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NY NY | Tropfest in Tribeca, “Fatboy” Uptown and Yom Kippur

NY NY | Tropfest in Tribeca, "Fatboy" Uptown and Yom Kippur

This week in New York, the Film Society of Lincoln Center gave its younger cineastes a chance to loosen up with “Run, Fatboy, Run“, while Two Boots Pioneer Theater provided a place for Jewish New Yorkers to atone for their sins. And the Tribeca Film Festival threw its first “Tropfest@Tribeca“, an offshoot of the popular Australian short film festival.

Thursday night, Lincoln Center treated a mostly 20-something audience to an advanced screening of David Schwimmer’s upcoming release “Run, Fatboy, Run” and a Q&A with Schwimmer, stars Simon Pegg and Thandie Newton, and screenwriter Michael Ian Black. The showing was part of its bi-monthly “Young Friends of Film” program, designed for film enthusiasts between 20 and 40 to access Film Society’s programming (the series generally has past entries from either the New York Film Festival or the New Directors/New Films Festival), along with Q&As from cast members, directors, and/or critics associated with the work.

David Schwimmer, Thandie Newton, and Simon pegg at the Q&A for “Run, Fatboy, Run”. Photo by Charlie Olsky

Thursday’s screening, then, was decidedly against type. “Fatboy” is the story of an out-of-shape security guard who trains for a marathon in order to win back his gorgeous ex-fiance (Newton) from her unctuously perfect current beau (Hank Azaria). It’s not the usual fare of the Film Society – likeable, slight and occasionally quite funny, but far from the brilliant genre satire of Pegg’s more notable work in “Shaun of the Dead” or “Hot Fuzz“. The modest aims of the film were summed up by Black, who explained his inspiration as “I thought to myself – ‘Fat Guy runs a marathon – that’s a good idea for a movie!'”.

The screenplay started out life based in New York, but was transplanted to London after London-based company Material Entertainment optioned the script, with Schwimmer attached for his feature directing debut; Pegg did some quick brush up work- as he put it, “‘He runs past the Empire State Building’ changed to ‘He runs past the Millennium Wheel'”, Schwimmer was now directing a British film, complete with the lovely Thandie Newton (the audience learned, after a tense moment, that it is pronounced “Tandie”, not “Th-andie”), who must have been surprised to find herself in a movie with the word ‘fat’ in the title.

The film is at its best when exploring the competition between Azaria and Pegg – summed up terrifically in a locker room scene in which Azaria — the most unattractively buff guy this side of infomercial mainstay John Basedow — threateningly displays his manhood to an awe-struck Pegg, whose facial reaction is all the more priceless for being authentic.

“Hank had the option of wearing a modesty thing,” explained Schwimmer, “but he left it off.” Pegg has his own reason for his stance — “It didn’t escape my attention at any point that I was looking at Moe the Bartender’s cock.”

The film opens in theaters on October 26.

Yom Kippur began on Friday night at sundown, and those Jews not inclined to atone in solitude had the option of attending the inaugural “Forgive Me Filmathon” at the Pioneer Two-Boots Theater, a double feature consisting of Amos Gitai‘s “Kippur” and Woody Allen‘s “Crimes and Misdemeanors“. The latter of these is Allen’s darkest film, the story of a wealthy New York doctor who decides to have his mistress killed when her emotions become inconvenient for him. It’s one of the director’s most loved films, and an intense exploration of the concept of guilt, complete with an assuring yet possibly misguided rabbi who attempts to explain it through a Jewish perspective — all in all, an immediately appropriate choice for Yom Kippur.

Less well known in this country and, despite the name, Gitai’s “Kippur” recreates the director’s own experiences in the 1973 Yom Kippur war, in which Egypt and Syria attacked the Golan Heights and Sinai Peninsula, made some swift and bloody progress into the country, and were eventually defeated by Israeli forces within 3 weeks. As the bloodiest conflict in a decade of brief, decisive victories for Israel, the war has entered Israel’s modern-day mythology — a mythology which Gitai deliberately refrains from enhancing. He instead shows the war so intimately that it is hard to place within a nation or ideology; the camera follows impassively as its subject, soldiers working in a medical rescue unit, sift through debris searching for life while being fired upon by a faceless enemy. It manages to ratchet nervous tension while keeping the emotions of the war at a distance, except for one or two moments that are all the more devastating because of their rarity.

“Gitai was by training an architect,” said Two Boots programmer Ray Privett (who has written a monograph on Gitai, and has interviewed the director previously for indieWIRE) before the screening. “He is obsessed with indeterminate, architectural forms in his movies — there are a lot of ruins, a lot of construction sites, a lot of border posts…. in Jewish cultural history, indeterminate forms hold a lot of sway, the state of Israel never seems to have defined borders.”

The festival continued on Saturday at the Jewish Community Project (which sponsored the festival, together with the 14th Street Y) with an eclectic schedule of Judaic atonement including several Israeli films, Disney’s “The Emperor’s New Groove” and an episode of “Entourage“.

On Sunday night, the Australian short film festival sensation Tropfest had its inaugural run as a stand-alone event in the states with “Tropfest@Tribeca” — previously, it had been allotted one night during the Tribeca Film Festival. The original Tropfest — named for the Tropicana Cafe outside Sydney, where it started — was launched in 1993 as a shorts film festival for several hundred spectators; it has grown in the past 15 years to over 150,000 attendees, making it the largest shorts film festival in the world. In the website’s video promotion, actor Ewan McGregor looks dazed by the crowds, saying “when they asked me to do this, I thought it was a small short film festival in a cafe up in King’s Cross, I didn’t expect this.” The American version, while far more scaled back, still had 8,500 attendees — far greater than most short film festivals could expect, particularly one with this festival’s rules for films which are:
1. The films must be shorter than 7 minutes.
2. The films must never have been screened publicly before Tropfest, and
3. The films must all incorporate in some way the Tropfest Signature Item, which this year was “Slice”.
This results in films that are almost invariably short, slight, and made specifically for the festival- with a heavy preponderance of films involving pizza.

The weather was perfect for an outdoor screening, and everything ran smoothly with the slight exception of comedian Joe DeRosa‘s wretched five-minute opening act. Tropfest founder John Paulson gushed in the opening, “to say that I’m proud of what this festival has become in the 15 years since it started is an understatement,” before introducing the jurors, who included director Mary Harron (“I Shot Andy Warhol“), actor/director Griffin Dunne (“Fierce People“), and actor Josh Lucas. Paulson closed with a reminder to those voting for the audience award to vote for the strength of the idea, saying “production values and famous faces are ignored in place of vision and originality.”

This is sort of the central paradox of Tropfest and Tribeca as a whole — the idea that even the most modest production can be made into a grand spectacle with a little glamour and a whole hell of a lot of sponsorship. The winner of the spoils of that sponsorship was Australian Belinda King‘s hilarious little gem “The Picnic“, about a woman dead-set on turning her friends against a potential new addition to their circle.

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