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New York Diary: Tribeca Breakouts, MoMA and Fela!

New York Diary: Tribeca Breakouts, MoMA and Fela!

I love New York in spring (even when the temperature hits the 80s at Sunday’s Yankee/White Sox game).

I arrived in the city Wednesday night; I’m staying at an old friend’s apartment on 114th St. and Riverside, which is a fair haul from Tribeca Film Fest activities in lower Manhattan. Thursday afternoon I conducted a Soho Apple store Q & A with one of my favorite directors, Neil Jordan, whose odd, lyrical Irish fairy tale Ondine, starring Colin Farrell, played Tribeca and hits VOD May 7 before Magnolia puts it in theaters. Jordan is clearly distressed by the state of the indie market; I look forward to his 10-part Showtime series The Borgias.

Thursday night the 12-day fest, which has done well attracting local crowds, was already winding down as the jury members from six separate competitions, from the dazzling Jessica Alba and Abbie Cornish to directors Gary Winick and Gary Ross (most of whom probably had no idea how many mediocre movies they’d have to sit through) announced their winners.

And Saturday night TFF threw another party to announce the winner of the audience award, oddly, the doc Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage. The fest officially closed Saturday with the omnibus doc Freakonomics, which got good reviews. Here’s the Apple Store panel; Magnolia will release.

Saturday night I caught up with the Sundance hit doc The Tillman Story, which is less an expose of government misbehavior–around a cover-up of how football star-turned-soldier Pat Tillman died in Afghanistan– than a portrait of an inspirational family, from Tillman’s widow Marie to his siblings and parents. It’s surprisingly moving. “We all want to create these heroes,” said the film’s narrator Josh Brolin, gesturing upward. “But we don’t want to stay down here. We’re all human, but we shouldn’t let it slide.” The Weinstein Co. opens the Amir Bar-Lev film August 21.

Sunday the Fest screened all the award winners, along with SXSW hit doc Saturday Night, complete with director/star James Franco, who was joined by the Saturday Night Live gang, Will Forte, Kenan Thompson and Jenny Slate, who talked with Entertainment Weekly’s Dave Karger. (I went to the ball game at the spanking new Yankee Stadium.)

Robert De Niro showed up for Thursday’s award ceremony along with partner Jane Rosenthal to present the Finder’s Award to narrative feature award winner When We Leave, which has earned raves. Exuberant director Feo Aladag rewarded him with a big hug. The best narrative filmmaker prize went to Dog Pound‘s Kim Chapiron, who accepted via skype video, saying, “for the first time I have no words.” The movie started four years ago in New York, he said. Wild Bunch funded.

Eric Elmosnino won best actor for another fest breakout, Gainsbourg Je t’Aime… Moi Non Plus. Best actress winner Sibel Kekilli (When We Leave) hugged all the jurors. “Fuck!” she said. Then she said it again.

Another movie that clearly struck an emotional nerve was the best doc feature winner, Monica & David; the young Down Syndrome couple were on hand, delighted with their win. The film will show on HBO in October.

At the awards night, Tribeca’s Geoff Gilmore said that he had long dreamed of a Virtual Film Festival, called it “history-making.” (Maybe so, but it will cost you $45.)

On Friday night, MoMA screened a film backed by Creative Capital, a nonprofit group that supports “adventurous projects.” Braden King’s film Here [The Story Sleeps] was a side-project comprised of footage from a feature still in the editing room, Here, and a documentary on the film, projected on a central screen and two side walls, and accompanied by narration from the film’s star, Ben Foster, and a terrific live jazz score by Michael Krassner and the Boxhead Ensemble. The film was shot in Armenia; Foster agreed to star as a surveyor and cartographer because he liked King’s documentaries and the way he approached “space, quality and texture,” he said. Creative Capitol came on five years ago off King’s grant application.

The likes of producer Ted Hope, critic Amy Taubin, Richard Lorber, IFC Center’s John Vanco, Kodak’s Anne Hubbell, Filmmaker’s Scott Macaulay and the creme de la New York film community hung out afterwards nibbling on lamb skewers at the Bombay Palace on 52nd St.

At the Museum the next day, I was blown away by the charcoal drawings and stunning stop-motion films of South African artist William Kentridge. Meanwhile everyone is still buzzing over the performance artist Marina Abramović, who was sitting stonily in a white robe on a chair opposite an unmoving audience volunteer as throngs looked on. Several of her works are being recreated live at the museum every day. I was bummed to miss the Tim Burton exhibit–which drew the third-highest attendance in MoMA’s history–so I bought the book instead. (Burton was beat out by Picasso and Matisse.) The exhibit moves to Sydney over the summer and then in November, Toronto’s Bell Lighthouse, though not when I’ll be there, alas.

I also hit Broadway via Fela!, a well-mounted bio-musical of the late Nigerian Afro-beat performer which expertly combines theatrical entertainment (again, via multiple walls, media and scrims) with music and political history. It was sexy, fun and moving. You don’t get that every day. (UPDATE: Fela! tied with La Cage Aux Folles in Tony nominations for best musical. Fela! could win!) Still to come: Billy Elliott, The 39 Steps and Fences with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.

[Photo De Niro, Aladag, and Rosenthal by Brian Brooks; Tillman Story producer John Battsek and narrator Josh Brolin by Jeffrey Wells]

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