Tribeca Film Festival Days 2 and 3

Award-winning films and a clash with a critic.

by Amber Wilkinson

After the lacerated feet on the opening night the best option seemed to be to sit in a screening room and watch films for the next couple of days. First up on day two was Times And Winds (Bes Vakit), a very poetic offering from Turkey. Set in a tiny mountain village, it traces the lives of three children as they come of age. The days are measured by the five calls to prayer as the children grapple with basic human concepts such as fear, hope, love and hatred. The rhythm of Reha Erdem's film pulls you in and several of the images are very haunting. I can see this playing well on the festival circuit.

Equally thoughtful and thought-provoking was the second film of the day, Still Life (Sanxia Haoren). A surprise winner of the Golden Lion at last year's Venice Festival, its narrative is set against the backdrop of the Three Gorges Dam Project, in China, which saw many towns flooded in the name of progress. It follows one man's search for a daughter he hasn't seen for more than a decade and the relationships he strikes up along the way, while a series of parallel stories reveal the angst and suffering of people forced to quit their homes with little support or alternative provision. Simply shot and told, it's an engaging tale, filled with a high level of emotion and setting it in a town which was in the process of being demolished to make way from the dam is a master stroke. The characters are well fleshed out, although the slow moving plot interplay may not be for everyone.

Unlike Sundance - which takes over the whole of Park City and beyond for the fortnight it is on, Tribeca is much more low key, with seemingly endless entertainment options available in the city. There is a buzz about the cinemas, though, although some of the press screenings have been surprisingly empty. At Sundance, you're there half an hour before or forget it. Here, we've been in some screenings with only three or four other critics.

Talking of critics, I had a run in with one on Day 3. That said, the day had started perfectly well, with a screening of Tuya's Marriage (Tu Ya De Hun Shi). A worthy Golden Bear winner at Berlin it is a bittersweet tale about a Mongolian shepherdess, who after her husband has an accident is forced to look after the land herself. Realising she can't cope alone, she reluctantly divorces him to find a new husband who will help - but who will consider taking the baggage? Nan Yu is excellent in the central role of Tuya bringing humour and emotion to the story. The characters are well-realised and the cinematography lovely. Well worth seeking out.

Next up was Why Didn't Anybody Tell Me It Would Become This Bad In Afghanistan? It should possibly have been entitled Why Didn't Anyboyd Tell Me I'd Had A Good Idea For A Short Film But A Bad Idea For A Feature? The director, Cyrus Frisch (described as an enfant terrible in the press notes) was onhand outside with plot descriptions. The only trouble was getting some from him, since an American critic was deeply involved in conversation. I waited 10 minutes and then bit the bullet. If looks could kill I would be six feet under by this point. You would have thought I had asked the critic for the blood of his first born, rather than just a two-minute chat with Frisch.

In any event, it's just as well I had the press notes, otherwise I would have not had a clue what the connection with Afghanistan was. The film, is the world's first feature shot purely on mobile phone - which gives everything a strange Richard Linklater rotoscope effect. Images are impressionistic, but after an hour, they are borderline headache inducing. Frisch captured film of youngsters in his part of Amsterdam, getting in to stand offs and generally hanging about. He claims that he wants to parallel this with an Afghanistan veteran's thoughts on the matter but that really doesn't come across. As a short piece of experimental art film this would have been fine, at say 30 mintues, but at this length it has little to offer other than the initial enjoyment of the impressionistic imaging.

With two critics in town today we split up in the afternoon. I headed off for Gardener of Eden. This black comedy sees a regular joe - whose life has little else in it other than drinking with his pals and working in a deli - who decides to take up a calling as a vigilante after accidentally capturing a serial rapist. With a pastiche nod to Taxi Driver (he lives in Bickletown) and hints of recent indie hits such as Thumbsucker, it is interesting although has a few pacing problems. Equally, the climax is somewhat predictable, but it's a solid indie offering.

Meanwhile, my colleague hit Coming Out - actually a showcase of two films, On The Downlow and The Polymath, Or The Life And Opinions Of Samuel R Delaney, Gentleman. Both concerned facets of gay black America. The first, On The Downlow, relates the experiences of black gay males coming out to various friends and family. It was interesting to a point but there was nothing particularly innovative about the way it was shot, and it ultimately feels a little bland.

The second film is about sci-fi author Samuel R Delaney, who also happens to be a gay, black American. This was a frank biographical documentary, concerning gay life in the Fifties and his experiences to the present day. His personality is key to the interest of the film. Since he makes his story fascinating. The juxtaposition of the two makes for an interesting double bill.

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