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Tribeca 2012 Wrap, Must-Sees and Avoids: ‘War Witch,’ ‘Una Noche,’ ‘Francophrenia’ Come Out on Top; ‘Lola’ on Bottom

Tribeca 2012 Wrap, Must-Sees and Avoids: 'War Witch,' 'Una Noche,' 'Francophrenia' Come Out on Top; 'Lola' on Bottom

Tribeca 2012 is over. Here’s my list of what was memorable out of this year’s programme –and not.


Among all categories, it usually paid off to see documentaries, obscure foreign films, and films that had been tested at other festivals

“War Witch” dir. Kim Nguyen, Canada 2012 (Narrative Jury Winner, Best Film and Actress)

Nguyen’s violent journey through war-ravaged Congo, adapted from a story that took place in war-ravaged Burma, takes a girl through kidnap, combat and rape— in shifting sequence, sometimes overlapping, always violent.  Rachel Mwanza gives a performance that Hollywood can’t afford to ignore. As a portrait of a traumatized teen, this reaches much farther than “Precious.” (at Berlinale 2012)

“Una Noche” dir. Lucy Milloy, UK/Cuba/USA 2012 (Best Actor, Cinematography, New Narrative Director)

Dead-end kids in the ruins of Havana – most of the city – scramble for crumbs as “civilized” tourists chase prostitutes. Is their flight in shark-filled waters part of Tribeca’s salute to Universal, which made Jaws? The view of Havana is so realistic, it’s a surprise that the Cuban government allowed the film to be shot there. (at Berlinale 2012)

“Unit 7 (Grupo 7)” – dir. Alberto Rodriguez, Spain , 2012 (Special Narrative Jury Mention)

Police fight drug gangs in historic Seville, as the city prepares to host the 1992 World Exhibition, in honor of Christopher Columbus’s voyage in 1492.  It’s hard for street-fighting cops to preserve their integrity, but they do preserve the historic architecture of this wondrous city.  No 17th century palaces were damaged in the making of this movie?

“Francophrenia” dirs. Ian Olds / James Franco,  USA, 2012

James Franco at a shoot for General Hospital triggered this “experiment,” which proves that lights, a star and editing and a shake-well-and-serve approach can turn a rejected episode appearance into a “cutting edge” formal probe of the boundaries of cinema. There must be a PhD thesis on the way. Does Franco have time to write that, too?

“The List” dir. Beth Murphy, USA, 2012

Kirk Johnson worked on infrastructure projects during the Iraq War, and learned that US tax dollars didn’t create the infrastructure to protect Iraqis who worked for the US there. Many of them die in retribution as Johnson struggles to help those left behind. No good deed goes unpunished, once again.

“The Flat” dir. Arnon Goldfinger, Israel, 2011

Arnon Goldfinger helps his mother empty his German-born grandparents’ apartment in Tel Aviv, and he finds that the couple who fled Germany were friends with a Nazi propagandist who worked for the SS, and that this friendship endured even after the Holocaust. Try to find stranger bedfellows. Goldfinger’s family archaeology takes him into a fascinating maze of memories, and to the denial of troubling historical facts by some people whom he meets.

“Yossi” dir. Eytan Fox, Israel, 2012

Israel had one of the strongest delegations at Tribeca this year. “Yossi” is the sequel to “Yossi & Jagger,” Fox’s 2002 drama about gay love at an Israeli army outpost. His latest follows the surviving soldier of that couple, a cardiologist, into hospital rooms and on a long journey with today’s soldiers. Poignant and clever, it’s a wry comedy, and a reflection on casualties in a country that exalts its military and lives with war.

“Room 514” dir. Sharon Bar-Ziv, Israel 2012 (Special Jury Mention)

A young ballsy investigator probes into mistreatment of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers, and finds the tables turned on her.  Sharon Bar-Ziv shot his drama in one room on a tiny budget. It is a gripping work of theater, and deft editng of close-ups in a confined space make it a subtle work of cinema.

“The Revisionaries” dir. Scot Thurman, USA 2012 (Special World Doc Jury Mention)

Don’t send your children to school in Texas, but if it’s already to late, beware of the science textbooks, unless you think that dinosaurs walked with men at the same time 6000 years ago. Scott Thurman takes us to meetings of the Texas Board of Education as they agree on language used in textbooks which will be published to met the clients’ requirements, and used to teach millions of students in Texas and elsewhere. And you thought the problem was that Dan Quayle couldn’t spell potato.

“Any Day Now” Travis Fine, USA 2012 (Audience Award Best Feature)

A drag queen and a handsome prosecutor find love in 1970’s LA, but they can’t convince any court in California to allow then to take care of a teenager with Down Syndrome who’s abandoned when his junkie mother is taken off to prison. Allan Cumming as a queen with an invincible conscience keeps this from being a tear-fest. The hair and suits from those days in this prequel to the equal rights debates of later decades are also good for laughs.

“Booker’s Place” dir. Raymond DeFelitta, US 2012

This doc builds on DeFelitta’s father’s network doc from 1965 in which a proud black waiter in Mississippi speaks frankly about how he smiles in the face of racism. This is as tame as you can imagine in the days of Chris Rock and Eddie Murphy, but it led to a campaign of vindictive violence which may have gotten Booker Wright killed (or saved his killer from execution) in 1973.  Parts of this film are heartbreaking- what’s encouraging is that Wright passed his bravery and honest on to later generations.

“Consuming Spirits” dir. Chris Sullivan, USA 2012

This epic gothic tale is handmade, every frame of it, and the music sounds as if it was improvised in a room with Sullivan leading the voices. Every taboo is under attack here in a probe of local crime and culture that Faulkner would have enjoyed. Sullivan is a master of the grotesque, with the driest of wit. Consuming Spirits is an original – and one of the best at Tribeca 2012.


“Lola Versus” dir. Daryl Wein, USA 2012

Greta Gerwig can’t save this jilted bride romantic comedy from being a trite silly bore. Actors in an impromptu improv with no script could have done a better job making fun of Sundance-style musical beds. Will it disappear like most trash? “Lola Versus” is getting a theatrical release, one of the few films at Tribeca to achieve that.

“Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie” dir. Daniel A. Miller USA, 2012

The title makes you think of a film that might have been made by Andre Techine. The doc looks like it was made by Andre the Giant. A missed opportunity for scrutinizing Downey and the audience that made him popular.  Still, Downey is a great poster child for the campaign against smoking.

“First Winter” dir. Benjamin Dickinson,” USA 2012

This feature debut takes a group of young yoga freaks and puts them in a country house with no heat — and no script. As the food runs out, things turn bad, but not much happens. Even if this film makes no money, and it won’t, DP Adam Newport-Berra will take his extraordinary indoor and outdoor work here to the bank.

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