty of early-’80s Gotham in this Kathy Acker–scripted tale of a porn-house ticket seller (Sandy McLeod) who starts to take her work home with her. A baby-faced Luis Guzmán and Koch-era downtown doyennes Nan Goldin and Cookie Mueller are scene-stealers.

Yodok Stories

Andrzej Fidyk—who made 1989’s North Korea: The Parade, featuring 50,000 young people performing in Pyongyang Stadium—comes up with a head-scratching, though often fascinating, solution to the problem of representing the horrors of NK’s concentration camps: Find a defector to South Korea who has been trained in the Communist country’s spectacle-making and is willing to orchestrate a large-scale musical about the ongoing atrocities. Based on the testimony of former camp prisoners and guards, the resulting production displays several incongruous Andrew Lloyd Webber flourishes while remaining weirdly cathartic.

Three we want to see:

All About Actresses

The premise of this faux-documentary by actor-director Maïwenn Le Besco (sister of actor-director Isild Le Besco)—a tortured actress (guess who?) makes a film about French divas—suggests that this might be the most insufferable movie in Tribeca. But the chance to see thesp legends Jeanne Balibar and Charlotte Rampling play versions of themselves is worth the risk.

Making the Boys

Showing in conjunction with William Friedkin’s 1970 film adaptation of The Boys in the Band (Mart Crowley’s landmark play about self-loathing faggotry that opened Off-Broadway just a year before Stonewall), Crayton Robey’s work-in-progress doc includes interviews with many of those involved in both the stage and screen versions. Perhaps most poignant will be the absence of many of the actors, all of whom reprised their stage roles in Friedkin’s film—several died of AIDS in the ’80s and ’90s.


Kirby Dick, who uncovered the secretive proceedings of the MPAA in This Film Is Not Yet Rated, turns to an even more hypocritical coven: closeted lawmakers who support anti-LGBT legislation. Dick’s doc promises to be incendiary stuff; let’s just hope he doesn’t rely on the spying gags deployed in This Film to uncover men’s-room foot-tapping.

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