Smaller, more ambitious Tribeca Film Festival


By Steven Snyder

Last year marked a watershed for the Tribeca Film Festival. The number of features surged close to 160, three venues were added, as well as a series of sports films—not to mention events in outer boroughs, the debut of the ASCAP Music Lounge, and the “Tropfest” short film competition at Rockefeller Center last autumn, months after the festival proper wrapped.

In 2007, the weeklong series was bigger than ever—a shift reflected in the ticket prices ($18 on average and upwards of $25 for special events)—and drew criticism from some in the local community for being too broad in geography, too diluted in programming, and prohibitively expensive.

It comes as welcome news that this year’s festival will be, by almost every measure, pared down, with cheaper tickets (the average price will now be $15), less venues, and, perhaps most significantly, fewer films. Only 122 features have been selected from 2,300 submissions, a decrease of nearly 25 percent.

All of this suggests that 2008 will be a more manageable celebration, with increased attention on competition entries. Beyond the official screening schedule, which begins with “Baby Mama,” a Tina Fey comedy, and ends with a premiere of the summer blockbuster “Speedracer”—the festival will again host the Tribea Drive-In, a three-day outdoor screening series, and the popular street fair along the streets of Tribeca.

To some degree the numbers tell the tale: Out of this year’s 122 features, 55 are world premieres, 26 are North American premieres and eight are U.S. premieres, representing a total of 31 countries. The two central competition programs—the World Narrative and the World Documentary series—each include 12 titles, and the “Encounters” section consists of 21 films (10 of them documentaries), all screening out of competition.

Given the festival’s recent announcements, here are six titles worth noting:

“Somers Town”

Director Shane Meadows made a name for himself with the 2006 skinhead drama “This is England.” His new film, “Somers Town,” is a comedy about clashing cultures, as a 16-year-old runaway from a rural town connects unexpectedly with a Polish immigrant on the streets of London. (World Narrative Feature)

“Confessions of a Ex-Doofus-ItchyFooted-Mutha”

The latest Melvin Van Peebles roller coaster is advertised as an adventure alternating between the streets of Harlem and the waves of the high seas, following a most unlikely hero as he sets out to find himself, returning always to rediscover himself on the streets of NYC. (Encounters)

“Hotel Gramercy Park”

A distinctly New York entry, “Hotel Gramercy Park” is Douglas Keeve’s meditation on the turning point of the Manhattan landmark, as the troubled family that owned the hotel when it became a haven for such celebrities as Bowie and Blondie transferred the business to high-end hotel icon Ian Schrager. In the story of this one hotel, Keeve sees a metaphor for the whole of the city. (Encounters)

“Two Mothers”

Renowned German documentarian Rosa von Praunheim turns the camera on his own life in “Two Mothers.” As a middle-aged man, Praunheim learned he had been adopted as a baby, and his latest film follows his investigation of his roots, tracing back the story of his life through the Nazi occupation of Europe, and the seedy world of prison hospitals. (World Documentary Feature)


Everywhere you look, titans of Irish theater are making the leap to the movie screen. Earlier this year, it was Martin McDonagh, with “In Bruges,” and at Tribeca it will be acclaimed dramatist Decland Recks. The festival will host the international premiere of Recks’ feature film debut, “Eden,” a story about the slow unraveling of a marriage on the brink of a couple’s 10th anniversary. (World Narrative Feature)

“Baghdad High”

Think of it as “The Real World” in a war zone. For a year, four Iraqi high school seniors of varying ethnic background recorded their daily life in the middle of the country’s ongoing sectarian warfare. The film promises to be a first-person case study of endurance in the midst of relentless bloodshed. (World Documentary Feature)

It’s important to remember, though, that these are merely a sample of the numerous titles poised to hit the scene come April 23. No doubt many animation fans will look eagerly to Bill Plympton’s new feature, “Idiots and Angels,” about a sketchy man trying to suppress his conscience. History buffs will be intrigued by Mark Bauman’s documentary about the Dalai Lama, which is even more resonant today given the tensions embroiling Tibet.