By Taylor Lindsay | Indiewire March 4, 2014 at 11:59AM
World Documentary Feature Competition
The 12 films of this year’s World Documentary Competition are typified by depth of character and beauty in form. Character studies exploring creative geniuses like the prodigy choreographer of Ballet 422, the freshman Artistic Director of fashion institution Dior in Dior and I, and iconic thinker and New Yorker Susan Sontag, all unfold through lush photography and thoughtful direction. These films celebrate the accomplishments of the individual, mirroring the thread of stories that espouse the power of groups in this year’s competition. A team of Indian traditional artists rally to protect their community threatened with displacement in Tomorrow We Disappear, while a vivacious gang of transgender women demand equal rights from the Puerto Rican government in Mala Mala, and activists risk everything for their cause in 1971. This riveting collection of international stories compete for Best Documentary Feature, Best New Documentary Director, and Best Editing.
1971, directed and written by Johanna Hamilton, co-written by Gabriel Rhodes. (USA) – World Premiere. Forty years before WikiLeaks and the NSA scandal, there was Media, Pennsylvania. In 1971, eight activists plotted an intricate break-in to the local FBI offices to leak stolen documents and expose the illegal surveillance of ordinary Americans in an era of anti-war activism. In this riveting heist story, the perpetrators reveal themselves for the first time, reflecting on their actions and raising broader questions surrounding security leaks in activism today.
Ballet 422, directed by Jody Lee Lipes. (USA) – World Premiere. Cinematographer and documentarian Jody Lee Lipes crafts an intimate, fly-on-the-wall documentary offering a rare peek into the hidden world of professional ballet. The film shadows Justin Peck, wunderkind choreographer of the New York City Ballet, as he undertakes the Herculean task of creating the company’s 422nd original piece. Following the creative process from its embryonic stages to its highly anticipated premiere, Ballet 422 is a powerful celebration of the skill and endurance of New York’s most talented dancers—as well as those who remain hidden in the wings.
Dior and I (Dior et moi), directed and written by Frédéric Tcheng. (France) – World Premiere.
In Frédéric Tcheng’s masterful documentary, one enters the storied world that is the House of Christian Dior with a privileged, behind-the-scenes look at the creation of Raf Simons’ first Dior Haute Couture collection as Artistic Director, a true labor of love by a dedicated, charming, and often humorous group of collaborators. Beautifully melding the everyday, pressure-filled components of fashion with a mysterious and elegant reverence for the history of this iconic brand, Tcheng’s colorful homage to the seamstresses of the atelier is nothing short of magical. In English and French with subtitles.
Fishtail, directed and written by Andrew Renzi. (USA) – World Premiere. The iconic voice and noble philosophies proffered by Harry Dean Stanton punctuate this authentic look at life on the edge of wilderness. Producer of festival favorite, Two Gates of Sleep, Andrew Renzi makes his directorial debut with this glimpse into the rugged lifestyle few Americans still pursue. Follow the cowboys of Montana’s Fishtail Basin Ranch as they survive another calving season in this captivating atmospheric documentary. Set to a seraphic score, Stanton would agree, this is a film for “those of earth-born passion.”
Garnet’s Gold, directed by Ed Perkins. (UK) – World Premiere. Twenty years ago, Garnet Frost nearly lost his life hiking near Scotland’s Loch Arkaig. The near-death experience still haunts him to this day, and, in particular, a peculiar wooden stick he discovered serendipitously right before he was rescued. Believing the staff (as he calls it) is actually a marker for a fortune hidden nearly 300 years ago, Garnet embarks on a treasure hunt to search for the lost riches. But beneath the search for gold, lies a poignant pursuit for life’s meaning and inspiration.
Mala Mala, directed by Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini. (Puerto Rico) – World Premiere.
Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles’ vibrant and visually striking immersion in the transgender community of Puerto Rico celebrates the breadth of experiences among trans-identifying women: from campaigning for government-recognized human rights, to working in the sex industry, or performing as part of drag troupe, “The Doll House.” Unapologetic and unconventional, Mala Mala explores the ways internal and external identity pave the path of self discovery through the unique yet universal stories of its fascinating cast of characters. In English and Spanish with subtitles.
Misconception, directed by Jessica Yu. (USA) - World Premiere. For almost 50 years, the world's population has grown at an alarming rate, raising fears about strains on the Earth's resources. But how true are these claims? Taking cues from statistics guru Hans Rosling, Misconception offers a provocative glimpse at how the world—and women in particular— are tackling a subject at once personal and global. Following three individuals, director Jessica Yu focuses on the human implications of this highly charged political issue, inspiring a fresh look at the consequences of population growth. In English, Hindi, Mandarin, and Russian with subtitles.
Ne Me Quitte Pas, directed and written by Sabine Lubbe Bakker and Niels van Koevorden.
(Netherlands, Belgium) – International Premiere. Left by his wife for another man, Marcel falls into alcoholism and a deep depression, with only his friend Bob, also an alcoholic, to look after him. The friendship between the two men captures the frailty of the male ego and the natural comedy borne from their candid conversations. Ne Me Quitte Pas follows this downward spiral of mid-life crisis in a tender, often humorous, sometimes disturbing, examination of the ‘crisis of masculinity,’ alongside a mesmerizing exploration of mundane rural existence. In Flemish and French with subtitles.
Point and Shoot, directed and written by Marshall Curry. (USA) – World Premiere. In 2011, unassuming Matthew VanDyke left his home in Baltimore to find adventure and see the world on his motorcycle, only to end up joining the Libyan rebel army to take arms against Gaddafi. Gun in one hand, video camera in the other, Matthew finally finds purpose and meaning in his wanderlust, until he is captured and held in solitary confinement for six months and must decide where his allegiances really lie. Director and TFF award winner, Marshall Curry (Racing Dreams), captures one man’s arresting transformation from a sheltered kid to a soldier on the front lines.
Regarding Susan Sontag, directed and written by Nancy Kates, co-written by John Haptas. (USA) – World Premiere. Hungry for life and gracefully outspoken throughout her career, Susan Sontag became one of the most important literary, political, and feminist icons of her generation. Kates’ in depth documentary intimately tracks Sontag’s seminal, life-changing moments through her own words, as read by Patricia Clarkson—from her early infatuation with books to her first experience in a gay bar; from her first marriage to her last lover. Regarding Susan Sontag is a nuanced investigation into the life of a towering cultural critic and writer whose works on photography, war, and terrorism still resonate today. An HBO Documentary film.
Tomorrow We Disappear, directed by Jimmy Goldblum and Adam Weber. (USA) – World Premiere. The puppeteers, performers, and magicians of the Kathputli colony in Delhi are the last slum-dweller–artists of their kind. When their land is sold to high-rise developers, they must fight for the only home they know. Fending off relocation, they struggle to keep their mystical Indian folk arts alive and to conserve what beauty remains as they are forced into someone else’s vision of the future. Tomorrow We Disappear is not just documentation, but ultimately becomes an extraordinary act of preservation. In Hindi with subtitles.
Virunga, directed and written by Orlando von Einsiedel. (UK) – World Premiere. Virunga is Africa’s oldest national park, a UNESCO world heritage site, and the last natural habitat for the endangered mountain gorilla. None of that will stop the business interests and rebel insurgencies lurking at the park’s doorstep. Orlando von Einsiedel pairs gorgeous natural scenes from Virunga with riveting footage of the Congolese crisis, raising an ardent call for conservation as a vital human enterprise. Along the way, he spotlights the incredibly dangerous work that is often required to safeguard the environment. In English, French, and Swahili, with subtitles.
The core of Tribeca's commitment to launching fresh voices and embracing risky, utterly original storytelling is Viewpoints. Kicking off with the delightfully twisted Summer of Blood, Onur Tukel's comedic reimagining of the vampire genre, the spectrum of boundary-pushing work Viewpoints celebrates is reflected in a bounty of styles, genres, filmmakers, and subjects. Love & Engineering’s endearing nerds use their computer science expertise to find love by “hacking” women with data and algorithms, while illusionist The Amazing Randi’s decades long mission is not only to master the secrets of magic but to expose the charlatans who abuse them in An Honest Liar (charlatans not unlike Art and Craft’s master art forger who dupes curators just for the fun of it). Taking his own life into his hands, nine-year old Junior in Venezuela is on a mission to be himself— just with straight hair—in the charming Bad Hair, while the hard hitting Starred Up centers on a young man desperately trying not to end up like his criminal father. This troupe of art forgers, legendary magicians, and lovesick engineers join film noir detectives, hotdog tycoons, and drug smugglers to populate a 2014 program of uncommon originality and exuberance.
Art and Craft, directed by Sam Cullman and Jennifer Grausman. (USA) – World Premiere, Documentary. Mark Landis is one of the most prolific and notorious ‘artists’ of the century. An expert forger of masterpiece art, Landis has duped curators across the nation, further befuddling them by donating his imitations instead of selling them. Many have dedicated years tracking his escapades with one burning question: “Why?” Framed around a cat-and-mouse chase between Landis and those he has hoodwinked, Art and Craft paints a richly complicated portrait of mental illness, skewed philanthropy, and the desire to feel connected.
The Bachelor Weekend, directed and written by John Butler. (Ireland) – U.S. Premiere, Narrative. Pressured by his best man to spend a bachelor’s weekend camping, foppish groom-to-be, Fionan, reluctantly agrees. But when his fiancée’s alpha-male brother, nicknamed ‘The Machine,’ unexpectedly turns up, the camping trip takes a turn for the worst. Fionan and his genteel friends are no match for the uncouth bully, and the trip begins to look like it will become Fionan’s worst nightmare. A slapstick, good-natured comedy, Bachelor Weekend hilariously delves into the stereotypical realm of masculinity that is camping and the great outdoors. A Tribeca Film release.
Bad Hair (Pelo Malo), directed and written by Mariana Rondon. (Venezuela, Peru, Argentina, Germany) – U.S. Premiere, Narrative. Junior, a nine-year-old living in Caracas, wants nothing more than to straighten his unruly hair to look like a singer for his school photo—a fixation that stirs homophobic panic in his overtaxed mother. Each effort Junior makes to alter his appearance and gain his mother’s love is brushed off with abrasive avoidance until he’s ultimately faced with a heartbreaking decision. With a painfully tender performance by Samuel Lange, writer-director Mariana Rondón directs this coming-of-age drama about the search for identity clashing with intolerance. In Spanish with subtitles.
Below Dreams, directed and written by Garrett Bradley. (USA) – World Premiere, Narrative. A reverie of images and sound, Below Dreams loosely follows the narratives of three very different people returning to New Orleans for the promise of a better life. But as each character experiences the city’s realities, it becomes clear that their individual hopes and dreams may no longer be possible, and that with change must also come sacrifice. Shot documentary style, but with dreamlike qualities melding fiction and reality, this is a hypnotic tribute to both the socially marginalized and to the city of New Orleans itself.
Beneath the Harvest Sky, directed and written by Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly. (USA) – U.S. Premiere, Narrative. Bored and restless, best friends Dominic and Casper are making plans to escape their small town in Northern Maine to start new lives in Boston. In order to earn the money, Dominic spends the summer harvesting potatoes, while Casper becomes involved in the family business—smuggling drugs over the Canadian border. The divergent paths of the two boys, both trapped in their circumstances in different ways, will change their friendship forever. Brought to life by two stellar lead performances, Beneath the Harvest Sky is an authentic portrayal of adolescent frustration, culminating in a heartbreaking coming-of-age drama. A Tribeca Film release.
Black Coal, Thin Ice (Bai Ri Yan Huo), directed and written by Diao Yinan. (China, Hong Kong) – North American Premiere, Narrative. After a botched arrest in a grisly serial-murder case, small-town detective Zhang Zili is suspended from the force, taking a job as a security guard at a coal factory. When another series of mysteriously similar murders takes place five years later, Zhang sets out to investigate on his own. Winner of the top prize at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, Diao Yinan’s moody, quietly powerful thriller is a classic film noir staged against the quotidian lives of a wintry Northern Chinese industrial town. In Mandarin with subtitles.
Broken Hill Blues (Ömheten), directed and written by Sofia Norlin.
(Sweden) – North American Premiere, Narrative. A group of adolescents wrestle with their uncertain futures in a remote mining town that is literally cracking underneath their feet. Kiruna, the northernmost town in Sweden, sits above an iron ore mine that has been slowly eroding the land around it for decades. Soon, Kiruna and everyone in it will have to move, but to where they do not know. As the displaced teenagers linger on the cusp of adulthood, they echo the town’s own fragility in this beautiful and understated film. In Swedish with subtitles.
Electric Slide, directed and written by Tristan Patterson. (USA) – World Premiere, Narrative.
A heightened homage to the City of Angels, Electric Slide riffs on the real-life story of Eddie Dodson, the notorious "Gentleman Bank Robber." With a debonair sophistication and a serious talent for flirt, Dodson managed to lure money from mesmerized female tellers at over 60 banks during an epic spree in the 1980s. Director Tristan Patterson gathers Jim Sturgess, Chloë
Sevigny, and Patricia Arquette to paint a dark, hyper-stylized tale of crime, love, and style.
Famous Nathan, directed and written by Lloyd Handwerker. (USA) – World Premiere, Documentary. Nathan’s Famous Frankfurters, a New York City icon, has left a lasting imprint on the collective memory and palate of Coney Island. Director and grandson of ‘Famous’ Nathan himself, Lloyd Handwerker, takes a look back at the immigrant experience and almost 100 years of family and New York history in this personal documentary gem. Featuring a strong score, colorful and endearing characters, rare archival material, and a nuanced editing style, Famous Nathan will not disappoint New York history enthusiasts.
An Honest Liar, directed and written by Justin Weinstein, Tyler Measom, co-written by Greg O’Toole. (USA) – World Premiere, Documentary. Renowned magician James “The Amazing” Randi, has been wowing audiences with his jaw-dropping illusions, escapes, and sleight of hand for over 50 years. When Randi began seeing his cherished art form co-opted by all manner of con artists, from faith healers and fortune-tellers to psychics and gurus, Randi made it his mission to expose the simple tricks charlatans have borrowed from magicians to swindle the masses. Weinstein and Measom chronicle Randi’s best debunkings, with the help of interviewees including Penn Jillette, Bill Nye, and “Mythbuster” Adam Savage, ultimately showing us how we are all vulnerable to deception, even “The Amazing” Randi himself.
Honeymoon, directed and written by Leigh Janiak, co-written by Phil Graziadei.
(USA) – New York Premiere, Narrative. What begins as a happy honeymoon for newlyweds Bea (Rose Leslie) and Paul (Harry Treadaway) takes a sinister turn when Bea disappears from bed one night and Paul discovers her the next day naked in the woods with no memory of how she got there. Soon Bea begins an escalating, unexplainable shift from a happy, carefree young woman to a cold, distant, and calculating one. Supernatural forces may be at work, but they uncannily echo some of the anxieties that come with a new marriage—issues such as secrecy, mistrust, and loss of identity—in Janiak’s brooding domestic drama.
I Won't Come Back (Ya Ne Vernus), directed by Ilmar Raag, written by Oleg Gaze and Jaroslava Pulinovich. (Belarus, Estonia, Finland, Kazakhstan, Russia) – World Premiere, Narrative. Aloof graduate student Anya is on the run from the police when she encounters precocious and willful Kristina, an orphan determined to find her grandmother in Kazakhstan. Kristina offers a momentary solution to Anya’s desperate situation, and the unlikely pair begins a harrowing and unpredictable odyssey, hitchhiking across the epic landscapes of Russia and its neighboring countries. I Won't Come Back is a visceral look at survival and a heartfelt exploration into the depths of friendship and the meaning of family. In Russian with subtitles.
Ice Poison (Bing Du), directed and written by Midi Z. (Myanmar, Taiwan R.O.C.) – North American Premiere, Narrative. Faced with diminishing returns on his harvest, a poor young farmer in Myanmar pawns his cow for a moped and seeks alternative income as a taxi driver. Among his first fares is a woman making a new start after escaping an arranged marriage in China. Together, they are lured into the lucrative business of selling “ice poison” (crystal meth) around town. With an unobtrusive documentary style, Burmese-Taiwanese director Midi Z captures the struggles faced by many in an unseen part of the world. In Burmese and Chinese Yunnan with subtitles.
Karpotrotter (Karpopotnik), directed and written by Matjaž Ivanišin, co-written by Nebeojša Pop-Tasić. (Slovenia) – North American Premiere, Narrative. Karpotrotter is a road movie about place, time, and memory, as well as an homage to filmmaker Karpo Godina, whose work flourished during the Black Wave of Yugoslavian filmmaking in the 1960s. Director Matjaž Ivanišin retraces the footsteps of his compatriot’s journey, interlacing Godina’s original Super 8mm footage with folklore music, landscape imagery, and contemporary portraits of the local villagers. In Slovene with subtitles.
Love & Engineering, directed and written by Tonislav Hristov. (Finland, Germany, Bulgaria) – International Premiere, Documentary. Is there an algorithm for love? Atanas, a Bulgarian engineer living in Finland, is determined to find out. With the help of some of his geeky bachelor friends, he sets up a series of experiments to crack the code and develop a new, scientific approach to dating. This charming and lighthearted documentary follows Atanas and company as they research pheromones, chart brain waves, and try out “hacks” on blind dates, in their quest to find romance in the modern world. In Bulgarian, English and Finnish with subtitles.
Maravilla, directed and written by Juan Pablo Cadaveira. (Argentina) – International Premiere, Documentary. A true underdog story, Maravilla follows Argentinian boxer Sergio ‘Maravilla’ Martinez, as he sets out to reclaim the title of Middleweight champion that was unfairly snatched from him in 2011 by Julio Chavez, Jr. Focusing on the rise of Martinez from penniless amateur to world champion and sporting celebrity, director Juan Pablo Cadaveira offers a fascinating glimpse into today’s boxing landscape, revealing the politics of the sporting profession that often places entertainment value over the sport itself. In English and Spanish with subtitles.
The Overnighters, directed by Jesse Moss. (USA) – New York Premiere, Documentary. After hydraulic fracturing uncovers a rich oil field in North Dakota, a small conservative town is tested as hordes of unemployed men chasing the “American Dream” pour into its borders. Desperate men, often running from their past, find compassion and refuge in the form of a local pastor. However, the more responsibility he shoulders, the more everything threatens to come crumbling down. A film of dualities, this provocative modern-day parable by documentarian Jesse Moss challenges the very fabric of our society.
Starred Up, directed by David Mackenzie, written by Jonathan Asser. (UK) – U.S. Premiere, Narrative. Writer Jonathan Asser intelligently brings the brutality of British prison life to raw, unflinching life in this tense and unpredictable drama. Jack O’Connell (This Is England) plays Eric, a young offender so violent and volatile that he is ‘starred up’—prematurely moved to an adult prison. As he tries to keep his head down and navigate this new microcosm of societal codes and loyalties, Eric’s explosive nature is tested under the ceaseless gaze of guards and fellow inmates, one who turns out to be his estranged father, Neville (Ben Mendelsohn). A Tribeca Film release.
Summer of Blood, directed and written by Onur Tukel. (USA) – World Premiere, Narrative.
Misanthropic and immature Eric faces a premature mid-life crisis after his girlfriend leaves him. With no career and even less charisma in bed, it seems like this loveable loser is beyond hope, until one fateful summer night when a vampire bites him in a Brooklyn alleyway. The next day, Eric finds his confidence invigorated and his stomach in excruciating pain that can only be cured by one thing…blood. Onur Tukel directs and stars in this delightfully dark comedy about love, lust, and humanity.
Traitors, directed and written by Sean Gullette. (Morocco) – North American Premiere, Narrative. In Sean Gullette’s feature debut, Malika is the lead singer of an all-female punk band and sees music as a means to escape a dull and conservative life in Tangier. When a producer expresses interest in her, she jumps at the chance, but first she’ll need to find the money for recording, and a drug run across the Moroccan border may be her only option. Fiery and energetic, Traitors is a spirited and rebellious journey of a young woman breaking from the traditional life set before her. In Arabic, English and French with subtitles.
Vara: A Blessing, directed and written by Khyentse Norbu. (Bhutan) – North American Premiere, Narrative. Raised in a sheltered village, young Lila yearns for a life devoted to Hindu worship, like that of her devadasi mother, but she begins to encounter worldly obstacles to her spiritual fulfillment. Guileless, Lila agrees to model for a lowly village boy who hopes to become a sculptor, unknowingly endangering both of their lives under the ever-present gaze of the villagers, especially the village landlord’s son.
Young Bodies Heal Quickly, directed and written by Andrew T. Betzer. (USA) – World Premiere, Narrative. Two brothers drift aimlessly through their summer days, trashing abandoned cars and playing with paintball guns, until the accidental death of a young woman forces them to make drastic decisions. With few options, the duo flee across state lines to dodge arrest and search for refuge. Poetic, funny, and poignant, this quietly mesmerizing film follows the brothers’ transitions from boys to men through an absorption of the world—good and bad—around them.
In addition to those announced today, the Festival presents feature-length films in the Spotlight, Midnight, and Special sections, which will be announced on March 6, 2014.