All about Tribeca

Artistic Director Frédéric Boyer on choosing this year's films.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Benedikt Erlingsson, Gréta Olafsdóttir and Margrét Jónasdóttir in the arms of Frédéric Boyer
Benedikt Erlingsson, Gréta Olafsdóttir and Margrét Jónasdóttir in the arms of Frédéric Boyer Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Tribeca Film Festival Artistic Director Frédéric Boyer met me for a conversation at Benedikt Erlingsson's The Show Of Shows at MoMA PS1's VW Dome, where Michelangelo Frammartino's Alberi, Tsai Ming-liang's Journey To The West and Celia Rowlson-Hall's Ma premiered. Parents came to mind as a theme with Halkawt Mustafa's El Clásico, Lorene Scafaria's The Meddler, Robert Schwartzman's Dreamland, Jason Bateman's The Family Fang, Kadri Kõusaar's Mother, Bart Freundlich's Wolves and Christian Tafdrup's Parents (Forældre). Andrew Rossi's The First Monday In May, John Dower's My Scientology Movie, Thierry Demaizière and Alban Teurlai's Reset, Benjamin Ree's Magnus, Ferne Pearlstein's The Last Laugh and Dylan Harvey and Ian Roderick Gray's The Banksy Job are some of the original documentaries of note.

100 Years Of Vaudeville, Circuses And Carnivals director Benedikt Erlingsson
100 Years Of Vaudeville, Circuses And Carnivals director Benedikt Erlingsson Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Storytellers including Jay McInerney, Francis Ford Coppola, Ethan Hawke, Andrea Arnold, Tina Fey and Patti Smith had been added to the impressive lineup of films. The former head of the Cannes Film Festival Directors’ Fortnight program, Frédéric, now in his fifth year at Tribeca, has continued to desire innovation that leads to evolution. Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson's Séances in Storyscapes, the Virtual Arcade, Tribeca Tune In and the festival's Disruptive Innovation Awards are examples of looking towards the future.

Frédéric and Benedikt at PS1 were joined by producers Margrét Jónasdóttir and Mark Atkin, who is also the Acting Director of Sheffield Doc/Fest. Susan Muska and Gréta Olafsdóttir of Bless Bless Productions celebrated the premiere along with an enthusiastic troupe of Tribeca festival goers.

Anne-Katrin Titze: The 2016 Tribeca Film Festival is at its midpoint. I have seen some very good pictures this year.

Frédéric Boyer: It's a moving film festival. You know, it's like an animal, but not a dead animal. We are moving somewhere a little bit, trying to have a good direction.

AKT: Do you see this year as a step into new directions?

FB: Possibilities! I don't say everything is perfect, but no festival is perfect.

The damage of pop-up childhood performance art is explored in Jason Bateman's The Family Fang
The damage of pop-up childhood performance art is explored in Jason Bateman's The Family Fang Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: You don't want it to be perfect!

FB: I don't like perfection. I like imperfection.

AKT: When it's alive?

FB: Exactly. Compared to festivals that decide to never move … Cannes cannot move. Don't do TV, don't do experiences! But we can do this. Because we are before [Cannes], because we are in New York.

AKT: This festival has been from the beginning a reaction to something happening in the world.

FB: It's exactly that. It's a reaction to something happening in the world or something that could happen in the world. There is a screening of Magnus, one of my favourite docs. It's about Magnus Carlsen. Quite original and extraordinary in terms of a point of view on the world. This film is about the world champion of chess; he is 25 years old. The next world championship is going to happen next November and Magnus can, of course, defend his crown. You see the chess community and even the people who don't know chess are interested.

AKT: We are sitting here in the sun on a beautiful day at MoMA PSI for another treat. Again, you have picked a very different film to show at the Dome. A few years back we were here talking about Alberi. I am still telling people how much they missed by not traveling out here from Manhattan. Last year you had chosen Celia Rowlson-Hall's wonderful Ma. I met Celia a few months ago at a Derek Lam event.

Frédéric Boyer with The Show of Shows producers Margrét Jónasdóttir and Mark Atkin
Frédéric Boyer with The Show of Shows producers Margrét Jónasdóttir and Mark Atkin Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

FB: Yes. Right away, I also brought Ma to Venice Days. I introduced the film. You know, we have this partnership with Venice Days - Giornate degli Autori - which is the sidebar of the Venice Film Festival. And then they chose this film and I was in Venice. It was a continuity from MoMA to Venice.

AKT: And this year, you have Benedikt's film, a perfect fit for this location. It's in the VW Dome, it's a spectacle and it connects to a different side of art.

FB: I saw the film again last month, just for the pleasure and to show it to someone. We have all over VR experiences [at the Tribeca Hub] and it's great to have 360-degrees. We are exploring things in a new way. He is using the language of the cinema, which is editing. Editing footage, choosing, curating, cutting.

AKT: And Show Of Shows is not chosen in a linear fashion. The film jumps around in time and is structured in thematic clusters of acts.

FB: It's what cinema did in the beginning - King Vidor and the Russians - it's exactly editing. And he is coming back to this root of cinema and the film is also extremely contemporary.

AKT: The episodic form Benedict also explored in Of Horses And Men. That's when I first met him. He is interested in storytelling and so is Tribeca.

FB: There are chapters, there are dancers, there are clowns, there are animals - we are interested in all of that. It's a film about circus but there's not too many clowns. There are some choices. And every good storyteller is making choices and good choices.

The Banksy Job directors Dylan Harvey and Ian Roderick Gray in conversation at Tribeca Metrograph party
The Banksy Job directors Dylan Harvey and Ian Roderick Gray in conversation at Tribeca Metrograph party Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: When you had Alberi in the Dome, we were speaking about cats. There was Andy Capper and Juliette Eisner's high-spirited Lil Bub & Friendz and quite a few films with cats in them and you have cats yourself. We talked about bringing our cats to the Dome. This year, I did not notice any theme like that. Maybe parents. There are a lot of films about the relationship to parents.

FB: Why are you talking about parents? That's quite interesting. I want to know.

AKT: Well, there is the Danish film Parents. The Family Fang is all about the parents' effect on their children. Often adult children. The Meddler is parents - a mother. Dreamland …

FB: … is parents! It's everywhere.

AKT: i suppose Mother and Wolves, too.

FB: Yes, there's a lot of parents. El Clásico, also. It's what I like when you are programming a festival, you don't know exactly what you are doing. After you put all the titles on a wall, you see a connection, you see a drawing. With every selection, not only mine, there is a form you didn't know. You didn't know you constructed something but something is constructed. The audience in New York is probably the most impressive audience in the world.

AKT: Your opening night film - a choice I loved - is also dealing with issues of change, of traditions being challenged.

FB: The First Monday In May, it's delicious.

Anton Honik and Miri-Ann Beusche with Parents director Christian Tafdrup
Anton Honik and Miri-Ann Beusche with Parents director Christian Tafdrup Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: I am constructing some more here - There is The Metropolitan Museum of Art as the parent and the Costume Institute as the child.

FB: I think our opening film also has a lot of humor. It's light, it's delicious, it's fresh.

AKT: Did you see China: Through the Looking Glass?

FB: No, I didn't see it but I know it was superb.

AKT: Speaking of humor. Another very interesting choice is The Last Laugh.

FB: Yes, very interesting film. With Mel Brooks! It's funny and the film is much bigger!

AKT: Also the Scientology film …

FB: It's an original one. You saw a lot!

AKT: There are some unexpected approaches to filmmaking in this year's selection.

FB: It's a privilege that I am able to program a film here [at PS1]. A film I love from a guy I really respect. I have known Benedikt for a long time and I know him well. We not only talk about cinema, we talk about life.

AKT: I took a taxi from Tribeca with Benedikt to here and he was telling me that in his past he was protesting to protect whales, that he was an activist against whale hunting! I am a wildlife rehabilitator.

FB: That's New York. Tribeca Film Festival can help to have a lot of these conversations. It's film but it's also more than film. Tribeca is in a total evolution, I think in a good way. We don't forget that the center of our festival is cinema and then we are adding so many storytelling experiences.

MoMA PS1 VW Dome
MoMA PS1 VW Dome Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Storytelling as a topic of talks is here for the first time this year, isn't it?

FB: Absolutely. Jay McInerney and [Francis Ford] Coppola are going to be storytelling. Ethan Hawke with Patti Smith was storytelling. Andrea Arnold and even Tina Fey are going to talk about that.

AKT: When I spoke with the director [Ferne Pearlstein] and the producer/co-writer [Robert Edwards] about The Last Laugh, we talked about 9/11 and the fact that people are still very tense about jokes on that subject.

FB: Very tense.

AKT: You can't tell a 9/11 joke but you can tell stories. Are there any films you would like to point out in the festival?

FB: Yes. There's a small film which I think is a fantastic film. It's called El Charro de Toluquilla about a mariachi who is sick. I want to point out some films like this, which for me is an amazing film. Reset, the film about Benjamin Millepied.

AKT: I am going to talk to the directors soon. I made it one of my highlights of the festival.

FB: The two directors are fantastic. I saw the film privately in their production company. I saw a cut of the film before. It was shown on Canal+ in December one time in France. They are also doing a film about Rocco Siffredi [a porn star who appears in Catherine Breillat's Romance]. They are very smart. I also like a film that is quite bizarre, also a doc, called The Banksy Job. It's a British film about …

AKT: Banksy?

Frédéric Boyer with Anne-Katrin Titze after the show at MoMA PS1: "Every good storyteller is making choices …"
Frédéric Boyer with Anne-Katrin Titze after the show at MoMA PS1: "Every good storyteller is making choices …" Photo: MoMA PS1 guard

FB: No! The enemy of Banksy, the villain! It's super funny, super hooligan kind of stuff. I think it's going to be super provocative but I like it. It's a world premiere.

AKT: I noticed that there are a lot of films connected to art this year.

FB: Yes, we have a portrait of Burden, we have Maurizio Catellan, we are working with PS1, we are working for the first time with The Whitney which is a great location between Chelsea and Tribeca. We have a film about The Met, we are working with the Guggenheim. So we are everywhere in the museums and institutions.

AKT: You are everywhere!

FB: This is exactly what we like. We love, of course, everything connected to art. There is another film, Perfect Strangers, extremely well written. It's an Italian film I love because of the dialogues. The picture is extraordinary and the idea is as simple. The director told me: "why in 25 years did nobody think of doing this film?" And it's true. The film sold all over the world to do remakes.

AKT: You also have High-Rise in the festival.

FB: It's Ben Wheatley. This film was in Toronto. It's a Kubrickian film, very bizarre, very stylish. Which is also important. Of course, we have many reasons to select films. We like to have discussions but we also like to have extremely stylish films in terms of the form. Ben Wheatley is a super inventive filmmaker.

AKT: High-Rise is very haunting.

FB: Yes, it's very haunting. It's not a film that is super pleasant but it's a great film.

AKT: Yesterday, I had a chance to speak to Christopher Walken about Family Fang on. There's another artist connection. Let's talk a bit more about Benedikt's film in the Dome here. How did you feel about the scenes with the animals? It was very tough for me to watch. He shows some of the best of humanity - awe-inspiring trapeze acts - and the worst of humanity.

FB: Absolutely. I think Benedikt was extremely conscious when he wanted to show this. He is a humanist, but he is also a big defender of animal causes. He is, I will not say, a militant, but he wants to say something. There is a contradiction in the film. He is not showing of the circus only the best thing but also what nobody wants to see - so he has to show it. So the film, in a way, it's political, it's not only poetry.

The Tribeca Film Festival sponsored by AT&T runs through April 24.

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