Film Review: Tribeca Film Festival 2019
Navigating the myriad options for this year’s TFF was like a really challenging chess game. The choices were so tantalizing and sometimes overwhelming. But I did the best that I could. I tend to favor documentaries. So there is a bias. But here is a brief summary for now. More to come later.
NOMAD: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin (2019) Dir. Werner Herzog
The relationship between the prolific filmmaker Werner Herzog and writer/adventurer, Bruce Chatwin was a meeting of the minds. These two multi-talented, uniquely creative geniuses shared an insatiable curiosity and sense of adventure. Visionary in the practice of their art and nomadic in their lives, they shared much in common. When Herzog was summoned to his friend’s deathbed he was given the rucksack that had traveled with him to each of those places for all of those years.
It must have had the accumulated patina of a fetish object, since Chatwin did not simply visit a place. Rather, he lived, breathed, and drank it in. Then he turned it into a new form of writing which was part anthropological and part fiction. His books are mesmerizing and transporting, immersing the reader in each place and its cultures. When Herzog undertook to make this film 30 years later, tracing the steps of his friend, along with the rucksack, he brought his own vision and curiosity to the journey. He explored and discovered the people and stories, all the while channeling the spirit of Bruce. It is a poetic elegiac journey for Herzog, who shares his own reflections and enriches a glorious tribute. One feels privileged to be along on this trip.
WATSON (2019) Dir. Lesley Chilcott
A beautifully filmed documentary about the intrepid Captain Paul Watson co-founder of Greenpeace. Watson is also the founder of Sea Shepherd, an organization dedicated to protecting our oceans from the perilous threat caused by illegal and irresponsible fishing and preventing the callous destruction of its delicate ecosystem and the ocean’s significance to the sustainability of humanity.
It is an alarming and eye-opening call-to-arms to which Paul Watson has dedicated his life. He is a fierce and charismatic old warrior who has used controversial methods in his crusade. He has inspired a new generation to carry on the cause. But, much more needs to be done and there is a profound urgency which cannot be denied. This film will hopefully, enlighten the world to the profound impact and seriousness of the issue.
HALSTON (2019) Dir. Frédéric Tchen
The rise and fall of the immensely successful designer of nearly all things wearable is both fascinating and cautionary. How the young man from the Midwest came up from being the reigning milliner in New York in the 60s at Bergdorf Goodman, topping all the best heads, to creating a hugely successful clothing line and blazing a trail in the business of licensing, his brand is the stuff of legend. The glamorous, high-wattage names, the homes, the parties, the trips, the shows, all are just the cover for the intensely hard work that was behind all of the success.
What is also revealed is a portrait of a complicated perfectionist. A man of great charisma and charm who inspired great loyalty and affection from those close to him, but who also could suddenly turn into a demanding martinet if his standards were not met. Bad decisions, grandiosity, drugs, delusion, denial, and AIDS brought the whole glorious story to its sad end. But what a grand trip it was.
LIL’ BUCK: REAL SWAN (2019) Dir. Louis Wallecan
On the mean streets of South Memphis Lil’ Buck Riley honed his skills as a street dancer, excelling in the form known as “Memphis jookin.” It is a smooth fluid style which evolved out of Gangsta Walk and involves intricate balletic footwork and acrobatic flexibility. His mother welcomed his love of dancing and used it as a way to distract him from the ubiquitous peril of the gang culture in the neighborhood. She enrolled him in dance classes, which proved to be a brilliant idea which he embraced completely.
His ability and artistry were so obvious that he was given a scholarship to study ballet. Fiercely dedicated to making a success of himself through dance, Lil’ Buck Riley became such a big sensation that he was able to perform classical dance infused with jookin moves on stages all over the world. He has toured with Madonna and traveled to China with Yo-Yo Ma where he performed “The Swan” by Saint-Saëns, which went viral on Instagram. He has even appeared on TedX talks.
His success has allowed him to perform all over the world, become an active advocate for arts/dance education for kids, even now he mentors and teaches young dancers in Memphis. This was all new territory for me and it was fascinating, joyful, and uplifting to watch.
INNA DE YARD: THE SOUL OF JAMAICA (2019) Dir. Peter Webber
This film delighted me in the same way as The Buena Vista Social Club. This is a tribute to the homeboys of reggae, who did not achieve the international recognition of Bob Marley in reggae’s heyday. Nonetheless, they grew from the same soil, and carry on the traditions of that time, and remain popular in Jamaica and with reggae fans everywhere.
For the Jamaican Rastafarian community, reggae is a platform to express their spiritual and social values and to protest injustices. Peter Webber spends time with many of these seasoned musicians, singers, and songwriters both individually and together as they prepare to unite on the stage with an international performance tour. They are a colorful and motley crew of irresistible characters, all delighted to talk about their lives and what the music means to them. It is a sensitive, affectionate and insightful look into their spiritual beliefs which infuse the music with such infectious joy. It will surely make you wish you could attend one of the events.