Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Gawky Kid Has Finally Matured ; as Tribeca Film Festival Has Grown, It No Longer Needs Splashy Fireworks

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Gawky Kid Has Finally Matured ; as Tribeca Film Festival Has Grown, It No Longer Needs Splashy Fireworks

Article excerpt

The Tribeca Film Festival's selections, including an opening featuring a rock 'n' roll documentary, are signs that the event has nothing left to prove.

In any life there are moments of acute awareness when you realize the degree to which you've grown up. The Tribeca Film Festival, which begins its 12th season on Wednesday and runs through April 28, is experiencing such a flash.

The opening-night film, Tom Berninger's "Mistaken for Strangers," is not the usual blaze of Hollywood glamour but a documentary that follows a Brooklyn indie rock band, the National, on tour.

The choice of a rock 'n' roll documentary to begin the festival is a sign that the event has resolved its identity crisis. Like a gawky, loudmouth kid who has matured into a poised adolescent, it has nothing left to prove.

The festival, which I've covered since its inception in 2002, peaked in size in 2006. Since then it has shrunk, become more artistically discriminating and has snugly woven itself into the city's cultural fabric. It's aware that it doesn't have to be the biggest and the best, it only has to be good.

The closing-night movie this year isn't a fireworks explosion like "Marvel's the Avengers" last year but a restoration of Martin Scorsese's dour, still underappreciated "King of Comedy" from 1983.

Along with feature films that include 53 world premieres from 37 countries -- France leads the list of foreign contributors -- Tribeca is introducing an innovative section, Storyscapes, involving five interactive projects. Geoffrey Gilmore, who programs Tribeca with Frederic Boyer and Genna Terranova, is especially enthusiastic about these adventures in what he calls "nonlinear storytelling." "Robots in Residence," in which robots collaborate with the audience to shoot and direct a documentary, is a typically iconoclastic experiment.

Movies, of course, are still Tribeca's meat and potatoes. Because this festival is squeezed uncomfortably between winter events like Sundance and New Directors/New Films and the Cannes International Film Festival in the spring, it has had to fight for prime content. But the quality of the work has steadily risen.

I well remember the festival's early days, when mention of it made some film publicists wrinkle their noses in disgust. The time is long past when Tribeca could be described as a catch basin for the runoff of other festivals.

An unusual number of the best films this year are coming-of-age stories about boys and young men that create a less-than-cheery composite picture of teenagers around the world.

Matt Wolf's documentary "Teenage," a fascinating agglomeration of archival clips of youth since the early 20th century, purports to describe how teenage culture came into existence, but it takes too many tangents to tell a coherent story.

More to the point is Sam Fleischner's "Stand Clear of the Closing Doors," a probable front-runner in the competition for best world narrative feature. Filmed in New York last autumn and based on a true story, the movie follows an autistic 13-year-old undocumented Mexican boy from Queens who escapes into the subway system after his mother scolds him for missing classes.

The movie surveys the phantasmagoric underground melting pot through the eyes of the mostly silent boy (played by the newcomer Jesus Sanchez-Velez), who is barely able to scrape together four quarters to buy a bag of potato chips. As his mother embarks on a desperate search, the boy is not so much scared as dazed.

"Stand Clear of the Closing Doors" is as intense and indelible an immersion in the real New York as I have seen in a long time. It may be crude, but it is exhilaratingly alive.

From Norway comes Hishan Zaman's "Before Snowfall," which also stars a young nonprofessional actor (Taher Abdullah Taher) as a Kurdish Iraqi teenager obliged to carry out an honor killing after his older sister flees an arranged marriage. If the blank performance of Mr. …

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