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Tribeca for a Day
by Becky Tan

Sunday, April 27, 2008. What a thrill to be accredited for the Tribeca film festival in New York City. This is my first festival in my own country. Accreditation arrived easily via the internet with many friendly messages from press office manager, Casey Fitzpatrick, as well as a wealth of additional information and invitations.

10:00. I picked up my ID and press packet at the Tribeca Film festival press office, 113 University Place and 13th Street. All schedules, addresses, venues, etc., were in a bright pink A5 booklet. The festival theme was Film Junkies, Prepare for Relapse, a good description of film festivals in general and the Tribeca festival was no exception. At the press office friendly young people answered questions, such as “Where is the festival bag?” “Sorry!” “What! No bag to tote around with TRIBECA emblazed at my hip?” Computers were available for accessing online information.

11:30. I’m off to the Target-Tribeca Filmmaker Lounge, 5th Avenue and 13th Street. What a surprise! Move over Hamburg, Berlin, and Cannes. You’ll never compete with this bright, young café for film makers and journalists. The décor featured transparent and metal chairs, white walls and tables, and lots of red circles of all sizes on walls and counters; some looked like huge soap bubbles and many like rings full of candy red hots or buttons on a box. The filmmaker lounge was housed in Parson’s The New School Kellen Gallery at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center. Obviously, design students were involved in this imaginative decoration, although some of the red circles might have come from the Target discount retailer’s own logo, which sponsored the place. There was free coffee, food, and places to conduct interviews. How I would have loved to have met all of my Hamburg colleagues here to talk, compare notes and make new friends. Here, too, were computers for internet access. Everyone looked young and important and terribly busy, although we all know that many of those “important” phone calls are really just us gabbing with our mothers for show.

15:30. Back to the press office for an interview with Carlos Carcas, the director of Old Man Bebo, as well as producer Fernando Trueba and consultant Nat Chediak. This took place around a table in a curtained-off area in the main lobby of the press office. All the filmmakers were on one side of the table. On the other side were me (who had yet to see the film), an enthusiastic young man with many questions, and a young girl who spoke only Spanish. Why just three journalists for such an important film? Luckily, the young man could carry the ball and we didn’t stick solely to Spanish, so it was not as uncomfortable as it could have been.

Old Man Bebo is a documentary about the life and music of Bebo Valdés, a 90-year-old Cuban musician, composer, and arranger, credited with being one of the inventors of the mambo. Sometimes I think that Wim Wenders’ 1998 film The Buena Vista Social Club kicked off many more films about old Cuban musicians. Perhaps, Wenders was simply part of a trend. At any rate, all such films are valuable contributions to music history; these musicians are dying out and their legacy must live on.

Director Carcas said that the film actually found him. He let the music, which he knew from childhood, dictate the plot of the story. Valdés came from humble beginnings, a modest self-made man who played the piano for five pesos a night. In 1960 he escaped Cuba to Sweden via Mexico, leaving behind his children and their mother. As persona non grata, he was deleted from dictionaries and histories of Cuba’s musician/writers. Normally, exiled Cubans are absent a few months, at most several years, before returning to ask forgiveness. Valdés has lived in Stockholm over 40 years, due partly to love (he married a woman named Rosemary). Since then, he has won Grammy awards and begun to record many old songs, a historical archive in the making. As a result, many other forgotten Cuban musicians are also being recorded for posterity.

“It’s the complete story,” said Carcas, “and all possible because of Bebo.” He is grateful to those who helped him realize the film in Havana. He hopes that this is just the tip of the iceberg, “as we need to know much more before the culture disappears.” He won the Best New Documentary Filmmaker Award of $25,000, sponsored by American Express.

17:00. Over to the Village East Cinema at Second Ave and 12th Street for a showing of Love, Pain & Vice Versa which started right on time, preceded by an ad for the state of New York. In this Mexican film by Alfonso Pineda-Ulloa, two strangers, Chelo and Dr. Marquez, interact in their dreams but are unknown to each other in their real worlds. Soon it is difficult to separate reality and dream. Chelo stalks this dream man. There are a supposed rape, phone calls and flowers from Dr. Marquez, applications for a job, shopping for guns, chain-smoking, bitterness, and craziness, all mixed up and confusing to me. This was in competition for the World Narrative Award.

18:45. Same cinema, different room for The Wackness, a US film by Jonathan Levine. (Name a good English synonym for wackness!) This was welcome comic relief. The time is summer 1994 in NYC and Luke Schapiro (Josh Beck) lets it all hang out before he goes to college. He visits his psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Squires (Ben Kingsley) who has his own problems. Together they bond, explore the city, smoke marijuana, suffer inappropriate relationships and “come of age.” The dog is named Jesus Christ; adults act worse than the kids; and there are snide remarks about party pooper Mayor Giuliani who is shutting down all the fun. The sound track of mid-1990’s songs sets the mood. The audience was full of young people. This premiered in Sundance 2008 and then moved to Tribeca before opening in US cinemas. It has never come to Germany.

The Tribeca festival is well organized and friendly. It is more or less centrally located and easy to attend. Even before even leaving Hamburg, I received much useful information via internet, such as an invitation to the opening press conference which I would have loved to have attended. Present were festival co-founder Jane Rosenthal, New York Governor David Paterson, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Director/Producer Doug Liman (Bourne Ultimatum). Just a glimpse of Africa-American, blind Governor Paterson, the successor to that Pechvogel former governor Eliot Spitzer, would have been a treat. I received invitations to panel discussions featuring people like Sissy Spacek, Amy Tan, Mike Figgis, Christiane Amanpour, Isabella Rossellini, Buzz Aldrin, Emilio and Gloria Estefan, and Lou Reed. There were interviews, a sports day, the Tribeca drive-in movies and a family street fair. There were lists compiled of Brit, war, women-themed, Asian, Latin, art, music, and political films in case a viewer wanted to stick to one subject. There were pre-festival screenings for the local press.

I certainly became more aware of the way that films go round and round. For example films went from the February Berlinale to the April Tribeca, e.g. Caos Calmo, SomersTown, Boy A, and Trope de Elite. Others went from Tribeca to the September Filmfest Hamburg such as A Portrait of Diego, the Revolutionary Gaze; Lost, Indulgence; and Idiots and Angels. Not to mention the additional carousels of Cannes, Sundance, and Toronto. There were 121 feature films and half were from the US with one fourth from European countries. Asia, South America, Australia, the Near East, Africa and Canada made up the final fourth. This is an excellent festival for US films which may never cross the Atlantic to Hamburg. And you understand the language. Everyone speaks English, not unimportant, as I learned in Cannes.

Perhaps, the most difficult part is finding an inexpensive hotel in the area. Also, it would have been easier to have had a laptop (my own was not compatible in the US). Perhaps there is a solution to this (besides using the festival computers or buying all new equipment). But these problems are typical of any festivals.

The name comes from TriBeCa, or Triangle below Canal (Street), a part of lower Manhattan, New York. The festival was founded by Jane Rosenthal, Robert de Niro and Craig Hatkoff after the World Trade Center fell in 2001. They wanted to contribute to a revival of social interaction and communication in that damaged area of Manhattan.

Sadly, I had to leave NYC unexpectedly, but one day in the life of Tribeca has made me eager for more. How about the eighth annual Tribeca festival, April 22-May 3, 2009?