Despite a conspicuous list of celebrity attendees and the New York premiere of blockbuster titles such as Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, films at the inaugural TriBeCa Film Festival (held in Lower Manhattan from May 8 to 12) managed to take a backseat to community and the city of New York itself.
At a press conference held early on the event’s first day, festival founders Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal reiterated that the mission of the festival in its first year was to use the power of film to rebuild the spirit and economy of the neighborhoods surrounding Ground Zero. The sentiment was echoed in a speech given during the opening ceremonies by former South African president Nelson Mandela: ‘Films represent a powerful way understanding and respect can be communicated and promoted. I know your medium will bring the world closer together by allowing us to share in the cultures and lives of others.’
It was appropriate, therefore, that the documentaries managed to hold their own among the list of Hollywood hits. Audiences were packed for films like Leah Purcell’s Black Chics Talking, which delved into the identity of five Australian Aborigine women, as well as for Alex Halpern’s Nine Good Teeth, a loving portrait of the director’s feisty 102-year-old grandmother. Music from hip hop to jazz provided a focus for four of the 11 competition docs, with Q&A periods extending well over the allotted time. Chiefs, a feature-length doc from director Daniel Jung that looks at the importance of basketball to the lives of players at Wyoming Indian High School, took home the best feature-length doc prize. In the short category, director Natalia Almada won for All Water Has a Perfect Memory.
The mission of this year’s festival left its objectives for the films vague at best. De Niro himself said he was unsure what direction the festival would take. But, the event’s support of first-time filmmakers (all competition films had to be from first-time filmmakers), combined with its Hollywood clout, has many whispering thefestival could one day rival Sundance.