Preview of the 8th Annual Tribeca Film Festival


If it’s spring, it must be time for the 8th Annual Tribeca Film Festival to invade New York City later this week. 2009 will be’s seventh time covering the fest, which has cut its number of feature films dramatically this year, while still maintaining the amount of diversity and variety for which the festival has become renowned.

The festival always kicks off with a big movie, usually something supplied by the studios, but this time they’re going with something somewhat more independent although something very high profile. That’s because for the first time ever, Tribeca will premiere one of Woody Allen’s latest films, his return to New York City for the first time in roughly four years with Whatever Works (Sony Pictures Classics – June 19), a comedy starring Larry David from HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Evan Rachel Wood and Patricia Clarkson. It’s classic Woody Allen with David playing Boris, a misanthropic intellectual who takes in a naïve significantly younger Southern girl (Wood). Things go downhill from there.

The festival will close with another return of sorts as Nia Vardalos, the Oscar-nominated writer of the indie blockbuster My Big Fat Greek Wedding, actually goes to Greece proper in the romantic comedy My Life in Ruins (Fox Searchlight Pictures – June 5), her first movie in five years.

Other than the opening and closing movies, Tribeca will give New Yorkers a chance to see some of the movies that got attention at Sundance both from audiences and distributors. One of those is Duncan Jones’ retro-sci-fi Moon (Sony Pictures Classics – June 12), starring Sam Rockwell as the sole worker at a lunar mining site who has mere days left to his shift when something unexpected happens that forces him to reassess his situation.

Steven Soderbergh’s second HDNet offering The Girlfriend Experience (Magnolia Pictures – May 22) received a sneak preview at Sundance a few months back, but it will get its real World Premiere at Tribeca on April 28. It has 21-year-old porn star Sasha Grey making her non-porn debut as a high-priced New York escort trying to make it in the business while holding onto an already tentative relationship with her boyfriend.

Y Tu Mama Tambien screenwriter Carlos Cuaron’s directorial debut Rudo Y Cursi (Sony Pictures Classics – May 8), reunites that movie’s Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna as two brothers competing for fame and fortune in the world of soccer. A huge box office hit in Mexico, it makes one last festival appearance before opening next month. (Look for’s interview with Carlos Cuarón very soon.)

Scott Sanders’ ’70s blaxploitation spoof Black Dynamite (Sony Pictures), starring Michael Jai White (Spawn), will make its New York premiere after winning over hundreds of fans (and being picked up by Sony) after playing the Park City at Midnight track at Sundance. It follows the journey of former CIA man Black Dynamite (White) to get revenge on “The Man.”

Armando Ianucci’s In the Loop (IFC Films – July 24) is a hilarious political ensemble comedy, loosely based on his series “The Thick of It,” showing how high-ranking British and American political types inadvertently start a war while trying their best to prevent it. Starting Tom Hollander, Peter Capaldi, James Gandolfini, Anna Chulmsky and more, it’s one of the funnier British exports in some time. (Look for our interview with Iannucci from Sundance later this week.)

Stephan Elliot (Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) adapts Noel Coward’s Easy Virtue (Sony Pictures Classics – May 22), a wry British comedy starring Jessica Biel, as an American socialite who marries into a dysfunctional British family, made up of Kristin Scott Thomas, Colin Firth and Ben Barnes from “Prince Caspian.”

The above films all have distributors and release dates but there are just as many high profile films playing at Tribeca without either, although their world premieres at Tribeca should be big events.

Cheryl Hines makes her feature film directorial debut with Serious Moonlight from a screenplay by the late Adrienne Shelly, who directed and co-starred with Hines in Waitress. It stars Meg Ryan as a high-powered lawyer who learns her husband (Timothy Hutton) is about to leave her for a younger woman (Kristen Bell) so she duct tapes him to a chair until he agrees to work on their marriage.

The Polish Brothers’ second movie of the year Stay Cool stars Mark Polish as a man who returns home to give the commencement speech at his high school 20 years after graduating and immediately gets caught up in a love triangle before his former crush (Winona Ryder) and a sexy senior (Hilary Duff). Similarly, Thomas Haden Church is the title character in Jake Goldberger’s Don McKay who returns home after receiving a letter from his high school girlfriend (Elizabeth Shue) saying that she’s dying.

Michael Cuesta’s Tell Tale is a take on Edgar Allan Poe’s classic horror tale with Josh Lucas playing a single father who recently received a heart transplant, which seems to be the cause of headaches and haunting visions. Geena Davis makes a big return in Andrew Lancaster’s debut Accidents Happen as the mother of a boy who is witness to terrible accidents, including the one that threatens to break up their family. Connor McPherson’s The Eclipse is about a widower caring for two his two kids, played by Ciaran Hinds, who finds a new chance at love when he volunteers to assist a supernatural writer at a festival. Raymond De Felitta, director of Paul Reiser’s The Thing About My Folks, premieres his latest star-studded dysfunctional family film City Island at the festival. It stars Andy Garcia, Juliana Margoulies, Emily Mortimer and Alan Arkin.

Tribeca’s Midnight track has premiered some cool horror and genre movies but none are cooler than Ti West’s The House of the Devil, starring Jocelin Donahue as a college co-ed who takes a job as a babysitter for a creepy couple out in the middle of nowhere, only to learn that they don’t even have a kid. As a counterpoint, comic actor Dan Fogler’s directorial debut Hysterical Psycho features his theater troupe Stage 13 lampooning the horror sub-genre where a group of people gets stuck in a cabin in the middle of nowhere. Spanish filmmaker Daniel Benmayor’s Paintball is an action-thriller about a group of strangers who gather for a friendly game that turns out not to be what they expect. Anders Banke’s Newsmakers is a Russian remake of Johnnie To’s Breaking News, which follows a police face-off with a group of gangsters as told via the media. It features a lot of great shoot-outs that would make Michael Mann proud, as well as a surprising amount of humor.

The latter two are a fine example of the quality of foreign films that have premiered at the festival with last year’s award-winner, the Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In being a mark of the quality foreign films the festival has shown.

Yojiro Takita’s Departures (Regent Releasing – May 29) surprised many by winning the Foreign Language Oscar a few months back, but it will make its New York debut in the festival’s Spotlight section to show that it was more than worthy. It’s about a concert cellist who returns home to his village where he takes a job as a gets a job preparing bodies for cremation.

Also this year, the Serbian film Here and There from Darko Lugulov is getting some early buzz as it follows an American man’s journey to Serbia to bring back the girlfriend of a young immigrant, instead falling for the man’s mother. Danish filmmaker Kristian Levring (The King is Alive) premieres his psychological thriller Fear Me Not (IFC Films) about a family man off from work who becomes involved in the testing of an experimental drug with violent results. The Norwegian film North follows a 30-year-old former skier living a pitiful life of alcohol and pills as he operates a ski lift until he discovers he has a five-year-old son. Two competitive sports films at the festival from opposite sides of the globe are both being compared to The Full Monty: The Swedish film The Swimsuit Issue is about eight middle-aged men who decide to form a synchronized swimming team despite being ridiculed by everyone in their town, while A Matter of Size is an Israeli film about a group of overweight men who decide to take up sumo wrestling. We’ve also seen the Iran drama About Elly from Asghar Farhadi, sort of a Middle Eastern L’Aventurra about an enigmatic schoolteacher who joins an extended family on holiday only to disappear mysteriously at a time of crisis.

Then we get to the documentaries. Tribeca has always become as a hotbed to showcase some of the finest documentary and investigative filmmaking, something that’s just increased from year to year. Last year, the festival showed the Oscar-winning Man on Wire, as well as Christopher Bell’s Bigger, Stronger, Faster; one year earlier, the festival premiered Alex Gibney’s own Oscar winner Taxi to the Dark Side.

The doc that’s probably stirring up the most interest and controversy even before the festival starts is Outrage (Magnolia Pictures – May 8), the new one from Kirby Dick (This Film Is Not Yet Rated), in which the investigative filmmaker goes after secretly gay politicians who speak out and act against the Lesbian and Gay community in order to hide their secret.

There a couple of docs clearly with New Yorkers in mind, like Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio’s Cropsey, which takes a look at a number of missing child cases that took place on Staten Island in the ’80s that were pinned on a drifter named Andre Rand, but could hold the key to a local urban myth that’s surrounded the area. Mandy Stein’s Burning Down the House: The Story of CBGB is a fairly self-explanatory doc about the influential music club which spawned many careers and a multitude of musical genres.

Marshall Curry’s Racing Dreams follows a group of kids from 11 to 13 years old, who are taking part in national go-kart championship, while P-Star Rising from Gabriel Noble follows the journey of Priscilla Diaz, a talented 9-year-old rapper who has to face all sorts of ups and downs along with her father Jesse in their attempt to suceed in the music business. Similarly, the Brazilian doc Only When I Dance follows two young people from the favelas of Rio, who follow their dreams in the difficult world of ballet. Anyone who has seen Cary Fukunaga’s Sin Nombre may be interested in catching Rebecca Camissa’s Which Way Home, which takes its own look at the journey of Latin American migrants riding the train system through Mexico.

Nanking directors Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman’s new doc Soundtrack for a Revolution tells the story of the American civil rights movement through folk music performed by modern artists like Wyclef Jean, TV on the Radio, John Legend and The Roots. Jeffrey Levy-Hinte’s Soul Power (Sony Pictures Classics – July 10) documents the Zaire 74 music festival that coincided with the legendary boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, a festival that brought the likes of James Brown and B.B. King together with African soul musicians. Avid baseball fans The Farrelly Brothers produced Jonathan Hock’s The Lost Son of Havana, which follows pitching great Luis Tiant as he returns home to Cuba for the first time in 40 years after being exiled to the United States. Lastly, Australian actor Eric Bana will make his directorial debut with Love the Beast, a film about this first car, a 1974 Ford Falcon that he nicknamed “The Beast.”

Hopefully, this gives you some idea of the amount of choices one can make when attending this perennial festival even with just 85 feature films. Granted, a lot of the premieres and night screenings mentioned above have already sold out, but some will certainly be worth getting to early enough to stand in the rush line and trying to get in.

The 8th Annual Tribeca Film Festival kicks off on Wednesday, April 22 and runs through May 3. Keep checking back on for more updates from the festival, as well as our wrap-up in early May.