Tribeca Diary: The Big Finish

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The Tribeca Film Festival of 2015 closed the books on Sunday as it always does, with a day full of screenings of the prize-winning films. And, as I noted on Day Three, it bears noting that the festival’s reputation of being for “indies that aren’t really indies” almost never bears out during the awards ceremony. All of the films that played on Sunday will be launching new talent into American arthouses, rather than showing a new dimension for established stars.

The Tribeca jury gives awards to Actor, Actress, Screenplay, Editing, Cinematography, New Director for each of narrative and documentary, Director for each of narrative and documentary, a special Nora Ephron prize honoring new female filmmakers, Best Documentary Feature, and Best Narrative feature. The Tribeca Audience Awards cover the best narrative film and best documentary as well. I confess to being completely unable to judge good editing, but I will offer my opinion on every other category.

Best Actor

The Jury Said: Gunnar Jonsson, Virgin Mountain. I found this to be an odd choice, as the more I consider Virgin Mountain, the more I think the grade of B- I gave on Day Four/Five was too generous. As a result of acting or scripting or both, Jonsson’s character is a cipher – he gives so little away, that we’re not sure if he understands even basic concepts like the Internet or “stranger danger.” There’s a difference between underplaying a character and simply not having anything to work with, and I think Jonsson is in the latter position.

I Said: There were several male performances I would have awarded before I even considered Virgin Mountain. If you put a gun to my head, I probably would have gone with the revelatory work by teenager Charlie Plummer from King Jack. Also: Martin McCann delivers a fantastic performance in the harrowing Irish thriller The Survivalist, George Sample III and Zurich Buckner anchor the promising Cronies, and Adil Hussain’s fine work in Sunrise takes a confusing dreamlike plot and allows the audience to make sense of it.

Best Actress

The Jury Said: Hannah Murray, Bridgend. I may have to give Bridgend a second watch, but on my first watch I found that all of the things the jury loved about it, I thought were turned up a little too high – in particular, I found the acting a bit too histrionic. Having said that, it’s clear that Murray has an incredibly difficult role, and I think the movie is a success overall despite my problems with it, so congratulations to her.

I Said: Alba Rohrwacher had two different films in the festival, which might have harmed her chances of winning for Sworn Virgin. In many ways Rohrwacher delivers the performance in Sworn Virgin that the jury thought they got from Jonsson in the actor category: shy and reserved because she’s unsure of herself, with complex emotions simmering just below the surface. Also worth notice are Eleonore Hendricks from the psychedelic semi-comedy Come Down Molly and Abigail Breslin from Maggie.

Best Cinematography

The Jury Said: Magnus Nordenhof Jønck, Bridgend. Although there are some very lovely shots of the Welsh countryside in Bridgend, I thought that every scene where characters spoke to each other was not particularly special in terms of how they looked.

I Said: There were a number of films in the festival that were masterpieces of lighting – The Survivalist, Come Down Molly, and Maggie all come to mind. Of those, I would probably vote for The Survivalist, since the lighting serves the story by describing how sparse the post-apocalyptic life would be.

Best Screenplay

The Jury Said: Dagur Kari, Virgin Mountain. In my mind the worst crime this screenplay commits is that it thinks it’s doing something important with its female lead. She’s presented as a sort of free-spirited angel, but then she turns out to be wracked by mental illness. That’s not a fully developed character, it’s an Onion headline: “Alleged Manic Pixie Dream Girl Is Actually Manic Depressive Nightmare Girl.”

I Said: Stephen Fingleton’s The Survivalist previously made the Black List of best unproduced screenplays, which is all the more impressive because its approach is minimalist – there are long stretches without dialogue, so what little dialogue there is, has to have multiple meanings read into it. It may have been all of that unspoken meaning which led the jury to look past this script, although Fingleton did win a Special Jury Mention (i.e., a runner-up prize) for Best New Narrative Director.

The Albert Maysles Award for Best New Director, Documentary

The Jury Said: Ewan McNicol & Anna Sandilands, Uncertain. Sadly, another movie I was prevented from seeing due to hurting my back.

I Said: No selection. All of the documentaries that I liked this year were helmed by established directors.

Best New Director, Narrative

The Jury Said: Zachary Treitz, Men Go To Battle. This was one of the films I wanted to see, but missed due to injury, so I shall suspend judgment on its win.

I Said: Fingleton. There is a crane shot in The Survivalist which briefly gave me hope in the existence of a just and benevolent God. So, yeah, it’s a well-directed film.

The Nora Ephron Prize

The Jury Said: Laura Bispuri, Sworn Virgin. I understand that the Ephron prize exists because female filmmakers often are getting overlooked by the industry these days. However, you could argue that a separate award for female filmmakers creates a patronizing effect: though Sworn Virgin was the best film I saw at the festival this year, the jury might have thought it didn’t need to give it Best Narrative Feature since they knew they could reward it here instead.

I Said: Bispuri.

Best Director, Documentary

The Jury Said: Ewan McNicol & Anna Sandilands, Uncertain. Sadly, another movie I was prevented from seeing due to hurting my back.

I Said: Albert Maysles, Nelson Walker, Lynn True, David Usui, and Ben Wu, In Transit. Ever ride a cross-country Amtrak train? It’s an experience so noisy and claustrophobic that I can’t ever imagine filming a movie there. That In Transit is such a beautiful movies seems like nothing less than a miracle.

Best Documentary Feature

The Jury Said: Democrats. In any year where Albert Maysles does not make a feature, I would agree that Democrats should win going away. As I said on Day One, it’s a terrific film and it deserves every bit of the recognition it gets.

The Audience Said: Transfatty Lives. Another buzzed-about film that I unfortunately missed.

I Said: In Transit. This is not just a career recognition award for the recently deceased Maysles – In Transit may well be his best film. Its stories are deeply emotional, and overcoming the technical obstacles of filming on a moving train is a monumental achievement.

Best Narrative Feature

The Jury Said: Virgin Mountain. I’ve said enough already, but I was not a fan.

The Audiences Said: King Jack. In retrospect, the B+ I bestowed on this film on Day Two is too low. This understated coming-of-age picture has grown in my mind substantially the more I think about it, and it would have been a far more deserving winner of the Jury Prize than Virgin Mountain.

I Said: Sworn Virgin. If you or someone you know is one of those people who doesn’t quite get what is going on with Bruce Jenner these days, this is the movie you need. You will not find a more moving story centered on how sexual identity is much larger than just the genitals we were born with.


-Mark Young

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