By Eric Kohn | Indiewire April 28, 2014 at 12:38PM
When the Tribeca Film Festival first started, the idea of another major marketplace for new independent films — sandwiched in between Sundance and Cannes, no less — struck many people as impractical. Now, however, the large volume of new movies at Tribeca and the proliferation of companies eager for product have turned the festival into a definite focal point for acquisitions. One insider even wondered over the course of this year's festival whether Tribeca sales may reach an all-time-high.
Whether or not that's true, the recently-wrapped program was littered a lot of smaller gems that deserve more attention than the countless red carpet-friendly efforts that tend to dominate the lineup. To date, these 9 excellent titles remain without distribution. It would be the ultimate testament to the festival's value if they were to find it.
"Broken Hill Blues"
Kiruna is an icy town situation in the northernmost region of Sweden, near the Arctic Circle, but it won't be there for long. An iron mine beneath the town constantly makes the ground shake and threatens to erode the land to the point where life there is unsustainable. That's the tantalizing premise of Sofia Norlin's fascinating documentary-fiction hybrid, a beautiful, poetic story of isolation that focuses on a handful of angst-riddled teenagers frustrated with their fragile world. While the town and its conundrum is real, Norlin constructs a powerful narrative to heighten the immediacy of the scenario and make it personal. The result is a striking portrait of alienation that simultaneously functions as a somber look at the ramifications of climate change.
A young police officer working in a remote village is coping with evidence of wolf in the nearby forest when he encounters something much weirder: a cross-dressing samurai wrecking havoc on the neighborhood. But the figure looks more than a little like the cop himself, leading us to immediately suspect that the sword-wielding other represents some untamed, repressed desires that the cop dare not confront. German director Til Kleinert's expressionistic horror movie (an Indiewire Project of the Day) is a wry meditation on queer identity politics that also works in a broader sense as a story about the travails of boredom and alienation.
Writer-director Keith Miller's feature-length debut "Welcome to Pine Hill" showed an ambitious willingness to merge documentary and fictional storytelling methods, but with "Five Star," the filmmaker truly manages to fuse them into a compelling whole. Once again relying on non-actors to imbue his narrative with naturalistic intensity, "Five Star" is set amid the perils of gang life in the Brooklyn housing projects and features performances by actual former gang members riffing on their own lives. As a sociological experiment, "Five Star" offers plenty of talking points, but its real triumph is that the cast delivers, yielding a story in which the heightened suspense emerges organically from a gritty foundation of realism. Read the full review here.
"Goodbye to All That"
In his Indiewire review, Brandon Harris called this raunchy-but-genial comedy from "Junebug" scribe Angus MacLachlan "the type of romantic comedy that Hollywood makes (poorly) for female audiences all the time: Will our fetching but troubled heroine land Mr. Right? Rarely does such a picture come along that asks the same questions for a man." In the movie, Paul Schneider plays Otto Wall, a man blind-sided by his melancholic wife (Melanie Lynskey) when she abruptly decides to divorce him. Shell-shocked, Otto wanders through a series of bizarre sexual encounters while attempting to put his life back together and rediscovers his own needs in the process. "The movie launches Wall on a 'Broken Flowers'-esque trip through his romantic past and the wilds of the arranged online hookup future," Harris writes, "eventually suggesting that romantic happiness comes in many shapes and sizes, and that being a good man and a sexual adventurist aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive." Read the full review here.
Two Colombian men attempt to smuggle cocaine up the Pacific. That's the slim, basic trajectory of director Josef Kubota Wladyka's first feature, "Manos Sucias," and it rarely ventures beyond those restrictions. But that very minimalism gives its drama a personal quality steeped in the desperation of its lower class anti-heroes. Shot on location in and around Buenaventura, the movie has a frantic, gritty energy attuned to its characters' frustrations—not unlike the fiery sentiments found in the most polemical output of Spike Lee, who serves as an executive producer. Even so, Wladyka's debut has a more claustrophobic feel than anything in Lee's oeuvre; running just under 75 minutes, it's a fierce snapshot of reckless behavior enacted by helpless men. Read the full review here.
"Point and Shoot"
"The tale told in 'Point and Shoot' is a virtual swashbuckler," writes John Anderson in his review, "a Boy's Own story about adventure, travel, motorcycles and heroic fantasies. Matt VanDyke, beneficiary of a rather privileged upbringing in Baltimore, had been infected by "Lawrence of Arabianism" in his youth, studied the Middle East in college, but had never been there. In 2007, he decided he had to go – not just for academic reasons, but for purposes of self-worth. Describing what he was about to take as a 'crash course in manhood,' VanDyke got a motorcycle and a camera and for four years made his way from Europe to Gibraltar to Africa, riding through various hotspots, embedding himself as a freelance war correspondent with U.S. troops in Iraq, seemingly never turning the camera off while picking up a considerable amount of military training from American soldiers who always wanted to be shot in action, presumably from their good side. The separation of real war and movie fantasy becomes increasingly imperceptible — at least according to VanDyke's camera." Read the full review here.
"Summer of Blood"
Nobody says the word "vampire" in Onur Tukel's hilarious satire "Summer of Blood," even though the movie obviously deals with just that in pretty explicit terms: disgruntled Brooklynite Erik Sparrow (Tukel, also the writer-director) whose life increases in excitement after he’s changed into a fanged bloodsucker only capable of going out at night. Over the centuries, vampires have provided a potent metaphor for various maladies, but the absence of the word in Tukel's freewheeling comedy makes its target especially clear because there’s no symbolic detective work necessary. Running his mouth for everyone around him—and sometimes just yelling at the world—Erik suffers from the disease of urban cynicism even before he’s cornered in an alley and transformed by supernatural powers. His vampiric abilities only make his recklessness more absurdly pronounced. Read the full review here.
Before it delves into the alarming issues plaguing Virunga National Park, a UNESO World Heritage Site in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Orlando von Einsiedel’s stirring documentary "Virguna" gets personal: Hordes of mourners encircle the grave site for a fallen park ranger, the result of ongoing tensions between the forces tasked with protecting the park under mounting pressure in recent years. While it has an activist purpose in common with many social issue documentaries of its ilk, "Virunga" stands out by constantly folding its unsettling content into an intimate drama that doesn’t take the high risk scenario for granted. The movie works on its own terms even as it functions as a first-rate call to action. Read the full review here.
The most prominent Israeli filmmakers in recent years have produced heavily politicized work (Amos Gitai) or focused on the impact of the country's political situation on day to day social life (Eytan Fox). "Zero Motivation," the debut feature writer-director Talya Lavie, stands out for resisting either of those categories even as it acknowledges the bigger picture. An offbeat comedy about several disgruntled female soldiers stationed at a remote human resources office in the middle of the desert, the movie engages with gender imbalance and satirizes the aimlessness of military bureaucracy while retaining a disarmingly personal quality. It's a softly humorous and sad story about the frustrations of young women thrust into the military complex who air their grievances with snark. Read the full review here: The most prominent Israeli filmmakers in recent years have produced heavily politicized work (Amos Gitai) or focused on the impact of the country's political situation on day to day social life (Eytan Fox). "Zero Motivation," the debut feature writer-director Talya Lavie, stands out for resisting either of those categories even as it acknowledges the bigger picture. An offbeat comedy about several disgruntled female soldiers stationed at a remote human resources office in the middle of the desert, the movie engages with gender imbalance and satirizes the aimlessness of military bureaucracy while retaining a disarmingly personal quality. It's a softly humorous and sad story about the frustrations of young women thrust into the military complex who air their grievances with snark. Read the full review here.