Tribeca Film Festival 2011

By Friedman, Roberta | Millennium Film Journal, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Tribeca Film Festival 2011


Friedman, Roberta, Millennium Film Journal


TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2011

Jon Gartenberg has been the programmer for experimental works at the Tribeca Film Festival since 2003 and has maintained an unwavering commitment to the presentation of non-narrative, artist-driven films. Jon, a dedicated film specialist and professional archivist and distributor, exudes a breadth of knowledge and love of the medium, and his enthusiasm is infectious. In a recent conversation, Jon and I discussed his tenure with Tribeca and the philosophy behind his selections.

In the past few years, experimental work seemed to be getting scarcer at the festival, and I wondered if there was a decline in support. On the contrary, he said. The interest is still there, but the overall number of programs in the festival was cut in half, and this affected the experimental film programs proportionately. In fact, the key people at Tribeca give him tremendous latitude and freedom. His only disagreement with them came with his wanting to program films that are under the conventional feature length minimum of 85 minutes in their own individual time-slots. "The filmmaker makes what the filmmaker makes," emphasized Jon, "without trying to force fit into a conventional time slot," and in his view such films should be treated with the same care and attention as the longer features. Obviously persuasive, he has been programming films like Bill Morrisons 52-minute The Miners' Hymns (2011), screened at this year's festival, on their own, rather than including them in a group program.

This year Gartenberg presented four programs: in addition to The Miners' Hymns, he included Marie Losier's 75-minute The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye (2011); a program of recent experiment shorts under the title Impressions of Memory; and a selection of women's films preserved by the New York Women's Preservation Fund over the past 15 years.

The two longer films fall on opposite ends of the experimental spectrum, and both involved a significant amount of creative time and research, an earmark of many of the films selected this year. Before starting production on The Miners' Hymns, Morrison spent a year researching rhe history of the coal mining region and collier communities of County Durham in North England, visiting regional film archives and interviewing union organizers. The film opens with a 4.5-minute sequence of aerial shots, in gorgeous HD color, of innocuously suburban and rustic England: sports arenas, empty fields, and shopping centers, all identified in onscreen text as the location of former coalmine sites. This section is the only part of the film for which Morrison actually produced the images: the remainder is all archival footage. Following this sequence, we are confronted with a beautifully crisp, black and white ode to the British Miners' Union, the workers and their families and their close-knit communities. We see a celebration of coalminers' lives and culture, and the yearly Durham Miners' Gala, an event that often included thousands of Unionists and their families and took place from the early 19th century until the mid-1980s. Slow motion footage of past galas with smiling and cheering people carrying banners, brass bands playing (each colliery had its own banner and brass band), and political rallies, intercut with the daily activities of the coal miners as they descend into the mines. Morrison manipulates the footage, slowing down each movement to match the tempo of the plaintive music. This technique allows us to examine each face in detail and reinforces our awareness of the repetitive labors of the men who work in the mines. The scenes inside the mine are striking - pristine and sharp - as men lift their lanterns and gradually move downwards, from bright light into darkness. Coal pours from one large container into another. Little seems to change as the decades pass by on the screen. We also see footage of the mining strikes, which tore the area apart as scabs were brought in past the angry picket lines. …

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