On the first full day of screenings Wednesday, Tribeca Film Festival organizers presented some 40 individual showings throughout Manhattan, more than half of them for Midtown and Uptown audiences for the first time. Festival co-founder Jane Rosenthal stepped out onto the stage at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center Wednesday night to welcome a somewhat smaller than expected crowd to the high-profile premiere of Matt William's latest feature "Walker Payne." The nearly 1,000-seat venue is a showcase theater for the festival, but surprisingly the 6 p.m. screening of the world premiere faced a number of empty rows and many scattered empty seats throughout the venue. A subsequent screening of "Civic Duty" in the same venue at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday night was better attended, but still had empty rows of seats. The attendance is worth mentioning only in that it marks such a striking difference from last year's fest, when TFF welcomed a crowded, rousing showing of the basketball documentary "Through The Fire," in the same venue early on in the festival.
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On stage Wednesday night, Rosenthal explained that she doesn't get the chance to introduce many fest screenings, but for this one she said she made an exception because she simply loves the movie. Williams, creator of such hit TV sitcoms as "Roseanne" and "Home Improvement", and director of the feature "Where The Heart Is," was on hand with a number of the film's key cast, including Jason Patric who portrays the title character and co-stars Drea DeMateo, Sam Sheperd, and Bruce Dern.
Set in Southern Illinois in the 1950s, Payne is a down on his luck miner trying to raise $5,000 to rescue his two daughters from their mother. Enter an opportunistic schemer (played by Sam Sheperd) who convinces the title character to compete his beloved pet in a series of illegal dogfights. The film seemed to win over many in the audience, but others in the crowd seemed turned off by the intense dog fight matches. During a Q & A, one woman, her voice trembling, called the film disturbing and said that some of the scenes hit a bit too close to home for her. "Is anyone else as upset as I am?" she asked the filmmaker, actors on stage, or anyone who would listen. While some giggled, actor Jason Patric quipped, "There are a lot of therapists here in New York City." Williams stepped in relatively quickly to offer a few soothing words.
While the paying audience may have seemed a bit lacking, there was certainly no shortage of buyers in attendance for the film that secured one of the festival's highest profile screening slots. Buyers from Miramax, Magnolia Pictures, IFC Films, and New Line were among those spotted making their way in. Many were greeted in the lobby by Paradigm talent and literary agency head of motion pictures Robert Stein and agent Mike Lubin, who recently joined the agency from ICM.
Meanwhile, over in the East Village one of several gay titles playing at the Tribeca Film Festival this year had its world premiere. Q. Allan Brocka's "Boy Culture," screening in the fest's Discovery section, debuted in a near capacity screening. The film's overall plot line isn't atypical one for a gay movie. In the mix are three queer roommates with healthy libidos with varying interest in one another -- basically, two sluts and a ho. But, a budding romance between two of them is destabilized by their own insecurities and indiscretions. What sets this particular film apart, however, is its refreshingly non-cliche dialog and the lead performances by a sexy cast. Traits clearly noticed by the mostly gay audience at the screening.
"Where did you find those actors? Their performances were not typical of ones found in most gay movies," asked one audience member who, like most of the crowd, stayed for the Q&A. "I saw Jonathan (Trent) waiting to do an audition for something else and I said, 'hey, do you want to read for this film?'" replied Brocka. He also described the lengthy process for finding the right actor to play "X," the lead in the film.
"We had over 100 people for X, but it was his voice that did it for me," Brocka said, eliciting laughter from the audience. The comedy is a bit of an artistic achievement for Brocka, whose previous work includes the 2004 feature "Eating Out," and the successful animated short, "Rick & Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple In All The World". A film exec, familiar with the director's previous efforts, commented after the showing, "I think this represents a real maturity in his work."
Finally, uptown at the Lincoln Square theaters on 68th St., the festival drew good-sized crowds to the popular Manhattan multiplex for Upper West Site moviegoers. Among the movies debuting was Ishai Setton's light, entertaining "Big Bad Swim," the story of an eclectic group of Connecticut locals who decide to take a swimming class. Striving for, in the filmmaker's own words, a "quicky, indie appeal," Setton and writer Daniel Schechter depict the relationships that emerge within the group of non-swimmers.
For Kevin Porter Young, his character in the film may have hit a little close to home. His role in the film, "Carl," is that of a grown man who is terrified of the water, Too afraid to even dip a toe in, Carl watches from the deck as his classmates learn to swim, but he eventually makes major progress. Young said Wednesday that he nearly drowned as a young child and had an aversion to water. His girlfriend taught him to swim before the shoot began, and he said after the screening, "A few people got over their own issues with the water, I know I did."
ABOUT THE WRITERS:Eugene Hernandez is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of indieWIRE and Brian Brooks is the Associate Editor of indieWIRE.
[indieWIRE will publish daily dispatches and iPOP photos from the Tribeca Film Festival in a special section.]