Film Review: Tribeca Film Festical 2018 - Revisited
By Belle McIntyre
While the Tribeca Film Festival is now history, obscured by the massive art week surrounding the FRIEZE 2018 art fair on Randall’s Island, I just wanted to give the head’s up to some of the worthy offerings from Tribeca Film Festival which might go under the radar screen, as they will all be available in the sooner or later future.
WE THE ANIMALS, directed by Jeremiah Zagar and based on a beloved novel by Justin Torres, is a strange and wonderful, sweet and scary undefinable sort of film. It has elements of magic realism injected into a raw, realistic style of directing to tell a coming of age story involving three pre-adolescent brothers growing up in a blue collar latino family in rural upstate New York. The boys are all played by non-actors and are so thoroughly engaging and appealing that one falls almost as in love with them as the camera does. The camerawork is jarringly close and follows them hurtling through life at full-throttle, often accompanied by a somewhat aggressive soundtrack of insistent percussion which becomes a leitmotif. The mood of the film veers between youthful joyfulness and parental violence and menace, interspersed with fantasy fears filmed as dreams. It is a tour de force of visual interpretation of words to screen on a par with MOONLIGHT.
SAY HER NAME: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF SANDRA BLAND, directed by Kate Davis and David Heilbroner, documents the disturbing events of July 2015 involving a seemingly random traffic stop which resulted in naked police aggression, arrest and incarceration, leading to the suspicious death in custody five days later of Sandra Bland. The event was widely viewed in the media as the actions leading to her arrest in Waller County, Texas were all recorded on the police dash cam, clearly revealing police overreaction to the young black woman in the car, and sparking nationwide outrage and protests. The filmmakers examine the life of this smart, spunky, outspoken activist for Black Lives Matter. They do not whitewash her as they interview her family and reveal her history with her missteps left in, which makes the trajectory all the more tragic as she was on the upswing. Most disturbing is the lack of answers from the police who claim her death was a suicide and yet have extremely dubious evidence to support the case. It seems that the burden of proof has been left to those who doubt the scanty details of the authorities who were charged with her safety. Would a hospital get away with such a case? There are more questions than answers.
BLUE NOTE RECORDS: BEYOND THE NOTES is a wonderful documentary by Sophie Huber about the surprising origins of the iconic record company Blue Note, famous for being the first to record the jazz music being made by black musicians in America. Founded in 1939 by an unlikely pair of German-Jewish refugees, Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, who had fallen in love with American jazz while still in Germany. And it was this passion which propelled them to begin a business of which they had no experience and create a platform for the work which they truly valued, without any financial considerations. This was a passion project. It was music that they wanted to hear and it was not being recorded by major recording companies.
It is that rare music industry story without the usual sordid details of greed, financial chicanery, or substance abuse. The founders, by all accounts, gave the musicians free rein, acting as benevolent enablers. They gave the musicians maximum respect and encouraged boundary pushing. The amazing story is told through brilliant and thrilling archival stills and footage of sessions and performances, as well as interviews by a litany of jazz greats as well as contemporary jazz musicians like Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Norah Jones and Ambrose Akinmusire. The Blue Note discography, which includes the first recordings of such seminal figures as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Freddie Hubbard, Art Blakey and so many more reads like a history of Black American music and runs the gamut from hot jazz, swing, bebop, blues, soul, rap and hip hop. After a brief decline in business and changes at the top Blue Note is back on course and having a renaissance. It is passionately embraced by the old timers as well as the new musicians who see it as a beacon of hope for underserved serious black musicians. The legacy is rich and potent and jazz lovers are all beneficiaries.
SATAN & ADAM is one of those true New York stories, documenting the 25 years of collaboration and friendship between the most unlikely of men. When director, Scott Balcerek was working on another project in Harlem and came across these two guys performing amazing blues on 125 Street, he was captivated by the synergy between a young white guy playing harmonica with a grizzled black one-man band blues guitarist rigged up to his own percussion. Significantly, the year was 1986, a racially troubled time in New York City. He kept coming back and began filming the pair and filled in the back story of their odd and fruitful
collaboration. At its core it is about two people in self-imposed exile from their own lives finding a place of creativity and friendship through music.
Adam, an ivy league graduate, uncertain of his career path, played a mean harmonica and when he came upon this phenomenal blues man playing to the locals he asked to join him. The synergy was electric and immediate. Sterling Magee, aka. Satan, had had a legitimate music career, performed at the Apollo, backed James Brown, and recorded with Ray Charles, but had taken himself out of that scene. The two overcame some obvious obstacles, not least being understandable suspicion by the neighborhood folks and Satan himself. The film follows their trajectory as they get paying gigs, travel to music festivals, and make recordings, gain recognition and develop a deep friendship which continued until Satan’s death. It might be a “one of a kind” story, but I suspect that there are other similar ones all around us if we bother to open our eyes and look. Thanks to the tenacity of Scott Balcerek for spotting and highlighting this singular tale and bringing it to the screen.