Karina and Martha,
I am very shocked at how big Tribeca feels this year, and I mean that from the point of view of someone who barely registered its existence in the first four years. Mission Impossible III and Poseidon seem like ridiculous attractions for a film festival. I thought that Sundance was bad enough with its share of high-stature "indies," but at least it never brings blockbusters into the mix. As for the quality of the non-Hollywood films, I typically have low expectations of any festival's selections. Even last year at Sundance -- sorry, I can't not compare all American fests with "the big one" -- I saw 36 films and thought 30 of them were surprisingly poor, or at least unremarkable. Still, I have yet to see even one thing at Tribeca that I am as crazy about as the few favorites I've seen at other festivals.
Mostly I've been viewing documentaries -- very bleak documentaries about 9/11 or Iraq or Afghanistan or recent natural disasters. I had such a fill of death, destruction, poverty and other miseries in my first week of screenings that I became ill with depression. I couldn't even enjoy my weekend because I thought only of our hopeless world. There were some that I've liked, though, and some that I would still recommend for being excellent films, despite their topics keeping them from being enjoyable. Word.Life, which is also called The Hip Hop Project in some listings, is a triumph of structure and of theme. Like you, Karina, I'm not the biggest rap fan, but the story of these hard-knock kids learning to express themselves, as therapy as much as for success, is the most entertaining and most effective film I've watched so far. Golden Venture, about the nearly 300 Chinese illegal immigrants who literally washed up on shore and were detained for much of the '90s, and Beyond the Call, about an amazing three-man humanitarian organization, are also terrific.
Two of the narrative features that I have seen are not so much noteworthy as they are satisfying, and each offers an impressive ensemble cast. The Big Bad Swim is a simple story about the people in an adult swim class and the everyday drama in their personal lives. It doesn't try to be anything more than it needs to be, and its modest ambitions are a treat for anyone sick of forced contrivances from new filmmakers seeking attention merely for the sake of attention. Farewell Bender also has an honest feeling about it. Its story, which centers on three young guys reunited for the weekend of their high school buddy's funeral, is a bit generic, but the only thing I couldn't enjoy about it is the mid-'90s music. It made me feel ashamed that when my generation gets its American Graffiti or Dazed and Confused -- which Farewell Bender sometimes wishes it was -- that the soundtrack will be filled with late-Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots. Eddie Kaye Thomas of American Pie fame gives a sincere performance and shows that Hollywood wasted its time and money nurturing Jason Biggs. Meanwhile, Josh Cook would evoke Ben Affleck in Dazed if only he didn't display more talent as an actor. If Bender doesn't see enough exposure to make Cook breakout now, it is only a matter of time before another project lifts him to stardom. On the foreign side, for people who like Iranian cinema, Day Break is agreeably more of the same, while for those who don't like most films from Iran, Men at Work is a delightfully funny diversion.
I am still looking forward to the next two weeks of films -- not much specifically, though I'm curious about Richard E. Grant's directorial debut Wah-Wah, which is an autobiographical look at his childhood in South Africa and features Emily Watson, who I'll watch in anything -- and hope that the press office has been holding back on the really good stuff until the actual festival begins. I know we've yet to see the more star-studded pictures, although stars don't necessarily mean good. It is a shame for prospective ticket buyers, though, since they're now left with little excitement from critics, too little advanced notice, and too many choices. It would have been wise for the press office to show the best -- if it is true they're sitting on some strong films -- to critics ahead of time so that we could offer more recommendations to the public. I assume that is the benefit of having so many press screenings ahead of time.