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Leaner Tribeca Fest in '09: Competition, Discovery Rosters Unveiled

By Brian Brooks | Indiewire March 9, 2009 at 3:30AM

The Tribeca Film Festival unveiled its narrative, documentary and Discovery competition roster Monday morning, featuring a new streamlined event with 84 features and 46 shorts screening April 22 - May 3. This year's line up includes includes 46 world, five international, 13 North American, 3 U.S. and 11 New York City premieres, as well as eight titles, which are part of the event's third annual Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival. 2,254 films were submitted for consideration this year, according to figures provided by the fest.
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The Tribeca Film Festival unveiled its narrative, documentary and Discovery competition roster Monday morning, featuring a new streamlined event with 84 features and 46 shorts screening April 22 - May 3. This year's line up includes includes 46 world, five international, 13 North American, 3 U.S. and 11 New York City premieres, as well as eight titles, which are part of the event's third annual Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival. 2,254 films were submitted for consideration this year, according to figures provided by the fest.

Citing "financial considerations," the 8th Tribeca fest will be a leaner event. "We did have financial considerations with the economy being what it is," explained festival executive director Nancy Schafer, in a conversation with indieWIRE yesterday. She noted that the festival relies on sponsorship for its annual budget and with the loss of support from financially embattled GM and Target, organizers decided to tighten up the event. Planners did bring on new sponsors AMC TV, DIRECTV, and Heineken for this year's event, alongside lead sponsor American Express.

The drop in the roster follows a trend in recent years for Tribeca. The fest was at 174 features in 2006, dropping its size to 159 feature films in 2007 before getting to 122 last year. Organizers were quick to clarify that offering a range of international work will remain the core of the festival.

Schafer, who became sole executive director after the departure of Paola Freccero in January, explained that the high cost of renting multiplex theaters for the festival forced them to steamline. The event will again be anchored in and around Union Square in Manhattan, with gala screening and free community events remaining in the TriBeCa neighborhood in Lower Manhattan.

"I think it's forced the progremmers to make really even more hard decisions," Schafer said, which in the end is always good for the festival."

"There's a lot of variety, but it's more focused," noted TFF senior programmer Genna Terranova, in a conversation with indieWIRE yesterday discussing the roster. "Some people say leaner, I would say stronger as well." She and Director of Progamming David Kwok are out front talking about the program this year in the wake of the recent departure of festival Artistic Director Peter Scarlet, whose imprint is still felt on this year's lineup.

"We feel really confident about the program and hope that people respond well to it," explained David Kwok. "This could be the next phase of Tribeca going forward. Still, Schafer, Kwok, and Terranova all agreed that the fest will again re-evaluate after this year's event. Insiders reiterated that Geoff Gilmore, who recently left Sundance to become the Chief Creative Officer for Tribeca Enterprises, will not have a role with the festival.

The 2009 edition's twelve narrative and twelve documentary features will compete for a combined "unrestricted" cash prizes amounting to $100,000, including prizes totaling $50,000 from American Express for the Best New Narrative and Documentary Filmmakers.

Juried prizes will include awards for narrative Feature, new narrative filmmaker (for first or second-time feature directors), best actress in a narrative film, best actor in a narrative film, best documentary feature, and best new documentary filmmaker (for first or second time feature directors). In addition, films predominantly shot in New York and/or produced by a New York-based production company will be eligible for best New York narrative, and best New York documentary prizes.

"I'm really excited about the fantastic mix of talent we have this year. There are many impressive debut directors and astounding performances by up-and-coming actors who I believe have strong futures ahead of them," said David Kwok, in a statement "When considering these films alongside the remarkable new work being presented by established talent, I think viewers will be pleased by what they find in our competition and discovery sections."

Talking with indieWIRE, Kwok noted the wide range to experience levels evidenced in this year's competition, ranging from works by international filmmakers to Americans including Bradley Rust Gray ("The Exploding Girl") and The Polish Brothers ("Stay Cool").

The 2009 Tribeca Film Festival's World Narrative, Documentary Feature, and Discovery competition line ups, with descriptions provided by the festival.

World Narrative Feature Competition

"About Elly" (Darbareye Elly), directed and written by Asghar Farhadi. (Iran) - North American Premiere. A group of old college pals reunites for a weekend adventure on the sea, but compounding lies and deception quickly lead to catastrophe. Everyone hopes Sepideh's new friend Elly will hit it off with Ahmad, newly divorced from his German wife and in search of an Iranian bride, but Elly disappears on the second day, plunging the group into a complex mystery. Asghar Farhadi took the Best Director prize at Berlin. In Persian with English subtitles.

"Accidents Happen," directed by Andrew Lancaster, written by Brian Carbee. (Australia) - World Premiere. There are dysfunctional families... and then there are the Conways. After a family tragedy, 15-year-old Billy Conway has become the de facto glue between his bitter mom (Geena Davis), distant brother, and stoic dad. But when Billy starts to act out, everything changes for him and his family in this visually stunning, bittersweet drama.

"The Eclipse," directed and written by Conor McPherson. (Ireland) - World Premiere. Award-winning screenwriter and Tony-nominated playwright McPherson crafts an exquisite atmospheric drama about a widower (Ciaran Hinds, Munich) who sees and hears strange things in his house. His life converges with a beautiful author of supernatural fiction (Iben Hjejle, High Fidelity) and a full-of-himself pop novelist (Aidan Quinn) at an international literary festival that will alter their lives in surprising ways.

"The Exploding Girl," directed and written by Bradley Rust Gray. (USA) - North American Premiere. A tender performance by Zoe Kazan is the centerpiece of this delicate, beautifully shot character study. Cherubic college student Ivy is back home in Brooklyn for spring break with her longtime platonic guy pal Al in tow. As her relationship with her boyfriend slowly disintegrates via cell phone, Al's friendship is cast in a new light.

"The Fish Child" (El nino pez), directed and written by Lucia Puenzo. (Argentina, Spain, France) - North American Premiere. Likened to a bold Argentine Thelma and Louise, Lucia Puenzo's follow-up to her Cannes winner XXY wraps a passionate love story in the arms of a pulsating thriller. When an upper-class Argentine falls for her family's sultry Paraguayan maid, the two make plans to run away together, but their hope for escape is derailed when shocking secrets become unveiled. In Spanish with English subtitles.

"Handsome Harry," directed by Bette Gordon, written by Nicholas T. Proferes. (USA) - World Premiere. Harry (Jamey Sheridan), a divorced father and former sailor, lives a simple life in his small town. But when his dying best friend sparks Harrys drive to confront his past, buried secrets resurface and force him to deal with painful memories. This unique and eloquent film also features Aidan Quinn, John Savage, and Campbell Scott.

"Here and There" (Tamo i ovde), directed and written by Darko Lungulov. (Serbia) - World Premiere. Miserable middle-aged musician Robert suddenly finds himself homeless and in need of quick cash. He accepts an offer from a young, enterprising Serbian immigrant named Branko: Travel to Belgrade, marry Branko's girlfriend, and bring her back to the US. But while on the trip, Robert meets Branko's mother, discovers that happiness comes when least expected, and begins to question whether money or love would be the true cure to his ills. In English and Serbian with English subtitles.

"North" (Nord), directed by Rune Denstad Langlo, written by Erlend Loe. (Norway) - North American Premiere. A road movie without a road, North is a wry comedy about a former ski champion recovering from a mental breakdown and on a journey to start anew. Having just learned he has a five-year-old son, he hops on his snowmobile with some moonshine, bound for ex-girlfriend's home in Norway's Far North. His oddball encounters along the way make this fresh and original debut both tender and amusing. In Norwegian with English subtitles.

"Queen To Play" (Joueuse) - directed and written by Caroline Bottaro. (France, Germany) - World Premiere. Sandrine Bonnaire plays an inquisitive hotel maid captivated by a vacationing couple (Jennifer Beals, Francis Renaud) playing chess. Thus begins her obsession with mastering the game and transforming her uninspired life. An American expat (Kevin Kline) mentors her in the game that alters both their lives in this delightful feel-good French import. In French with English subtitles.

"Seven Minutes in Heaven" (Sheva Dakot Be'gan Eden), directed and written by Omri Givon. (Israel) - International Premiere. A young woman struggles to reconstruct her memory of the events immediately following the Jerusalem bus bombing that took the life of her boyfriend and left her back badly scarred. Part memory play, part love story, and part metaphysical thriller, this startling debut feature announces Givon as a forceful storyteller and exciting new voice in international cinema. In Hebrew with English subtitles.

"Stay Cool," directed by Michael Polish, written by Mark Polish. (USA) - World Premiere. Henry McCarthey (Mark Polish) returns home to give the commencement speech at his high school. But even after almost 20 years, it's as if he never left - he again wants the girl, gets suspended by the principal, and is grounded by his parents. This charming comedy, featuring Winona Ryder and Hilary Duff, reminds us that time certainly does fly and old flames are hard to put out.

"Vegas: Based on a True Story," directed by Amir Naderi, written by Susan Brennan, Bliss Esposito, Charlie Lake Keaton and Naderi. (USA) - North American Premiere. Returning to the Festival, acclaimed director Amir Naderi applies his inimitable cinematic style to Vegas. The film takes place away from the glittering strip of luxury mega casinos, but the judgment-clouding greed of Sin City is just as pervasive on the desert outskirts of town, where an otherwise happy family is thrown into turmoil after learning of a forgotten fortune that may be buried beneath their scrubby little home.


World Documentary Feature Competition

"The Burning Season," directed by Cathy Henkel. (Australia) - International Premiere. TFF award winner Henkel returns with this powerful portrait of three lives affected by deliberately lit fires raging across Indonesia. Destroying pristine rainforest, endangering wildlife, and contributing to climate change, these fires only benefit the lucrative palm oil industry. Following a carbon-trading entrepreneur, an orangutan rescuer, and a palm oil farmer, this doc inspirationally shows those caught at the intersection of big business and conservation. Hugh Jackman narrates. In English, Indonesian with English subtitles.

"Defamation" (Hashmatsa), directed by Yoav Shamir. (Denmark, Austria, USA, Israel) - North American Premiere. Is anti-Semitism an extant threat on the verge of coalescing into a second Holocaust? Or is it a scare tactic used by right-wing Zionists to discredit their critics? Speaking with the head of the Anti-Defamation League, controversial author Norman Finkelstein, and others, Shamir sets out to discover the realities of anti-Semitism today. His findings are both shocking and wryly funny. In English, Hebrew, Russian with English subtitles.

"Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi," directed by Ian Olds. (USA) - North American Premiere. In 2007, the Taliban kidnapped 24-year-old Ajmal Naqshbandi and an Italian journalist. Naqshbandi was one of Afghanistan's best "fixers"--someone hired by foreign journalists to facilitate, translate, and gain access for their stories. This gripping, tragic story is a behind-the-scenes look into the dangerous and unseen world that happens before we get the news. In English, Dari, Pashto, Italian with English subtitles.

"Garapa," directed by Jose Padilha. (Brazil) - North American Premiere. Director Jose Padilha follows up his Golden Bear-winning Elite Squad with this austere, unflinching examination of the realities of chronic hunger for three Brazilian families. At once intimate and universal, Padilha's hauntingly visual film humanizes the enormity of the global hunger crisis. In Portuguese with English subtitles.

"Only When I Dance," directed by Beadie Finzi. (Brazil, UK) - World Premiere. Two teenage ballet dancers from the working-class favelas of Rio are determined to dance their way to a better life, but to do so they must grow up against harsh prejudice, doubt, and some of the best dancers in the world. This inspiring doc trails their path to beat the odds and follow their dream of making it in the elite world of professional ballet. In Portuguese with English subtitles.

"Outrage," directed by Kirby Dick. (USA) - World Premiere. Academy Award(R) nominated filmmaker Kirby Dick (This Film Is Not Yet Rated) delivers a searing indictment of the hypocrisy of closeted politicians who actively campaign against the LGBT community they covertly belong to. Outrage boldly reveals the hidden lives of some of our nation's most powerful policymakers, details the harm they've inflicted on millions of Americans, and examines the media's complicity in keeping their secrets. A Magnolia Pictures Release.

"Partly Private," directed by Danae Elon. (Canada) - World Premiere. To cut or not to cut? Pregnant with a baby boy, director Danae Elon and her husband face "a big choice about his little penis." From New York to London, Istanbul to Israel, Elon travels the world in a shockingly funny, sometimes cringe-inducing (they show it, fellas) effort to understand the controversial ritual of male circumcision.

"Racing Dreams," directed by Marshall Curry. (USA) - World Premiere. What Little League is to baseball, go-karting is to auto racing. Oscar(R)-nominated director Marshall Curry (Street Fight) follows the exhilarating and emotional journeys of three top racers competing for the national championship. Three adolescents and their families must discover if they have the talent and dedication--and sponsorship dollars--to one day become NASCAR superstars. Part of the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival.

"Shadow Billionaire," directed by Alexis Manya Spraic. (USA) - World Premiere. When DHL founder Larry Hillblom disappeared following a 1995 plane crash off his Micronesian island home, dozens of would-be heirs from the Philippines came out of the woodwork to lay claim to his mega fortune. Within the framework of the fantastic legal battle, Spraic's debut doc slowly uncovers the stranger-than-fiction life of this eccentric billionaire.

"Team Qatar," directed by Liz Mermin. (UK) - World Premiere. Equal parts competition movie and cultural examination, "Team Qatar" follows the first Qatari national debate team and their springy English coach as they train in Doha, London, and New York in preparation for the world championship in DC. Will this vibrant multicultural team handle the pressure and succeed on the world stage? Part of the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival.

"Transcendent Man," directed by Barry Ptolemy. (USA) - World Premiere. Some hail him as a modern-day Nostradamus, others dismiss him as a crackpot. Futurist and famed inventor Ray Kurzweil is the preeminent theorist on the pending fusion of humans and super-intelligent machines as the next phase of evolution, a "singularity" he predicts will occur within 30 years. This fascinating (and at times terrifying) doc explores the personal ideals behind his controversial ideas.

"Yodok Stories," directed by Andrzej Fidyk. (Norway, Poland) - North American Premiere. Exposing subject matter notoriously shrouded in secrecy, this uplifting and sobering doc chronicles a group of North Korean concentration camp escapees and their contributions to a powerful musical based on their experiences. Blending interviews and scenes from the controversial stage show, director Andrzej Fidyk explores the atrocities they faced as prisoners--and the challenges they face while trying to express them through art. In English, Korean with English subtitles.


Discovery

"American Casino," directed by Leslie Cockburn. (USA) - World Premiere, Documentary. Politicians and the media like to talk about the relationship between Wall Street and Main Street, but investigative journalist Leslie Cockburn's debut feature gets to the guts of the matter, visiting defectors from Bear Stearns and Standard & Poor's and other high-level players in the subprime mortgage gamble and, on the flipside, visiting the working-class Americans who were the unwitting chips on the table.

"Burning Down the House: The Story of CBGB," directed by Mandy Stein. (USA) - World Premiere, Documentary. Fueled by vintage performances by the likes of Patti Smith, Talking Heads, Television, Bad Brains, and The Ramones, this doc charts the history and far-reaching influence of iconic downtown club CBGB and its fight for survival against the Bowery homeless shelter that sought to shut it down. Sonic Youth, Debbie Harry, Ice-T, Fab 5 Freddy, and others share their passion for the anything-goes spirit of the club and its founder, Hilly Kristal.

"Con Artist," directed by Michael Sladek. (USA) - World Premiere, Documentary. One of the biggest names in the East Village art scene of the '80s, "business artist" Mark Kostabi gleefully made a fortune signing and selling artworks painted by a revolving stable of hired hands. This punk-fueled docu-comedy looks back at Kostabi's ultimately self-destructive skewering of the celebrity art world, and gets as close as one can to a man who's been called "the black hole of irony."

"Entre nos," directed and written by Gloria La Morte and Paola Mendoza. (USA, Colombia) - World Premiere, Narrative. Adoring mother Mariana (talented codirector Paola Mendoza) has toted her two children from Colombia to New York to indulge her husband's whim. But when he abruptly abandons the family, she'll have to rely on her own imagination and courage--and that of her remarkable kids (breakthroughs Sebastian Villada and Laura Montana)--to survive insurmountable odds during their first summer in the United States. In Spanish with English subtitles.

"Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench," directed and written by Damien Chazelle. (USA) - World Premiere, Narrative. First-time director Damien Chazelle infuses his black-and-white, verite-style relationship drama with all that jazzy romance of an old-Hollywood musical. Backed by a grand, alternately rollicking and melancholy score, Guy and Madeline tracks a pair of young lovers in Boston after they separate, search for new romance, and perhaps find their way back to each other.

"A Matter of Size" (Sipur Gadol), directed by Erez Tadmor and Sharon Maymon, written by Danny Cohen-Solal and Maymon. (Israel) - World Premiere, Narrative. In this touching, lighthearted comedy, an overweight, underemployed chef and three close friends abandon their weight-loss group to pursue an activity for which girth is a virtue: sumo wrestling. While training, they discover the soul of sumo, realizing that--fat or thin--love and success will only come from being true to themselves. In Hebrew with English subtitles. Part of the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival.

"My Last Five Girlfriends," directed and written by Julian Kemp. (UK) - World Premiere, Narrative. Based on the international best seller On Love by Alain de Botton, this delightful romantic comedy explores with delicious wit and whimsy just how modern urban relationships go wrong. Surveying the wreckage of his last five relationships, thirtysomething Duncan (Brendan Patricks) concludes that love is a battleground where only the fittest survive.

"Off and Running," directed by Nicole Opper, written by Avery Klein-Cloud and Opper. (USA) - World Premiere, Documentary. With white Jewish lesbians for parents and two adopted brothers--one mixed-race and one Korean--Brooklyn teen Avery grew up in a unique and loving household. Even so, she can't quell her curiosity about her biological African-American roots and decides to contact her birth mother. This choice propels Avery into her own complicated exploration of race, identity, and family that threatens to distance her from the parents she's always known.

"Original," directed and written by Alexander Brondsted and Antonio Tublen. (Denmark) - World Premiere, Narrative. In this fresh and colorful lovable loser tale, Henry has spent most of his life trying to blend in. When his seemingly normal life turns upside down, his friend convinces him to move to Spain and open a restaurant. But before he can break free of the mundane, he gets sidelined caring for his mentally unstable mother, running into a lost-soul feminist who does performance art in a strip club, and a big bag of steroids. In English, Swedish, Danish with English subtitles.

"P-Star Rising," directed by Gabriel Noble. (USA) - World Premiere, Documentary. In the early '80s, Jesse Diaz was a rising star in the hip-hop world. Now a broke single father in Harlem with two children to support, Jesse finds a shot at redemption in his nine-year-old daughter Priscilla Star, a precocious and immensely talented rapper. Director Gabriel Noble follows four years of father-daughter ups and downs as they navigate the grit and the glamour of the music biz.

"Playground," directed by Libby Spears. (USA) - World Premiere, Documentary. Executive produced by George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Steven Soderbergh, this astonishing doc travels to the dark heart of one of the world's most sinister industries--the child sex trade. Beginning her journey infiltrating brothels in South Korea and Thailand, director Libby Spears soon discovers that the United States is a major player in the human trafficking racket and turns her attention to the homeland. Featuring original artwork by Yoshitomo Nara.

"The Swimsuit Issue" (Allt flyter), directed by Mans Herngren, written by Jane Magnusson, Brian Cordray and Herngren. (Sweden) - International Premiere, Narrative. What begins as a joke turns into a new shot at glory for a group of over-the-hill athletes who decide to form Sweden's only all-male synchronized swimming team. The less they're taken seriously, the more determined they are to win the world championship in this fun, feel-good comedy about friendship and family. In Swedish with English subtitles. Part of the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival.

"TiMER," directed and written by Jac Schaeffer. (USA) - World Premiere, Narrative. Finding true love is easier than ever thanks to a bio-technological implant called the TiMER, which counts down to the exact time people meet their soul mates. Love-starved Oona (Emma Caulfield, TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is pushing 30, but her TiMER hasn't even started counting down yet. What's worse, she's falling for a guy (John Patrick Amedori, Gossip Girl) who is set to meet his true love in four months. Newcomer Jac Schaeffer crafts a smart romantic comedy that leaves behind the burning question... would you want to know?

"Which Way Home," directed by Rebecca Cammisa. (USA) - World Premiere, Documentary. In this unprecedented, revelatory doc, director Rebecca Cammisa (Sister Helen) follows three unaccompanied children on a harrowing odyssey away from their homes in Latin America and through Mexico with one mighty shepherding hope: to reach the United States, where they can either reunite with their own families who made the journey before them, or create new lives for themselves.

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