Tribeca Film Fest unveils docs in competition for 2012

The 2012 Tribeca Film Festival has unveiled the line-up of its World Documentary Competition titles and its out-of-competition Viewpoints section, with new films set to premiere from filmmakers including Scott Hamilton Kennedy (The Garden), David Redmon and Ashley Sabin (Girl Model), and Jerry Rothwell (Donor Unknown).
March 6, 2012

The 2012 Tribeca Film Festival (TFF) has unveiled the line-up of its World Documentary Competition titles and its out-of-competition Viewpoints section, with new films set to premiere from filmmakers including Scott Hamilton Kennedy (The Garden), David Redmon and Ashley Sabin (Girl Model), and Jerry Rothwell (Donor Unknown).

The 11th edition of the annual festival will take place from April 18-29 at locations in and around New York City, and was this year curated by a new programming team, with Frédéric Boyer having joined TFF as artistic director.

In competition, 12 narrative and 12 documentary features making their North American, international, or world premieres will compete for combined cash prizes amounting to US$180,000.

“It’s been so gratifying to watch the new programming team come together and hear their dialogue around film,” said Nancy Schafer, TFF executive director. “Their passion is inspiring and is reflected in the strength and breadth of the program.”

For the first time, the competition sections will have designated opening night films in both the documentary and narrative categories, with The World Before Her opening the World Documentary competition.

Boyer said: “The quality of American independent cinema is well represented this year, but international diversity has its share too, with films from countries as varied as Cuba and Kenya. All different films, but all consistent in their shared ambition of representing their own world.”

The full list of Documentary Competition and non-fiction Viewpoints titles are below, with synopses provided by the TFF.

World Documentary Feature Competition

(Films in this section compete for Best Documentary Feature, Best New Documentary Director, and Best Editing prizes)

Ballroom Dancer, directed and written by Christian Bonke and Andreas Koefoed. (Denmark) – North American Premiere.

In 2000, Slavik Kryklyvyy became the World Latin American Dance Champion. Enduring success seemed assured, but instead Slavik’s career sputtered… until redemption seemed possible with his new partner and lover, Anna. But will Slavik’s unwavering ambition prove toxic to their romance? Subtly depicting the pair’s shifting relationship through gestures, glances, and the dance itself, Ballroom Dancer begins as a comeback story and evolves into a movingly intimate tragic romance. In Russian, English with subtitles.


Downeast, directed by David Redmon and Ashley Sabin. (USA) – World Premiere.

Gouldsboro, Maine. Hit hard by the closure of the sardine canning factory, its laid-off residents—mostly 70-year-olds—just want to get back to work. So why is Italian immigrant Antonio Bussone having so much trouble getting federal funds to open a new lobster processing plant? Charged with the spirit of a generation that still gives it 110 percent, this poignant and poetic documentary sheds new light on the trying task of putting America back to work.

Fame High, directed and written by Scott Hamilton Kennedy. (USA) – World Premiere.

Scott Hamilton Kennedy’s follow-up to his Oscar-nominated The Garden captures all the drama, competition, heartbreak, and triumph among a group of struggling students at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. From the nail-biting freshman auditions to the spectacular senior graduation performance, this endearing coming-of-age documentary is a tribute to discovering your passion and deciding whether you have the talent to take it to the next level.

The Flat (Ha-dira), directed and written by Arnon Goldfinger. (Israel, Germany) – North American Premiere.

At age 98, director Arnon Goldfinger’s grandmother passed away, leaving him the task of clearing out the Tel Aviv flat that she and her husband shared since immigrating to Palestine from Nazi Germany in the 1930s. In this emotionally riveting documentary, Goldfinger follows the hints they left behind in a lifetime’s collection of documents to investigate long-buried family secrets and uncover the mystery of his grandparents’ painful past. In Hebrew, German, English with subtitles.

High Tech, Low Life, directed by Stephen Maing. (USA, China) – World Premiere.

With the Chinese government employing 40,000 “Internet police,” more than half a million websites are blocked in the country. Local TV stations only publicize “the good news.” The rising tide of censorship has aroused a wave of citizen reporters committed to investigating local news stories and crime scenes. This timely and probing documentary tracks rogue bloggers Zola and Tiger Temple as they risk political persecution to become China’s uncensored eyes and ears. In Mandarin with subtitles.

The List, directed by Beth Murphy. (USA) – World Premiere.

After leading rebuilding teams in war-torn cities in Iraq, Kirk Johnson returned to America to establish and advocate for a growing number of Iraqi citizens now targeted by radical militias because they aided the U.S. in the reconstruction effort. TFF alum Beth Murphy (Beyond Belief) creates an affecting portrait of an unlikely but passionate humanitarian who has championed the cause of Iraqi refugees largely ignored by the U.S. government. In English, Arabic with subtitles.

Off Label, directed by Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher. (USA) – World Premiere.

The term “off-label” refers to the use of pharmaceuticals in any way counter to their prescribed dosage and function. Weaving together the powerful, personal stories of misdiagnosed patients, professional guinea pigs, recreational drug users, and soldiers struggling with PTSD, Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher (October Country) expose the breadth of off-label drug use and take us on an emotional road trip through an overmedicated, misdiagnosed, and drug-addled America.

Planet of Snail, directed by Seung-Jun Yi. (South Korea) – North American Premiere

Deaf and blind, Young-Chan lives in a quiet, isolated world in his small apartment. But when Soon-Ho, an empathetic woman compromised by a spinal disability, comes into his life, a unique love story begins. Poetic and gently paced, Planet of Snail brings to life the sensual world shared by this special couple, and illustrates that the greatest beauty can be found in the smallest and most unlikely love stories. In Korean with subtitles.

The Revisionaries, directed by Scott Thurman, written by Jawad Metni and Scott Thurman. (USA) – World Premiere.

Once in a decade, the 15 members of the Texas State Board of Education meet in Austin to revise the textbook standards for five million schoolchildren. Led by Don McLeroy, a Young-Earth Creationist and Evangelical Christian, the panel implements standards that will ultimately go into effect in science and history textbooks for schoolchildren across the nation. The Revisionaries is a galvanizing peek behind the curtain at the politicization of education.

The Virgin, the Copts and Me (La Vierges, les Coptes et Moi), directed by Namir Abdel Messeeh, written by Namir Abdel Messeeh, Nathalie Najem, and Anne Paschetta. (France, Qatar) – North American Premiere.

In his feature debut, French-Egyptian filmmaker Namir Abdel Messeeh sets out to investigate the phenomenon of supposedly miraculous Virgin Mary apparitions in Egypt’s Coptic Christian community. But when the secular director faces opposition from skittish producers and his Coptic family, Namir turns the camera on his wonderfully smart-alecky mother and reimagines his film as a touching, uniquely hilarious portrait of family and heritage. In Arabic, French with subtitles.


Wavumba, directed by Jeroen van Velzen, written by Jeroen van Velzen and Sara Kee. (Netherlands) – North American Premiere.

Mysticism and color reign in this stunning documentary steeped in the fishermen lore of Kenya. Revisiting a childhood fairy tale of a spirit-filled island with the magic to either bless or curse a fisherman’s journey, Dutch filmmaker Jeroen van Velzen explores his memories via Masoud, a real-life legend of shark fishing. His glory days long gone, Masoud relives his youth through grandiose stories told with swaggering pride and heartbreaking nostalgia. In English, Swahili with subtitles.

The World Before Her, directed by Nisha Pahuja. (Canada) – World Premiere.

Weaving together the seemingly opposing stories of the Miss India beauty pageant and a fundamentalist Hindu camp for girls, director Nisha Pahuja illuminates the situation of women across contemporary India, drawing surprising parallels in the way women are perceived and the opportunities that are afforded them in both modernizing and traditional cultures. The World Before Her is a riveting, thoughtful profile of the fundamental contradictions of a country in transition. In English, Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati with subtitles.



Benji, directed by Coodie and Chike. (USA) – World Premiere, Documentary.

In 1984, 17-year-old Ben Wilson was a symbol of everything promising about Chicago: a sweet-natured youngster from the city’s fabled South Side, and America’s top high school basketball prospect. His senseless murder on the day before his senior season devastated the city of Chicago and sent ripples of anguish nationwide. A stirring portrait of a phenom admired both on the court and off, Benji tells the story of a legend who might’ve been.

Burn, directed by Tom Putnam and Brenna Sanchez. (USA) – World Premiere, Documentary.

Detroit is burning. Meet the men and women charged with saving the once-roaring American city that many have written off as dead. With vast stretches of forsaken buildings left as kindling, they face one of the worst arson rates in the world. From executive producer Denis Leary, Burn drives us straight into the heart-pounding fire and introduces us to the characters and controversies that make up the most overworked and under-equipped firehouse in the country.

El Gusto, directed and written by Safinez Bousbia. (Algeria, Ireland, UAE) – North American Premiere, Documentary.

A rhythmic cocktail of European and Arabic traditions, chaabi music was the heart and soul of cosmopolitan Algiers in the 1940s, but the war of independence with France tore apart the peaceful Muslim and Jewish communities that came together to play this unique music. A group of over-the-hill but still fiery musicians reunites after five decades apart in this spirited, gorgeously shot documentary about music’s power to transcend cultural boundaries. In French, Arabic with subtitles.

Journey to Planet X, directed by Josh Koury and Myles Kane. (USA) – World Premiere, Documentary.

By day Eric Swain and Troy Bernier are a couple of mild-mannered, middle-aged desk jockeys from Florida, but their wildest dreams come to life after hours when they get together to make fantastical sci-fi movies with the help of a green screen, amateur actors, and retro-futuristic computer graphics. As they embark on their most ambitious production yet, this hip and heartwarming documentary shows how boundless imagination can hilariously stretch the limits of DIY moviemaking.

On The Mat, directed and written by Fredric Golding. (USA) – World Premiere, Documentary.

Achieving greatness in high school wrestling requires a level of devotion unmatched perhaps by any other sport. That greatness has become a yearly expectation at Lake Stevens High, winner of seven Washington state championships in the past 10 years. Narrated by Lake Stevens wrestling alum Chris Pratt (Moneyball), this riveting documentary follows the team over the course of a season as they fight through injuries and academic issues to maintain their school’s legacy.

Sexy Baby, directed by Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus. (USA) – World Premiere, Documentary.

In the age of runaway social media and “sexting,” raunchy rap songs on pop radio and hardcore pornography at the click of a mouse – what’s it like to be a woman? A girl? A teenage boy? A parent? Following a middle-aged former porn star, a young woman undergoing a controversial surgery, and a 12-year-old girl who’s growing up faster than her parents can handle, Sexy Baby is a startling look at America’s increasingly sex-saturated culture.

Town of Runners, directed by Jerry Rothwell. (UK) – World Premiere, Documentary.


Over the past two decades the small, rural Ethiopian town of Bekoji has been the unlikely home to numerous Olympic champion long-distance runners, whose athletic success has paved the way for a generation of young Ethiopians searching for a better future. With a keen artistic eye, TFF award winner Jerry Rothwell (Donor Unknown) follows two teenage track hopefuls who face the challenge of growing up and striving for greatness in a developing nation. In Amharic, Oromo with subtitles.

Turn off the Lights, directed by Ivana Mladenovic, written by Ivana Mladenovic and Bianca Oana. (Romania) – World Premiere, Documentary.

After years behind bars, three young men begin to rediscover lives of aggression and excess in their raucous Roma community. Among them is Alex, a captivating figure with a disturbingly blasé attitude toward violence, women, and guilt. In this absorbing documentary, offering a rare peek into contemporary Roma culture, Alex and his fellow ex-cons reconcile the outside world with the gray-shaded areas of morality with which they all struggle. In Romanian with subtitles.

The remaining feature film line-up will be unveiled on March 8.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.