With the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival officially opening to the public on Tuesday, Martha Fischer, Christopher Campbell and I decided to hash out the good and the bad, as we've seen it thus far. Here I am, starting the conversation; Martha and Chris will chime in over the next couple of days.


Hey Chris and Martha,

So, here we are, with another Tribeca upon us. With this being your first attempt to cover the Festival, I tried to prepare you guys for the challenge; unfortunately, I think we're finding that once again, the almighty Programmers have answered their critics by allowing the previous year's problem spots to become measurably worse. The question that seems to be on everyone's mind this year is: why does Tribeca feel the need to be so damn big? Certainly, Tribeca 2006 seems to have contracted a disease that more and more festivals are catching: when scope is of primary concern, taken as a whole, any great big lineup is going to be padded heavily with films that, quite simply, really suck. And if the Festival is daunting enough to journalists that the torture of covering it seems to take up more ink and pixel space than actual coverage of films, one can't imagine that the average New Yorker is too enthused about standing in endless lines, all over the city, to lay out $25 for a pair of seats.

Which is a shame, because in the last week, I've caught some amazing documentaries that definitely deserve to be seen. 

I spent the past two days writing an empassioned plea on behalf of Deborah Scranton's The War Tapes ... before my my ancient, held-together-with-packing-tape Powerbook crashed and ate all but the first paragraph. But as you'll read once I get over the depression of losing the first draft and write the review for a second time, the film is a triumph, both as a documentary and, potentially, as a work of activism. Not nearly as socially relevan, but ten times as entertaining, Rock the Bells is a sometimes nail-biting, often laugh-out-loud hysterical look at a concert promoter's struggle to reunite all ten members of the Wu-Tang Clan for one night only. I could not be described as a hip hop fan by any imagining, but Rock the Bells is just a good time -- in fact, it's for sure the most purely entertaining film I've seen all year. Also very much worth a look: Tierney Gearon: The Mother Project (above), which is probably the best film made about the life, work and overall psyche of a contemporary artist in some time; and Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, a startling and, ultimately, heart-wrenching investigation of Bob Jim Jones and the 1978 massacre he brought opon 900 followers of his cult. There are still more non-fiction films that I'm looking forward to catching in the coming weeks, from The Case of the Grinning Cat, the latest from 84-year-old essay-film legend Chris Marker, to The Bridge, in which filmmaker Eric Steele captures over 20 actual suicides committed at the Golden Gate Bridge, and then goes and investigates the lives of the jumpers.

But damn ... how awful are these features? It's an open secret that film festivals tend to take a lot of films that aren't very good, for a host of arbitrary reasons. Films will make it on to a program based solely on that filmmaker having a "relationship" with the Festival; sidebars always need padding out; etc. I feel like every feature I've seen at Tribeca 2006 thus far has essentially crashed what must be a very loosely locked gate. I haven't yet given up hope -- I'm very much looking forward to to The Treatment (starring Chris Eigeman, who most of us know as a veteran of Whit Stillman's films), as well as Comedy of Power, which features Claude Chabrol directing Isabelle Huppert for the seventh time. But so far ... I'd say more, but why add insult to films on which I've already inflicted injuries?

After three weeks of pre-fest press screenings, how do you guys feel about Tribeca 2006? What have been your highs and lows? If you were to make one suggestion for the programming committee for next year, what would it be?

Talk to you soon,
Karina