Karen Martin’s Tribeca notebook

April 22, 2015

By Karen Martin for blood, dirt & angels

Ten movies in two days. That’s not unusual for me when I’m at the Tribeca Film Festival — I watch films, take quick walks around the neighborhood in between, eat a lot of bagels, gulp coffee, and talk, talk, talk with others about what’s on the screens.

FullSizeRenderWhat is unusual is that nearly all the films I’ve seen so far at this year’s festival (April 16-26), held annually since 2002 in lower Manhattan, are absolutely worth seeing.

With the opening of a stylish new home base at Spring Studios on Varick Street where filmmakers, press, industry reps, and festival organizers can get together, TFF takes another step toward film-festival world domination. A creative and professional staff, many of them there since the beginning (which contributes to the festival’s unique personality and consistency), diverse programming, and a gigantic horde of friendly, helpful and competent volunteers (who put up with much and remain good-natured) make this festival one of the most desirable destinations for all sorts of film fans. It helps that it’s held in New York.

Many of the films at TFF are in search of distributors, and even those with a studio connection may not show up at the local cineplex anytime soon. But if they do, and you think to yourself, “Hey, I think I’ve heard something about this film,” remember you heard it here first:

The Wannabe. Set in 1992, this flashy modern noir concerns a small-time criminal (Vincent Piazza) who is obsessed with mobster John Gotti and has fantasies of following a similar career path. He finds an enthusiastic supporter and soulmate in older but no wiser Rose (Patricia Arquette). Their pursuit of money and power leads them down a road better not taken.

A Faster Horse. Everybody has a Mustang story – you’ve owned one, you knew somebody who owned one, you had teenage adventures in one, etc. Here’s another Mustang story, a documentary that tells a techy yet compelling tale of Ford Motor Company as it launches a 2015 redesign – the sixth in 50 years – of its legendary Mustang while the country sinks into the murk of the 2009 depression. Sounds like they’d have plenty of time to get the job done, right? Think again.
A parallel story traces the chaotic history of Ford along with doing a compelling job of explaining why Mustangs are among the country’s most recognizable and defining icons.

Palio. A thrilling Italian documentary that would be totally at home at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival (where horse racing is conducted with some degree of civility), Paleo chronicles an absolutely insane horse race held twice each summer since medieval days in the ancient Tuscan city of Siena, where bareback riders bolt around the Piazza del Campo, crashing into walls, whipping each other, falling off while their mount continues to run (and sometimes win) and apparently following no observable set of rules, to the jeers and cheers of thousands, who spend vast sums betting on their favorites and even more in bribes against others in this wild game of legitimate corruption.

Tom Swift and the Electric Rifle. Tasers were originally created in 1999 to serve as a safer alternative to the use of guns in law enforcement. That worked out fine for a while. Then the Taser-related deaths started to pile up. This thought-provoking documentary follows the development of this weapon that’s supposed to stun, not kill, and ponders the behavior and biases of those that are licensed to use them.

Very Semi-Serious Trailer from Very Semi-Serious on Vimeo.

Very Semi-Serious. The New Yorker magazine runs some of the best and brightest single-panel cartoons in the world. This witty, enlightening documentary spends time with Bob Mankoff, the magazine’s cartoon editor since 1997, and visits with some of the artists who have been submitting their work to him on Tuesdays, occasionally seeing their efforts show up on the printed page.

CODE: Debugging The Gender Gap from Amy Pagnotta on Vimeo.

Code: Debugging the Gender Gap. Why aren’t more women working as coders? This meticulously researched and assembled documentary explores the opinion of many that it’s because of gender bias, which begins in childhood by subtly convincing girls that they’re no good at math. It doesn’t help that most high schools don’t teach computer science and that the U.S. straggles far behind other countries in this increasingly necessary skill. Not a mood-lifter, but thoughtful and relevant.

Sleeping with Other People. Don’t be discouraged by the dopey opening scenes of this refreshing comedy; what seems like cliche will soon be turned inside out and upside down. And it happens again and again throughout, so don’t get complacent and think you know what’s going to happen next. Here we have (Jake Jason Sudeikis) and Lainey (Alison Brie), who lost their virginity to each other years ago and haven’t managed to have a successful relationship since. Their dedication to hanging on to each other as non-sexual friends is explored in a way that is, well, unexpected.

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