NEW YORK – Some 100 feature films, 67 of them world premieres, will make up the 14th annual Tribeca Film Festival, which kicks off Wednesday.
The films, though, will only be part of the story at the festival, which takes after the eclectic frenzy of its city, New York. Perhaps to help compensate for a film slate that sometimes underwhelms, Tribeca thrives on its urban festiveness, surrounding its screens with musical performance, celebrity conversations, outdoor "drive-in" events, interactive exhibits and red carpets.
This year, in particular, the off-screen attractions crowd the springtime festival-going. Here are some of the highlights to this year's Tribeca, running through Sunday April 26.
BEHIND THE LAUGHS
Tribeca opens Wednesday with the premiere of Bao Nguyen's documentary about "Saturday Night Live" through the years: "Live From New York!" It's a fitting start to a theme that runs throughout the festival where a host of films peer behind comedy institutions and delve into the nature of the comedian. "Very Semi-Serious," by Leah Wolchok, profiles the cartoons and cartoonists of the New Yorker. "Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon," a film that first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, examines the fabled humor magazine. And in Kevin Pollack's "Misery Loves Company," the comic interviews stand-up colleagues on the mysterious compulsions of the comedian. The film is dedicated to Robin Williams.
Knights who say 'Ni' and wiseguys who amuse us (but definitely not like clowns). The casts of "GoodFellas" and "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" will gather for back-to-back anniversary celebrations at the festival (the 25th for Scorsese's gangster film, the 40th for the cult British comedy). A night after the five living Pythons congregate for "Holy Grail" (further Python screenings are planned as well as a new documentary on the troupe), a restored "GoodFellas" will close out Tribeca on April 25. Not all the attendees are known, but this is Robert De Niro's festival, after all. A bit of Python advice should serve both reunions well: "This is supposed to be a happy occasion. Let's not bicker and argue over who killed who."
Documentaries are often the strongest selections of Tribeca, and this year appears no different. There are intriguing films on the controversial New York nuclear facility ("Indian Point"), police use of tasers ("Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle") and the history of sake ("The Birth of Sake"). Among the highlights is "Palio," a documentary that plunges into Italian culture — with all its passion, tradition and corruption — in depicting the centuries-old bareback horse race held twice annually in the heart of Siena. Also noteworthy is "In Transit," a view of modern America from the rails made by a handful of filmmakers led by the late Albert Maysles, who died in March. It documents the Empire Builder, a train that chugs between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest, and the people on it.
Festivals bring together all sorts from all realms, but the pairing of George Lucas and Stephen Colbert feels like a tete-a-tete of intergalactic proportions. When the two convene on April 17, expect something of a Beard-Off. While the "Star Wars" creator has long sported a professorial white beard, the usually fresh-faced Colbert has grown his "Colbeard" out while he prepares for his new start on "The Late Show." Other pairings include fellow directors Christopher Nolan and Bennett Miller, Brad Bird and Janeane Garofalo, as well as talks with Amy Schumer, Courtney Love and Harvey Weinstein.
Men dot spare landscapes in a trio of indies at the festival, including Stephen Fingleton's "The Survivalist," a about a man living fearfully alone after an apocalypse, and "Mojave," a desert thriller by "The Departed" scribe William Monahan about two men (Oscar Isaac, Garrett Hedlund) who meet on the outskirts of Los Angeles. But the best of the bunch may be "Men Go to Battle," a richly naturalistic, low-budget film about two Kentucky brothers in 1861. History may be moving around them (this is the first year of the Civil War), but this is no ordinary historical drama. Zachary Treitz's quiet, candle-lit directorial debut about a pair of ignorant, awkward and illiterate brothers strips the period film bare.
About a quarter of the films at Tribeca were helmed by female filmmakers, more than ever before. It's been a focus for the festival, which honors women directors with the Nora Ephron Prize. One standout is "Song of Lahore," directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (an Oscar winner for her 2012 short "Saving Face") and Andy Schocken. It's about a group of Pakistani musicians trying to keep alive traditional Pakistani music from its densely populated cultural capital of Lahore in the Punjab province. The music largely died with the introduction of Sharia law in the late 1970s, but "Song of Lahore" is a comeback story, propelled by the musicians' cover of Dave Brubeck's "Take Five," a sensation that brings them all the way to Lincoln Center.