Announcing the award for Best New Narrative Filmmaker at the Tribeca Film Festival's awards party, Uma Thurman had to use her stage voice when the microphone suddenly cut out. Later, Robert De Niro lost the envelope with the final winner of the night and wound up reading it off a press release.In short, the ceremony was not perfect, but it wound up as something better than that: Human.
The evening gathering in Union Square brought together a melting pot of New York celebrities and filmmakers from around the world. The jurors ranged from Mary-Kate Olsen and Meg Ryan to New York Magazine food critic Gael Greene, but despite the somewhat random assortment, their decisions yielded welcome results. Almost all of the winners were small movies that could use the extra boost — and, perhaps more importantly, they were all pretty good.
After the bittersweet immigration drama "Entre Nos" won a Special Jury Prize, co-director Paola Mendoza came close to tears as she noted that the story was based on her mother's struggle during her early years in the United States. "It's a small little film and we put our hears and souls into it," Mendoza said. The movie backs up her statement with a heartfelt performance by the director herself.
It was a similar case for documentarian Danae Elon, who also appears in the movie she directed, although she's not putting on a performance. Her documentary, "Partly Private," offers a cute, amusing survey of contemporary views on circumcision, using the birth of her two boys as a unique case study.
Winning the award for Best New York Documentary, Elon said she "would have put makeup on if I knew this would happen." But since her movie is about a deeply personal physical procedure, her natural appearance fit the occasion.
The other documentaries honored at the ceremony also deserved the accolades. Yoav Shamir's "Defamation," which I found fascinating and somewhat revelatory, landed a Special Jury Mention. "Racing Dreams, " Mashall Curry's insightful portrait of the World Karting Association, won Best Documentary Feature, while the harrowing Afghanistan-based "Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi" took home the Best New Documentary Filmmaker prize.
"Fixer" director Ian Olds, whose movie tracks the kidnapping and ultimate execution of the eponymous foreign journalist aid, told me he's glad to have a television deal in place for the movie (it airs on HBO in late August), and seemed somewhat nonchalant about whether or not a theatrical distributor steps up to the plate.
But that was before he won the award.
In general, it seemed that the honorees were boosted in their confidence and ready to take De Niro up on his offer to return with new works. After announcing the Best Narrative Feature Award for Asghar Farhad's "About Elly," the actor-turned-festival founder graciously posed for photographs with hordes of eager filmmakers.
"He's been doing this for twenty minutes," moaned a festival publicist. "Are we done?"
"Not yet," somebody shot back. "Bob's making that face."
And here are the complete list of festival winners:
The Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature – About Elly (Darbareye Elly), directed and written by Asghar Farhadi. (Iran). Award presented by Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal. Winner receives $25,000 cash and the art award "Rockets and the Red Lights (Mass MoCA #70),” created by Stephen Hannock.
Jury Comments: “Out of a strong selection of films, the jury was unanimous in our passion for this seamless piece of ensemble filmmaking. The universality of the characters and themes, and the directors riveting grasp of this story make “About Elly” a film that collapses barriers and deepens our understanding of the world we share.”
Best New Narrative Filmmaker – Rune Denstad Langlo for North (Nord), written by Erlend Loe. (Norway). Award presented by Todd Haynes and Rich Lehrfeld, VP, Global Sponsorship and Experiential Marketing, American Express. Winner receives $25,000 cash. Sponsored by American Express.
Jury Comments: “Rune Denstad Langlo, formerly a documentary filmmaker, shows a mastery of comedic direction in “North.” His consummate vision, strong grasp of story and command of the language of cinema make him a standout amidst a strong pool of candidates.”
Best Actor in a Narrative Feature Film – Ciarán Hinds in The Eclipse, directed and written by Conor McPherson. (Ireland). Award presented by Todd Haynes and Gail Grimmett, SVP Delta Air Lines. Sponsored by Delta Air Lines. Winner receives two International BusinessElite ticket vouchers for anywhere Delta travels.
Jury Comments: “Ciarán Hinds’ powerful performance explores both strength and vulnerability, while propelling and deepening the films examination of masculinity and desire. The portrayal grabbed us, pulling us even deeper into this unique and original ghost story.”
Best Actress in a Narrative Feature Film – Zoe Kazan in The Exploding Girl, directed and written by Bradley Rust Gray. (USA). Award presented by Todd Haynes and Gail Grimmett, SVP Delta Air Lines. Sponsored by Delta Air Lines. Winner receives two International BusinessElite ticket vouchers for anywhere Delta travels.
Jury Comments: “Zoe shines in this understated role. Every component of this brilliantly restrained performance displays a command of her craft that stunned and moved this jury.”
Best Documentary Feature – Racing Dreams, directed by Marshall Curry. (USA). Winner receives $25,000 cash. Award presented by Liz Garbus. Sponsored by Bialla & Associates. Winner will also receive two voyage certificates for a Transatlantic Crossing on Queen Mary 2, provided by Cunard Line and the art award “Sky III,” created by Clifford Ross.
Jury Comments: “Is it nature or nurture? Is it the car or the driver? While those eternal questions will live on, we reacted with unanimous, unquestioned affection for “Racing Dreams,” and found it a completely compelling, entertaining film of incredible quality.”
Special Jury Mention: Defamation (Hashmatsa), directed by Yoav Shamir. (Denmark, Austria, USA, Israel).
Jury Comments: “Special jury mention to “Defamation” for lifting the veil – through courageous filmmaking – on a subject seldom so openly discussed.”
Best New Documentary Filmmaker – Ian Olds for Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi. (USA). Award presented by Liz Garbus and Rich Lehrfeld, VP, Global Sponsorship and Experiential Marketing, American Express. Winner receives $25,000 cash. Sponsored by American Express.
Jury Comments: “A film about an unsavory world, and its unsavory characters, which through its superb direction, shines a light on a world unfamiliar to many Americans.”
New York Competition Categories:
The 2009 Best New York Narrative Competition jurors were Adrien Brody, Karen Durbin, Richard Ledes, Melissa Leo, Parker Posey, André Leon Talley and Beau Willimon.
The 2009 Best New York Documentary Competition jurors were Jon Robin Baitz, Mary Boone, Marc Ecko, Douglas Keeve and Rachael Ray.
Best New York Narrative – Here and There (Tamo i ovde), directed and written by Darko Lungulov. (Serbia, USA, Germany). Award presented by Richard Ledes. Winner receives $5,000 cash, and the art award “Time Can Be a Villain or a Friend” created by Hank Willis Thomas.
Jury Comments: “Our winning film was mature, it was funny, it was subtle. It gave us not only New York, it gave us great characters, a great story, it gave us the world.”
Best New York Documentary – Partly Private, directed by Danae Elon. (Canada). Award presented by Rachael Ray. Winner receives $5,000 cash. Sponsored by Medallion Financial and the Murstein Family. Winner will also receive the art award “A Map of NYC (with directions to the Tribeca Film Festival),” created by Tom Slaughter.
Jury Comments: “Our pick is a film that explores the relevance of tradition in today’s world. We are reminded that the exploration of one small subject through documentary film is capable of shedding light on a larger world. There were moments in this film that brought the whole world back to New York – they were uniquely New York moments. It explored themes of politics, culture, aestheticism, desirability, sexuality, and sensuality.”
Short Film Competition Categories:
The 2009 Best Narrative Short Competition jurors were James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Mary Harron, Debra Messing and Mary Kate Olsen.
The 2009 Best Documentary and Student Short Competition jurors were Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Bobby Cannavale, Gael Greene, AJ Jacobs and Rachel Maddow.
Best Narrative Short – The North Road (La route du Nord), directed and written by Carlos Chahine. (France). Award presented by Debra Messing. Winner receives $5,000 cash and the art award “Untitled” created by David Salle.
Jury Comments: “We ultimately chose the winner for its poetic, truthful and unsentimental portrait of an exile’s return home to deal with his father’s death 20 years earlier. The director, Carlos Chahine, portrays the absurdities and contradictions of how we deal with grief through humor, freshness and subtlety.”
Best Documentary Short – home, directed by Matthew Faust. (USA). Award presented by Gael Greene. Winner receives $5,000 cash and the art award “Ring Image,” created by Robert Mangold.
Jury Comments: “This touching short artistically combines the aesthetic and the emotional in its portrayal of home and its memories. It tells a post-Hurricane Katrina story in a new, inventive and poignant way.”
Special Jury Mention: The Last Mermaids, directed by Liz Chae. (USA, South Korea)
Jury Comments: “Technically strong, this film beautifully documents a little known world and introduces audiences to a culture on the verge of extinction. The filmmaker provides a glimpse into a closed sisterhood — proud of their traditions, yet accepting the disappearance of their way of life.”
Student Visionary Award – Small Change, directed and written by Anna McGrath. (Australia). Award presented by Gael Greene. Winner receives MacPro Desktop with Final Cut Pro and a 24-inch monitor provided by Apple and the art award "Campus Point" created by Fritz Chestnut.
Jury Comments: “The winning film, a very small yet powerful story, portrays a magical and touching drama of a young girl’s home life. The filmmaker uses minimal storytelling to achieve maximum emotional impact and we commend the terrific performances of the young actors.”
Special Jury Mention: Oda a la Piña, directed and written by Laimir Fano. (Cuba).
Jury Comments: “This visually delicious film, with its stunningly rich colors, captures the cultural rhythms and unmistakable sounds of the city to artistically portray a sense of poverty in what remains of old Havana and its beauty.”