Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Five Movies That Shocked, Excited, and Horrified Tribeca Film Festival Audiences

By Zack Mandell

The Tribeca Film Festival is one of the youngest, high-profile international events of its kind. The festival was launched in New York City in 2002, bringing social spirit and economic vitality back to lower Manhattan months after the World Trade Center attacks. Film giant Robert De Niro worked with Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff to jointly found the event, which hosts thousands of innovative films from around the world.

Competition isn't forgotten at the festival. Breakthrough films are celebrated in categories like Best Documentary Feature and Student Visionary. In 2012, the Canadian drama "War Witch" made a big splash with its grueling story of an African child soldier. Viewers were entranced from the first scenes when twelve-year-old Komona is given the choice to kill her parents or witness their brutal murder by machete. Komona chooses to perform the deed herself, which is when her life as a violent rebel begins. Through her bond with a young albino boy, Komona learns of trippy tree sap, known as magic milk, which brings visions of the dead and allows her to spot and evade government soldiers. This uncanny ability elevates Komona to the role of war witch at the side of the rebel leader.

Written and directed by Kim Nguyen, this poignant film snagged the coveted Best Narrative Feature award and Best Actress for the star, Rachel Mwanza. Audiences praised the movie's stirring look at savagery and despair through youthful eyes. Yet, Mwanza and her costar, Serge Kanyinda, evoke moments of love and lightness with their taboo romance. A stunningly eerie soundtrack blends African music with startling sounds like creaking and rattling. No scenes are wasted, and Komona endures one horror after the next in a way that feels raw and unedited, but never preachy.

"Una Noche," a movie by American filmmaker Lucy Mulloy, also reigned at the 2012 festival. The film is set in Havana, Cuba, and details three teens' plans to flee the country on a raft. Mulloy deliberately searched for fresh faces to cast, and she sought to capture both the beauty and harshness of the local culture. Raul is a wild and overtly sexual young man pursued on assault charges after a confrontation with a tourist. Elio and Lila are fraternal twins coping with sexual confusion and family loyalty in the midst of a broken home. The movie earned the Best New Narrative Filmmaker award and dual Best Actor wins for costars Javier Nu�ez Florian (Elio) and Dariel Arrechada (Raul).

The first half of "Una Noche" develops the conflicting main characters and follows the two male stars as they secretly plot and steal supplies. But, it's the shocking finish that gripped audiences as their youthful flight ends in a futile return to the starting point. Despite the movie's unquestionable merits, a behind-the-scenes drama drew even more media attention. Two of the stars went missing while traveling to the Tribeca Film Festival. They later resurfaced with the intention of applying for asylum to avoid going back to Cuba.

A more heartwarming story is to be found in the 2010 film, "Monica and David." This documentary spotlights a couple with Down syndrome as they seek independence from protective parents. In a society that's often uncomfortable with mental dysfunction, "Monica and David" cleverly shows that dreams of finding love, starting a family, and enjoying the unexpected are universal. As adults trapped in the roles of children, Monica and David try to find the perfect balance of self-reliance and parental interference. After winning Best Documentary Feature at the festival, the movie was acquired and aired by HBO.

The 2010 film "Dog Pound" produced mixed responses, but one thing was clear: viewers were visually jolted by what they saw. Filmmaker Kim Chapiron was honored as the 2010 Best New Narrative Filmmaker for a ballsy depiction of a vicious juvenile detention facility. New detainee Butch, played by Adam Butcher, soon realizes reform is a fantasy concept in the prison-like hierarchy where the resident bullies and rapists freely unleash terror on other inmates. Opponents of the film often consider it a scene-for-scene remake of the 1979 film "Scum," but Chapiron brings fresh intensity with a dark and crude look at man's animalistic roots. Stock plot points of the prison genre do crop up, but the film does a refreshing job of exploring human nature, survival tactics, and even protective instincts.

The Best Narrative Feature of 2009 was "About Elly," an Iranian drama with a riveting ensemble cast. A deceptively placid seaside setting sets the tone for a tragic getaway, where single teacher Elly is teased and taunted by fellow travelers who want to set her up with a divorced friend. The movie's slow start is artfully misleading as the film shifts from everyday socializing between middle-class characters to a study of dishonesty and self-preservation. When Elly suddenly goes missing, the other travelers realize how little they know about her and desperately try to cover up emerging details to save themselves from scrutiny. The problem of navigating social politics drives the film, as well as the cancerous nature of seemingly harmless lies.

"About Elly," directed by Asghar Farhadi, was hailed almost unanimously by Iranian and international audiences. What Farhadi, Nguyen, and their fellow festival winners continually prove is that random plot twists, in-your-face graphics, and nonstop one-liners aren't the key to making waves in the film industry. Stories about real people with real struggles attract even the most jaded audiences, hopefully creating the next generation of international film buffs.

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