Tribeca Film Festival preview

10 films to look out for at this year's showcase.

by Anne-Katrin Titze and Amber Wilkinson

As Tribeca Film Festival kicks off in New York on Thursday, we take a look at 10 of the films that will be screening.

Anne-Katrin Titze writes...

Side By Side
Directed by Chris Kenneally
Spotlight - North American premiere
USA (99 min)

"Don't hold me to it, Keanu, but I think I am", responds David Lynch to Reeves' question: "Are you done with film?" Side By Side is a potpourri of opinions on the subject of digital technology versus film. The timing for this kind of inquiry is perfect, as both modes of movie making exist, right now, side by side, as the title suggests. For the amateur audience, this documentary explains what they always wanted to know but didn't know they wanted to know. What a DP does. How dailies work (which are now digitally replaced by "immediatelies"). What a timer is and how color is corrected, then and now. Problems of archiving. Progress in the number of pixels from one digital camera to the next.

John Malkovich believes "there's too much waiting in movies". Scorsese likes "blood on the film" in the traditional editing process. Robert Rodriguez says "I follow Obi Wan", meaning George Lucas into the world of digital innovations. Read our full review

The Flat (Ha-Dira)
Directed and written by Arnon Goldfinger
World Documentary Competition
Germany, Israel (97 min)

The death of filmmaker Arnon Goldfinger's 98-year-old grandmother and the historical gems the relatives find in her Tel Aviv flat are the launch of a filmic exploration into family secrets, political intrigue, and the motivations for unlikely friendships before, during and after the Second World War. Grandmother's rugs are declared worthless, the elegant gloves and handbags are thrown out, over the balcony together with the rest of the grandparents' belongings in 60 garbage bags, while the exclusively German books are being sold to a dismissive bookseller ("No one reads Balzac" , "History of the Jewish People - nobody reads that anymore"). When Arnon Goldfinger finds several clippings from the notorious Nazi newspaper Der Angriff, mentioning his grandfather's name, the search begins.

Francophrenia (or, Don't Kill Me, I Know Where the Baby Is)
Directed by Ian Olds and James Franco
North American premiere
USA (70 min)

On June 24, 2010, James Franco filmed an episode of General Hospital at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. The actor brought along his own film crew, to shoot behind the scenes, their own story of an actor, Franco, going insane. Don't Kill Me I Know Where the Baby Is, the second part of the film's title, sets the tone for both fictions. Pictures with adoring fans are taken, pranks are played, James is hungry, as we see the different Francos merge in this idiosyncratic experiment at commentary of Hollywood stardom.

Directed by Jeroen van Velzen
World Documentary Competition
Netherlands (80 min)

Ocean waves, the face of an old story teller from Kenya, a voice-over: "Once I saw a fish I didn't recognise." It must have been a spirit. In Kenya, we are told in Wavumba, there are two worlds, those of the people and those of the spirits, which is upside down and can sometimes be glimpsed in the water. The filmmaker Jeroen van Velzen, who lived in the area as a child, returns to film his documentary about Masoud, a proud veteran shark fisher, who teaches his grandson the tricks of the not so magical trade.

Ballroom Dancer
Directed by Christian Bonke and Andreas Koefoed
World Documentary Competition
Denmark (84 min)

Ballroom Dancer's first image shows Slavik Kryklyvyy, World Latin American Dance Champion in 2000, on his knees, arms raised up as if enraptured in a pagan prayer to the gods of dance. This documentary chronicles Slavic's attempts at a comeback, now 10 years after his win, with his new, much younger partner Anna, who is also his girlfriend. We travel with them around the world to competitions in Moscow, Blackpool, and Hong Kong opening a window into the world of professional dance sport. Slavik's clothing style takes after Johnny Depp and the spray tans and gaudy costumes of the performances are balanced with rehearsal clothes that make every dance look more fresh and interesting.

Amber Wilkinson writes...

Town Of Runners
Directed by Jerry Rothwell
UK (86 min)

Donor Unknown documentarian Jerry Rothwell turns his attentions to the small town of Bekoji in Ethiopia. This unassuming place has spawned generation after generation of top athletes. As one of the interviewees puts it, "Sometimes it seems everyone in this town is crazy about running" or, as one mother says, there is "nothing else, only education and athletics". Rothwell follows two girls as they try to realise their dream of becoming world-beating athletes, while also reflecting on the state of the developing nation. I'll be chatting to Rothwell about the film this week... watch this space.

Free Samples
Directed by Jay Gammill
US (80 min)

The US indie dramas at Tribeca have a tendency to be rather disappointing, a fact that I've always suspected is a result of Sundance and SXSW skimming off the cream of the crop. Still, I'm hoping that Gammill's film will buck the trend, not least because it stars Jess Weixler - so good in Teeth, yet so low-profile since. The plot sees a twentysomething learn lessons courtesy of handing out free ice-cream. I'm hoping it will be a sweet treat.

Sleepless Night
Directed by Frédéric Jardin
France (103 min)

Our Gallic cousins are getting a well-deserved reputation for solid, swift popcorn thrillers, with recent hits including Point Blank and Largo Winch. The stubbly star of the latter, Tomer Sisley, turns up again here in Frédéric Jardin's film about a cop with some dirty gangland secrets. With its short timescale - the action is set across one-night - and cinematography from the excellent Tom Stern (J Edgar, The Hunger Games, Invictus), you can count me in.

War Witch
Narrative Competition - North American premiere
Directed by Kim Nguyen
Canada (90 min)

Fresh from this year's Berlinale - where several critics insisted it should have taken home the Golden Bear - this portrait of a child soldier should win fans at Tribeca, where the similarly themed documentary, War Child, won the audience award back in 2008. The action is, apparently, inspired by real events in Burma, which Nguyen moved to the Republic of Congo. With both areas currently making plenty of news headlines, it should be an interesting watch.

Searching For Sugar Man
Directed by Malik Bendjelloul
Denmark (85 min)

Every year at Sundance there's at least one film that everyone seems to love but that I fail to see. Last year it was Senna and The Guard, this year it is Malik Bendjelloul's portrait of 70s folk rock musician Rodriguez. This documentary, branded a 'must-see' by almost everyone I spoke to, investigates how he became an unlikely hit in apartheid-torn South Africa and how two fans decided to find out what had happened to him. I won't miss this second chance to see it.

We'll be bringing you coverage from throughout the festival. For more information and box office details, visit the official site.

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