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Festival on Demand

Chicken With Plums

The Tribeca Film Festival has become a respected venue for DVD and on demand premieres

Now that there seem to be as many film festivals in the US as there are feature films made each year, it’s hard for a new one to gain a foothold in the cultural zeitgeist. It helps if you set it in a location where people already either reside in large numbers or are willing to travel to. That’s why the Tribeca Film Festival, founded in 2002 by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, and Craig Hatkoff, had a stronger shot than most of reaching that top tier with Cannes, Toronto, Berlin, and Sundance.

Ten years later it may not yet have reached that goal, but it has become a more vital event than the increasingly meaningless New York Film Festival. The just-ended 11th edition may have been bookended with a pair of showy Hollywood premieres (The Five Year Engagement and The Avengers), but otherwise the focus was on films lacking star and name auteurs. But the quality of the 20-plus films I saw there was generally high, and if the festival isn’t yet an effective marketplace for theatrical distributors looking to acquire new product, it has made Tribeca a respected name for on-demand and DVD premieres.

Among the best of what I saw during my visit (ironically, all at theaters in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood instead of the one for which the festival was named):


This live-action adaptation of a graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, co-directed by her Persepolis collaborator Vincent Paronnaud, has a lot of the whimsical nostalgia of Hugo and The Artist without being similar to either of those films. In Tehran of the 1950s, a famous violinist lives with a broken heart. When he visited by the Angel of Death and told that his time is near, he works his way back through his life until we understand what made him the unlikeable character we have met. Both stylish and melancholy, it begins as a cartoonish comedy but ends up someplace else entirely. Sony Classics is distributing it, so it may show up on local screens this summer.

Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie


The program that Tom Shales once called “A talk show with a hockey audience” was only on the air for two years in the late 1980s, but its impact is only too well felt today in the spewings of Hannity, Beck, and endless rabid radio hosts who will stir up any pot in order to get ratings. Whether Downey, who grew up as a neighbor of the Kennedys, actually believed any of the hatred he spouted on his syndicated show remains unanswered, but this documentary shows that his real feelings weren’t as important as what he was able to unleash in his audiences. Funny and scary, as well as a must-see for 1980s nostalgists.


This low-budget meta-horror movie manages to be everything that the inflated Cabin in the Woods wants to be. A meth addict who has been living in an abandoned house in the forest chained to his bed by his best friend in an impromptu intervention/cold turkey attempt. The horrors of withdrawal prove to be easier to navigate than a plot that keeps intruding itself on the two men. If that description doesn’t seem to make much sense, it’s because the movie is too smart to describe pithily.

Side By Side


If you’ve ever wanted to see Lars von Trier interviewed by Keanu Reeves, here’s your chance. Reeves also talks to David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Christopher Nolan, George Lucas, Michael Ballhaus, David Fincher, Walter Murch, and dozens of other eminent directors and cinematographers for director Christopher Kenneally’s fascinating documentary about the transition from film to digital that is guaranteed to challenge your opinion on the subject, even if you didn’t think you had one. If you have any interest in movies at all, you can’t help but be engrossed in this perpetually shifting conversation.


First-time director Scott Thurman’s documentary about the successful efforts of Creationists to control the Texas Board of Education’s textbooks standards, and consequentially much of the rest of the country’s (the Texas market is so big that if they reject a book, it may be dropped by its publisher.) Be very afraid.


Two grandly entertaining movies that would be pleasing audiences at every drive-in in the US this summer if only Americans weren’t allergic to subtitles. From Norway, Jackpot begins with sad sack Oscar being pulled by police from under one of a score of dead bodies in a strip club, and shows us how a day that began with him winning a huge lottery brought him to the middle of a shootout. Featuring the best severed head gag since John Carpenter’s The Thing, along with a general level of black humor that would do Quentin Tarantino proud. Sleepless Night takes place in a crowded Parisian dance club where a cache of heroin has been hidden. Of the half-dozen cops and bad guys searching for it, no one knows the complete story and true motivations of the others, which makes for an unusually absorbing thriller. Either film is ripe for a Hollywood remake, but I’d love to see the originals distributed as well.


This apocalyptic story about a cult of New Age-y types stranded at a secluded farmhouse during a winter when the rest of the country (or world?) has begun to disintegrate isn’t wholly satisfying, but its strengths of performance and ambiance compensate for its other failures.


The estate of Ed McBain may have lawyers considering a copyright infringement suit against this Filipino story about a chauffeur whose daughter is taken by kidnappers who had targeted the child of the rich man he works for: that’s the plot of his King’s Ransom, filmed by Akira Kurosawa as High and Low. But director Ron Morales takes the story in different directions as a social expose in a society where children are just a commodity to be bought and sold.

Nancy, Please


Procrastinators of the world (myself included) will smile grimly at this psychodrama about Paul, a Yale graduate student who is about the hunker down and write his PhD dissertation, as soon as he gets his copy of Little Dorrit back from his ex-roommate. Seems he wrote lots of valuable notes there that he needs, but the ex is an unreasonable bitch who can’t be bothered to look for it. Paul’s growing obsession leads him into a fatalistic tailspin that can’t help make you shudder if you’ve ever turned on the TV while a deadline was staring you in the face.

Many of these films are now available on different cable On Demand services. Check with your cable provider for details.

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