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2021 Tribeca Film Festival Roundup

20th Tribeca Film Festival 
New York, NY 
June 9-20, 2021
After going completely remote in 2020, the Tribeca Film Festival returned to public showings—all outdoors—in various locations throughout New York City, along with online screenings. But the festival remains a base to launch worthy documentaries, as it has for the past couple of decades.
Kubrick by Kubrick

By far the most memorable doc at this year’s fest was Kubrick by Kubrick, Gregory Munro’s too-short exploration of the greatest American director’s philosophies of filmmaking, spoken by Kubrick himself in a series of interviews conducted by the great French critic Michel Ciment over a 30-year span. As we listen to Kubrick’s Bronx-accented voice discuss matters of technique and subject matter in his unpretentious and straightforward way, Munro shows key moments from several of Kubrick’s classics, from Dr. Strangelove and 2001 to A Clockwork Orange and The Shining.
Interspersed are pithy comments by close Kubrick collaborators like set designer Ken Adam, Steadicam operator Garrett Brown, actors Malcolm McDowell and Lee Ermey and actresses Marisa Berenson and Shelley Duvall, as well as his widow Christiane. At only 73 minutes, Kubrick by Kubrick leaves us wanting a lot more—perhaps there’s a Kubrick by Kubrick 2 in our future? 
The Conductor
In The Conductor, Bernadette Wegenstein gains unprecedented access to Marin Alsop, protégée of the legendary Leonard Bernstein and one of the first women to become music director of a major American orchestra (although JoAnn Falletta, music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic since 1999, also deserves to be in this conversation).
Alsop engagingly and candidly describes her long and fraught journey from New York to leading conductor on world stages; her mentoring student conductors is given ample screen time. Wegenstein makes good use of vintage footage of Alsop as a child, a student and a young conductor, showing how her tenacity and talent gained her a foothold in the notoriously sexist and misogynistic classical world.

Winner of the festival’s best documentary award, Jessica Kingdon’s Ascension is an eye-opening look at how modern China grooms—literally and figuratively—its people for success in a way that is both warning and cautionary tale. In a series of pointed vignettes astonishing in their breadth and level of access (how did Kingdon get the OK to film so much of this?), we watch a workshop in which young women learn etiquette in English and how to eat western foods properly, factory workers making sex dolls, young men rehearsing filming how-to videos in front of the camera, and aspiring entrepreneurs discussing how many millions they expect to make soon.
In her brilliantly observational style, Kingdon shows the complexity of the “Chinese dream”—from the working poor to the middle-class to the newly affluent—in a nation that remains stubbornly authoritarian as it transforms into a capitalist juggernaut. 
The Neutral Ground

The Neutral Ground (on PBS July 5; opens in select markets in July), comedian CJ Hunt attacks the loaded question of Confederate monuments, starting with his hometown of New Orleans. The question is: why do so many benighted people defend keeping monuments in the name of “history”?
Hunt explores these and other reactions up to a point: his film is more successful as a guide through the historical wreckage of white supremacy and why it’s been so difficult to take the monuments down over the years. Always interesting if only occasionally illuminating, The Neutral Ground works best as a primer about a subject that, unfortunately, will likely remain with us for the foreseeable future.
Love Spreads

Among the festival’s fiction features, Love Spreads is a messy, self-indulgent drama about messy, self-indulgent artists: an all-female band is at a fabled, remote studio to record the follow-up to its smash debut, but the leader and main songwriter, Kelly, finds herself blocked.
Writer-director Jamie Adams records the frustrations and irritations that mount among the women and their manager, Mick—including the guitarist’s departure and the arrival of a replacement, played with gusto by the always winning Eiza González —but very little of it feels organic or insightful. There’s also a fine portrayal of Kelly’s insecurity by Alia Shawkat in an otherwise familiar music tale that spreads itself thin.
In the Heights

Finally, there’s In the Heights (in theaters and on HBO Max), which opened the festival with screenings in all five city boroughs. Director Jon M. Chu’s exuberantly sentimental adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s breakthrough stage musical—which hit Broadway in 2008—retains much of its street vibe, especially the aura of Miranda’s musical mélange of hip-hop, musical theater and salsa in upper Manhattan. But at 143 minutes, the movie suffers from repetitiveness, including too many meandering storylines and climaxes.
The cast is mainly good: Olga Merediz, the only major Broadway cast member to reprise her role, is a warm Claudia; Anthony Ramos takes on Miranda’s lead role of Usnavi with aplomb; and fresh-faced Leslie Grace is a better Nina than Mandy Gonzalez was onstage. As the vivacious Vanessa, Melissa Barberra is nearly the equal of the electrifying Karen Olivo on Broadway. Miranda himself is in fine fettle as Piragüero, the ice vendor, and Christopher Jackson—also an original cast member—has an amusing cameo as the Mister Softee driver.

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2021

Little Girl


Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2021
Film at Lincoln Center
Virtual screenings March 4-14, 2021
Last year, the annual Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series at Lincoln Center was cut short by the pandemic: the final weekend of screenings was canceled, the first casualty of what’s become 12 months of lockdowns and virtual cinema.
Needless to say, this year’s edition—the 26th—of Rendez-Vous is completely online, with all 18 films available for anyone to watch. That’s the small silver lining: if you were never able to go to New York and catch the series at Film at Lincoln Center, now’s your chance!
SlalomThe opening night film is a first for Rendez-Vous: Sébastien Lifshitz’s astonishing documentary, Little Girl. Lifshitz followed a French family for a year to chart their lives as the youngest daughter Sasha deals with the fallout of her gender dysphoria, which includes stonewalling school administrators—who refuse to accept her “new” gender—and sympathetic doctors. At the heart of the film, though, is a remarkably loving family whose acceptance gives Sasha what she needs at a very difficult time.

Disturbing relationships between children and adults are studied in two films. Charlène Favier’s Slalom deftly explores the one-sided relationship between 15-year-old Lyz, a competitive skier, and her demanding coach, who becomes more controlling—both emotionally and physically—as she continues improving and winning. Noée Abita gives a wrenching portryal of a talented but confused teenager in Favier’s splendid film debut.

Spring BlossomAnother debut, Spring Blossom introduces 20-year-old Suzanne Lindon as director-writer-star of a wispy romance between a precocious 16-year-old and a 30ish actor she befriends at a café by the theater where he’s performing in a play. Lindon shows a lot of promise and has a beguiling onscreen presence—her famous acting parents are Sandrine Kiberlain and Vincent Lindon—but Spring Blossom is somewhat less than the sum of its good-natured parts.

IbrahimIn the grittily absorbing Ibrahim, director Samir Guesmi lays out the complicated relationship of the 17-year-old title character and his father Ahmed, both dealing with the difficulties of adolescence and single parenthood.
LifelinesA L’abordage, Guillaume Brac’s gentle comedy of manners, follows a motley trio of young men who travel to the south of France to surprise one of their girlfriends, which barely summarizes a film of acute behavioral insights.

Lifelines chronicles what occurs after a difficult breakup: Esther finds a mysterious diary and is soon on the road tracking down the woman who wrote it, leaving her best friend, whose cancer has returned. Written and directed with controlled poise by Fabienne Godet, the film smartly if almost imperceptibly shows how Esther’s discoveries are inevitable and surprising simultaneously.

MargauxIn Margaux Hartmann, this year’s festival guest of honor Emmanuelle Béart—one of French cinema’s true sex symbols over the past three decades—heartbreakingly plays an aimless 50-ish woman who, several months after her husband’s death, moves in with her half-sister in Versailles and enrolls in school. If director Ludovic Bergery at times lets the aimlessness seep into his film, Beart is always laser-focused in her all-too-human portrayal.

Final SetRarely has tennis—or any sport—been dramatized in all its sheer psychological, emotional and physical turmoil as in Quentin Reynaud’s illuminating and compelling Final Set, which follows a 37-year-old former teen prodigy trying to remain relevant on the court even as his body, mind and personal life (his wife, a former player, wants him home more for their young son, not playing in tournaments around the world, while his eternally disappointed mother passive-aggressively berates his talent and choices) are wearing him down. Reynaud might rely too heavily on the climactic French Open match, but his fantastic cast—Alex Lutz, Ana Girardot and Kristen Scott-Thomas are all masterly—hits repeated aces.

FaithfulThe Algerian War is the backdrop for Faithful, Hélier Cisterne’s searing fact-based drama about Fernand Iveton, a revolutionary who falls in love with a fiery Frenchwoman, whom he brings back to Algeria with her young son; Iveton’s resistance activities soon land him on trial for his life. Cisterne adroitly mixes the personal and the political in this real-life tragedy, bolstered by the supremely accomplished acting of Vicky Krieps and Vincent Lacoste in the leads.

LoversRomances with a twist are de rigueur in French films. Nicole Garcia’s Lovers, which unspools a love triangle among a young woman, her affluent husband and her former drug-addict lover, is highlighted by Stacy Martin, eminently believable as an effortless magnet for men.
The title of My Donkey, My Lover and I is about as witty as Carole Vignal’s otherwise dopey comedy gets; Laure Calamy manages to keep her dignity as a teacher who follows her lover (and his family) to a hiking trip that includes her dealing with a cantankerous ass (not her lover).
And Emmanuel Mouret’s latest almost-decent rom-com, Love Affair(s), is a second-rate Arthur Schnitzler steal by way of Eric Rohmer about several characters’ mostly fraught romantic adventures, told with intermittent charm but a deadly self-satisfaction.

Red SoilFinally, there’s Red Soil, Farid Bentoumi’s engrossing ecothriller in the vein of Silkwood or the more recent Dark Waters, whose slow unveiling of concrete pieces of evidence against a chemical factory polluting nearby land for decades is put in the capable hands of Zita Hanrot, who gives a palpable sense of impassioned urgency to her role of a whistleblower, at first reluctant because her father is a long-time factory employee. The gifted Hanrot keeps viewers gripped by her naturalness as the heroine, even when the movie takes conventional turns in its approach to a familiar subject.

MoCCA Fest 2019: Indie Comics & Zines in NYC

MoCCA Fest
returns to NYC April 6 to 7th. Held at Metropolitan West (639 W 46th St.), MoCCA Fest is one of New York’s largest events for indie comics, zines, and animation with comics veterans and up-and-comers alike attending. Organized by the Society of Illustrators, this year’s guests of honor include Eisner-winning, Emmy-nominated artist Bill Sienkiewicz (Elektra: Assassin), cartoonist Liana Finck (A Bintel Brief), Edie Fake (Gaylord Phoenix, Little Stranger), and cartoonist Keith Knight (The Knight Life, (th)ink, K Chronicles).

Drawing Across Borders: The Artists of Cartooning for Peace, is an exhibition of art and cartoons from the humanitarian and human rights focused cartooning collective. Displayed artists include Ares, Cristina Sampaio, Jean Plantu, Michel Kichka, Ann Telnaes, Patrick Chappette, Firoozeh Mozaffari, Emad Hajjaj, Damien Glez, Jeff Danziger, and Elena Ospina. The festival also includes industry panels, a RisoLab from SVA for those of you that want to dabble in Risograph printing, as well as after parties, and more.

To learn more, go to:

MoCCA Fest
April 6 - 7, 2019

Metropolitan West
639 W 46th St.
New York, NY 10036

Film Series Review—Open Roads: New Italian Cinema

Open Roads: New Italian Cinema 2018

Series runs through June 6, 2018

The Tavianis' Rainbow: A Private Affair

With the recent death of Ermanno Olmi, Italian cinema lost one of its true masters. As part of the 17th annual Open Roads: New Italian Cinema, another recent casualty, Vittorio Taviani, is represented by his and his brother Paolo’s last collaboration, Rainbow: A Private Affair, an intimate chronicle of love and politics amid Turin anti-fascists in 1944. Bolstered by the appealing Valentina Belle—who plays the woman both protagonists want—it’s not the final masterpiece its directors’ fans hoped for, but has the Tavianis’ characteristic humanity in abundance. (The brothers’ 1982 WWII classic, The Night of the Shooting Stars, is also showing during the series.)


Valentina Cortese—a luminous actress in films by Fellini, Antonioni and Truffaut (for whose Day for Night she got a Best Supporting Actress Oscar)—is remembered in Diva!, Francesco Patierno’s hodgepodge of a valentine that cheekily has several actresses playing her at different times in her career as well as film clips and actual archival footage. Another noted director is feted in Marco Ferreri: Dangerous but Necessary, Anselma Dell’Olio’s sympathetic portrait of Italy’s enfant terrible who paraded crudely vicious satires like The Grand Bouffe, The Last Woman and The Ape Woman (the latter of which is showing during this series) during the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s.


Sergio Castellitto's Fortunata

Sergio Castellitto—a sensitive actor from noteworthy films by Marco Bellocchio, among others—returns with his latest directorial project, Fortunata. Again written by his wife Margaret Mazzantini and centering on Fortunata, a single mother dealing with her rambunctious young daughter, overbearing ex-husband and her kid’s therapist whom she falls for. Castellitto and Mazzantini take their ironically-named heroine’s woes and shove them down our throats, but Jasmine Trinca’s full-throttle performance in the title role makes this rather diffuse melodrama more than a bumpy ride.


In Boys Cry, another brother directing team, Damiano and Favio D’Innocenzo, presents a compelling if familiar look at Rome’s lower-class denizens and organized crime as a couple of friends who begin to relish their new assignment as mob hit men. The Place, Paolo Genovese’s stylish-looking but irredeemably shallow Twilight Zone-ish drama about a stranger who sits in a restaurant day after day and the desperate people who come looking for a way out of their miserable lives, starts out divertingly, then falls prey to a claustrophobic, mind-numbing sameness. 


As a priest who dangerously butts heads with local criminals in his hometown, Mimmo Borelli gives a forceful but restrained performance that centers Vincenzo Marra’s insightful character study Equilibrium. Similarly, in Francesca Comencini’s soggy romantic dramedy Stories of Love That Cannot Belong to This World—in which Lucia Mascino and Thomas Trabacci play mismatched lovers who meet cute, fight cute and break up not-so-cute—Valentina Belle, as in Rainbow, captivates as the new (younger) woman in the man’s life.


Ferzan Ozpetek's Naples in Veils

Finally, Naples in Veils is another of Ferzan Ozpetek’s elegant but empty dramas, as mysterious Naples co-stars in this weird tale of a medical examiner—after an amazing one-night stand with a young stud—discovers that not only might he be the corpse she’s conducting an autopsy on, but that he may have a twin brother, whom she (naturally) begins to fall for. As always, Giovanna Mezzogiorno invests the heroine with as much humanity, honesty and charm as she can, but Ozpetek’s too busy being cutesy and slippery to allow anything original to seep through.


Open Roads: New Italian Cinema 2018

Film Society of Lincoln Center, New York, NY

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