Festival Watch: Tribeca Film Festival 2015 Opens

Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

Film critic John Lopez shares his picks for what to see at New York's premiere film fest this year.

Nary 15 years have passed since the Tribeca Film Festival rose to galvanize the battered neighborhoods of lower Manhattan, but what a precocious adolescent this 12-day event has proven itself to be.

The flick fest kicked off with Live from New York!, Bao Nguyen’s cultural examination of Saturday Night Live’s influence, and, of course, a Vanity Fair party. While Tribeca will never be mistaken for Robert Redford’s Fortress of Celluloid Solitude (i.e. Sundance) or Cannes’ glamour carnival, DeNiro’s supremely confident cinema buffet has plenty to offer beyond leftovers from Sundance. (Though, thankfully for those wise enough not to brave Park City in January, there are a couple offerings Tribeca imported from out West.) The trick, as always, is figuring out what to see.

These days no film festival is complete without an entry from James Franco, and Tribeca gleefully obliges: The Adderall Diaries, Pamela Romanowsky’s adaptation of Stephen Elliot’s memoir, sees Franco go toe-to-toe with the formidable Ed Harris as a damaged father/son pair. The film sounds worth it for that title match alone. But, the film I might be most anxiously anticipating is the latest from Turkish-German director Fatih Akin, whose Head On (from 2004) still resonates as a brutally courageous look at addiction and self-destruction. This year, he brings to Tribeca The Cut, which sounds no less daunting: it tackles the Armenian Genocide from a Turkish point of view, a tragedy which Turkey still refuses to acknowledge officially. On the only slightly lighter side, Paul Weitz’s Grandma comes over from Sundance, where Lily Tomlin’s performance as a counter-culture warrior scrounging up cash for her granddaughter’s abortion drew raves all around. For those in need of deep art house satisfaction, the esteemed Taviani brothers offer Wondrous Boccaccio, a new take on Boccaccio’s The Decameron, that’ll go up against director Pier Paolo Pasolini’s classic from 1971. And lastly, I admit the digital buzz around Paz Fabrega’s Viaje has me hooked, but with promises of stunning black and white cinematography and Costa Rica’s Rincon De la Vieja Volcano National Park, it wasn’t that hard a sell.

Of course, the cardinal rule of any festival worth its salt is not to miss the documentaries: who knows when or where else you’ll get a chance to see them? This year, Tribeca looks to offer up some real jewels. The great Albert Maysles’ final film (as co-director) In Transit follows Amtrak’s longest route, The Empire Builder, from Chicago to Seattle. It sounds simple but with Maysles that usually belies a bottomless depth. If Live From New York! doesn’t sate your Gotham fix, then a look at The New Yorker’s legendary cartooning in Very Semi Serious almost certainly will. In an effort to catch up on the Sundance docs I missed, I’m also keeping tabs on Matthew Heinemen’s Cartel Land and Sundance Special Jury Award winner (T)ERROR. Plus, as an unrepentant fan of both iconoclast director Michael Winterbottom and professional enfant terrible Russell Brand, I’ve left a place on my list for their teamwork takedown of the American financial crisis in The Emperor Has No Clothes as well. Though if I’m feeling wistful (and perhaps hoping to discover the next Jiro Dreams of Sushi, which played here in 2011), I may opt for Erik Shirai’s The Birth of Sake or Palio, Cosima Spender’s examination of the time-honored and ravenously observed traditional Siennese horse race.

But the embarrassment of riches continues far beyond the theater, too. Tribeca truly goes for broke this year with their collection of directors' talks: Christopher Nolan with Bennett Miller; Cary Fukunaga with James Schamus; and Brad Bird with Janeane Garofalo. But the must-see event here is Stephen Colbert nerding out with George Lucas. However you feel about Jar Jar Binks, watching Colbert go full geek is something to behold and should prove an interesting preview for anyone anticipating his ascent to The Late Show (i.e. pretty much everyone). There’s also an obligatory sit down with Harvey Weinstein. But the most interesting listing among the Tribeca Talks, in my opinion, might be “The Sound of the Coens,” a discussion with composer Carter Burwell and Oscar winning mixer Skip Lievsay. The hardest of core movie nerds know that the music and sound mix in any Coen film is a minor miracle, so hearing these two talk shop could be a quasi-mystical experience.

Already I’m overwhelmed and I haven’t even gotten to the Sinatra tribute or the Closing Night screening of Goodfellas, in honor of the film's 25th anniversary. Did we mention Jon Stewart’s interviewing the cast? Yes, Tribeca Film Festival sure is one ambitious 14-year-old. Good luck keeping up with it.

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Above: Sage (Julia Garner) and Elle Reid (Lily Tomlin) in GRANDMA. Photo Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics