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Seated at the Table
by Karen Pecota

The Tribeca film festival is one of my favorites even though it’s young. The festival continues to live up to its reputation that the press is treated well; and, my observation notes that the organizers are actually organized, helpful to all and accommodating to all press—no matter how big or small of an outlet.

The festival round-table series is a highlight for me because of the wealth of information to be discussed with each filmmaker representing his or her film. The atmosphere is intimate notably because the space is limited to a very small number of people. The group dynamics is never dull and through candid conversation one quickly gets to the deeper aspects of a project. Access to this scene is providential. I garner inside tidbits from each film and its people without having to put on the annoying press-scoop hat—always a bonus for the journalist.

Below is an example of questions asked, comments or observations to spark conversation with those seated at a round-table and typically not one session repeats itself:
About Elly – present were director, Asghar Farhadi and screenwriter/actor, Peyman Moaadi. To the actor who is also a screenwriter the first question was to him, how did you get involved? The director pipes-up to comment, “When I wrote the script I had him in mind and wanted him to do the part. It was a great collaboration because by using his talents it paved the way to develop the script to a deeper level with his expertise.”

The round-table discussion circled around the Iranian culture in reference to the film and the impact of the role of women:
…Much conversation about the realities of the growing strength of women in Muslim culture. The director says that he targets the middle class family of Iran in this film because the women can be very powerful. In his own experience with the people of the north, he sees that those people live within a democracy and everyone has a voice, male and female. Even though the law is not pro women, the women of Iran are making an impact into culture which allows them to become stronger and more powerful as agents of change.
…The director acknowledges that in the film he purposefully calls his characters by name to create a equal level of playing field with the roles themselves. This fact is often not the case in real life dealing with male and female roles.
…He also adds that wanted to show the complexities of a human being by not pin pointing the villain, noting that throughout the film that was always a mystery.
…He was also very committed to reveal the impact of a crisis, within the Persian culture family dynamics. He says that every member gets involved in a family crisis because that is a big deal. He wanted to visualize the impact!
…One journalist asks both men, in your opinion, what is the film’s message? Well, it is a modern tragedy between good and good, involving complex characters as a mystery that is never solved. I want people to view this as just a story (like a novel) on the Caspian Sea. I want the audience to enjoy it and think about the impact later and the message has no political agenda; but, one could see a form of politics in the narrative in the scene where the family takes a vote. He adds, “Anymore political correlations would be far fetched.”

Queen to Play – present were director Caroline Bottaro and actress Sandrine Bonnaire (Hélène). There were many re-writes to the script and collaborations with the actors in this novel based film from Bettina Heinrichs.  Questioning began as follows:
…Why not film in Greece like the setting of the book? “France was easier to gain entrance with all the red tape one goes through filming a different country.”
…What message/analogies do you want your audience to walk away with after viewing this film? What is your target audience? Why? “All ages because of the general message that if one sets out to pursue a passion that would change their life for the good, then they should be encouraged to chase the dream, in spite of difficulties that would discourage their passion.”
…How did you get Kevin Kline to attach to the film? “I was looking for an American Actor who spoke French. Kevin Kline, as others, was approached when we found out he spoke the language. We were excited but had no idea if he would agree to attaché himself to the project. To our delight, within twenty-four hours after reading the script he wanted he agreed.”
…Does your film say something political? (Laughing) “No, I hope not!”
…How was it working with Bonnaire as an actress, knowing she is also a director? (The same was asked to Bonnaire about Bottaro.) They both shared that if brought an immediate respect for the other’s role with the film and helped to compartmentalize their job. They learned many things from each other which will help them in their future projects but it was easier to be transparent and discuss aspects that needed change. 

Team Qatar  –  present were documentary director, Liz Mermin and the Team’s Scottish Coach, Alex. This was a very intimate setting with two journalists including myself, the director, team coach and their publicist. Since I would see the film directly after the round-table session, I was advised from the publicist to not enter into dialogue with the filmmaker, lest I unconsciously offend. I was obedient but I was very uncomfortable with the deal and in the end it was most comical. The other journalist did a fabulous job at making sure there was never a dull moment with the interview but he kept trying to include me into the conversation. It was so funny watching him and he was so incredibly kind. I wanted desperately to respond to help him out with a few questions but I gave my word to the publicist, who was breathing down my neck, that my lips should remain sealed. In response to my fellow colleague’s kindness, I continually had to make light of the fact that I was enjoying his style of questioning and would rather listen and observe to concentrate on my note taking. My comment was odd for a journalist but maneuvered quite well around the precarious situation. Thankfully, I learned a lot from my colleague. His technique was delightful to watch and his countenance was up-beat as he pressed for deep answers to questions that delivered a dynamic interview.