On Saturday I traveled downtown to see what was happening at the Tribeca Family Festival Street Fair on Greenwich Street in lower Manhattan. After 9/11, Jane Rosenthal, Robert DeNiro and Craig Hatkoff thought they might shore up lower Manhattan’s businesses and community by initiating a yearly film event to draw people back downtown. At that time, most of the screening venues were in lower Manhattan. Local residents were given discount tickets to the film events and a Tribeca Film Festival Family Day was organized to become part of the celebration.
I first attended the Family Day Festivities in 2003. My husband and I had moved to Battery Park City, where we found an apartment that came with two months free rent. People were slowly coming back to lower Manhattan to live again, but the area was still in the throes of 9/11. Each day when I walked to the subway, I passed the hole that was Ground Zero and the horror of that event was always present.
Today I can report lower Manhattan has recovered and Family Day has grown in popularity along with the rest of the TFF events. The event, as the whole festival, is twice as big as I remember. It covers many more city blocks filled with entertainment and top quality food vendors. Unlike many of the Manhattan street fairs, this is kid focused and most vendors selling junk are kept out. The weather was a little nippy but people were out having a good time.This was the 11th Annual Tribeca Film Festival and the final statistics report that more than 380,000 people attended screenings, panels, talks and free community events. The festival hosted nearly 400 screenings (each film has many separate screenings in different theaters) and panels with more than 95% attendance. That’s a big festival. You could buy your tickets in advance through Facebook, as well as the TFF website and watch some of the films online or On Demand.
Unlike smaller festival venues like The New York Film Festival, it was impossible to see everything and a few good ones got away. I saw some films that I loved and met some unforgettable characters on screen that I would personally like to have known.
High on my list is Booker Wright, the subject of Booker’s Place: A Mississippi Story, directed by Raymond DeFelitta. DeFellita’s father worked as a filmmaker for CBS news and in 1965 traveled on assignment to Greenwood, Mississippi to interview white residents about race relations. He meets Booker Wright a black waiter in a local restaurant that serves whites only. Because there are no printed menus, waiters are required to recite the entire evenings offerings by memory to each customer. The menu is extensive and Booker gives an exacting performance…still facing the camera he continues talking with candor about the realities of racism. This interview, aired on national TV, changes forever the lives of Booker and his family. I was so moved by this man’s bravery, as he was aware of the consequences of this public denouncement of racism in Greenwood. This act of defiance led to tragedy as he was brutally beaten by a local policeman and eventually killed. The film can currently be seen On Demand.Sixto Rodriguez, the subject of Searching For Sugar Man is alive and well in Detroit, Michigan and at 69 should become the singing sensation that he dreamt about. In the early 70’s, Rodriguez recorded two albums that didn’t sell in the US but were discovered by young people in Australia and later in Capetown, South Africa. More that 150,000 copies of his first album Cold Facts were sold in Capetown and, unbeknownst to him, Rodriguez became a superstar even bigger than Elvis Presley. His anti-establishment message resonated with youth in apartheid South Africa. Rumors circulated about Rodriguez but his whereabouts remained a mystery. Meanwhile he married, had three lovely daughters and continued to work as a laborer, living modestly in a run down house in a Detroit neighborhood. Searching For Sugar Man rocked the Sundance Festival. At Tribeca, Rodriguez gave a live concert following the screening of his film. He comes across on screen as a gracious and gentle artist unruffled by either his failed albums or the promise of big success now that he has been rediscovered. Mostly, I liked how his daughter’s viewed him…a hardworking loving man who taught them about art, life’s rewards big and small, and keeping true to your dreams.
Jenny Deller premiered her first feature Future Weather the last night of the Tribeca Film Festival and fulfilled her dream. After the screening, Jenny and her actors (Amy Madigan, Lili Taylor, William Sadler and Perla Haney-Jardine) appeared on stage in a Panel Talk and I can say that Jenny Deller is the real deal… a natural storyteller and filmmaker. She told her audience that when she had reached 30, she thought “its now or never” and began seriously looking for funding for her script. Her film reflects the passion, understatement, directness and self-confidence that Ms. Deller projects in person. Future Weather is a lovely coming of age film that explores the themes of mothers and daughters who are imperfect in an imperfect world but somehow muddle through I with tenderness and acceptance. As yet the film is without distribution but keep it on your radar, as it’s a winner.
Barbara Castro, a regular attendee of the Tribeca Film Festival, writes this year for The WIP.