It’s New York. It’s movies.
I think most people would agree that this city is synonymous with film and definitely with Mr Robert De Niro. For anyone who follows my tweets and facebook status updates that so often refer to my potentially endless search of the Raging Bull himself, I think you’ll agree this is THE event for me. Movies and The Godfather of movies all wrapped up in one delicious weekly dose. I’m ready Bob.
Established in 2001 following the attacks on the World Trade Center, New York City’s Tribeca Film Festival aims to motivate a cultural and economic rebirth of the lower Manhattan district through an annual gala of film, music and culture. And 10 years on, it was a perfect time to get involved in the projected festivities. With the help of my film super fan sister we scoured the programme to try to make the most of the films and talks on offer. So when the day of booking arrived, I was poised and ready to get my hands on the top picks. No time for hesitations. 11am came and I clicked and confirmed to set me up for a week of film and famous chats.
First up was a film called “NEDS” (standing for Non-Educated Delinquents in this instance but was originally a derogatory term used in Scotland from the 1960s onwards referring to individuals involved in teenage gang violence). This Glaswegian flick directed by Peter Mullan, of Braveheart and Trainspotting fame, is a story of knife crime set in ’70s Scotland and it was not for the fainthearted. I was immediately confused however as the film began with subtitles transcribing every single word (some, I admit, were not officially part of the English language). Distracting to say the least I struggled to tear my eyes away from the accompanying text, which I supposed in some cases provided no clarity to a non-UK audience.
This was a story of John McGill, a young bright 10 year old with a no-good older brother. Thriving in class and at home, this swot of the school is even the Latin teacher’s favourite pupil. We follow him growing up, sure he is set for bigger things than the backdrop of a criminal brother and a wife beating father. But the pressures of his unruly and downright violent peers becomes too much. Bundled together with the low expectations of all who associate John McGill with his loser family the stresses of his surroundings eventually build up to one fateful summer. Our “hero” finally gives in to all around him as he is led astray and onto the vicious streets of Glasgow’s poor housing estates. The violence is often cruel and could only be moderated in parts by Mullan’s use of music to soothe the tone. One brutal collision between gangs plays to the tune of Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek” and this persuaded me, at least, to take my hands away from my eyes. When I asked Peter Mullan after the performance why he had chosen some of the less obvious soundtrack he admitted that the choices had worried him somewhat. Particularly that track. He didn’t want to take away from the harrowing violence of the youths but he felt it was a turning point for John McGill. In his life of never quite fitting in, this was the moment he finally came to belong. But from here on in, there was no turning back.
A great start to the festival and what a treat to get the director’s perspective at the end with his wonderful cast grinning as the crowd applauded their visceral performances.
Next on the Ashbridge programme was a documentary called “Love Hate Love” followed by a panel of the cast and filmmakers to answer some questions. I was attracted (I have to admit it) by the promise of Executive Producer Sean Penn. Having missed out on a ticket for Alec Baldwin interviewing “The Bourne Identity” director Doug Liman on the same night (watch that here. It is a hoot: Alec Baldwin and Doug Liman), I chose this documentary, not for it’s content alas, but more for the guarantee of seeing Mr Penn in the flesh. Don’t ask me why! I have no logical answer. Anyway, I scuttle off work bang on 5 o’ clock to make it downtown in time to secure a front row seat. I did, to my credit, also check out the premise to the documentary the night before so as to appear more clued up on the proceedings. Having said that, even though I now knew that 3 stories would be told. 3 stories of loss after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, London and in Bali in 2002 and indeed knowing myself and my weak tear ducts I still failed to pack any tissues to cover it. 2 minutes in and I resembled a meek panda. Meek as I cowered in my seat to hide the blubbering mess from my dry eyed neighbours (tough crowd) and panda-like for the oversight in wearing too much mascara on weepy documentary day.
From left to right: Dana Nachman, Don Hardy, Ben Tillpan, Sean “Milk” Penn, a producer, Liz Alderman, Stephen Alderman and Esther Hyman
The documentary makers Dana Nachman and Don Hardy had seamlessly tied 3 quite different (yet all too similar) stories of tremendous loss so that we, the audience, could learn from their drive and strength as they turned their grief and anger around into a more optimistic future. The Alderman’s had lost their 25 year old son in the 9/11 attacks. He didn’t even work in the World Trade Center. From that tragedy the couple had begun a journey to make sense of their loss. They used money they received from the government to build mental health clinics (the 11th will be opened later this year) under the banner of the Peter C. Alderman Foundation, in countries where tragedies from civil war and terrorism are all too common. In Rwanda, Cambodia, Haiti and Uganda we follow this couple trying to set up a vital service with the aim of bringing traumatised victims back to a life of normality. Back to a functioning existence. Their motivation was breathtaking.
Esther Hyman lost her sister Miriam in the London bombings. Having escaped the underground she had boarded the fateful bus that blew up less than an hour later. Esther and her family wanted to honour their Miriam. To keep active so that sadness did not overwhelm them. They now support, through the Miriam Hyman Memorial Trust, an eye clinic in Orissa, India, raising funds and applying for grants to build new facilities and buy essential equipment to heal children who may not be able to find treatment otherwise.
Ben Tullipan, unlike the others, witnessed his story of terrorism. He lost both his legs, and his hearing is now severely impaired, when a vehicle bomb exploded outside a hotel in Bali. He has not only proved his doctor’s wrong by walking again but he actively supports and mentors new amputees in their struggle to come to terms with their loss. One in particular is Kyle, a young boy who lost his legs and fingers to Meningitis. Ben takes Kyle on trips to play Minature Golf and to the beach. He shows him he is not alone in his loss and life can be just as fulfilling walking with artificial limbs. He himself still supports the damaged tourist industry of Bali by continuing to stock his store (Unique Living) with the wares that he finds there.
After the final credits roll off the screen the limelight was justifiably on the stars of the show. Sean Penn sat discreetly (as a movie star could muster) in the middle eager not to receive any congratulations for his small role in the making of this film. He is quick to point out that he made the sum total of six phone calls to expedite the process of making this film but that Dana, Don and the willingness of these fantastic people who have suffered unbearable loss were to be praised.
So what started out as a celebrity spotting event turned into an inspirational perspective on what makes for a true star. And having used up every inch of my shirt sleeve to mop up the tears I made my way home with a skip in my step and a blinding headache.
Now it is Friday and I am again off for a VIP event. Martin Scorsese and a Malian director by the name of Souleymane Cissé are in conversation in Chelsea. Scorsese relays how at 1am one morning he was browsing the hundreds of US TV channels when he stumbled upon a film that immediately grabbed his attention. Suddenly it is 3am and he has been lost for hours in the world of Souleymane Cissé. Excited to share his experience he tells everyone he knows, including a Parisian audience he is presenting to a few weeks later. What he didn’t know was that Mr Cissé was in the audience and soon after they meet and now collaborate on The Film Foundation. A venture to preserve film for the future, Scorsese founded this NGO in 1990, which has helped to save 545 motion pictures to date. We get to see some footage of Cissé’s films which provide the perfect context to what makes film so culturally and historically relevant. Stories of hidden traditions. Snapshots of a time told through the eyes of the true natives. The first hand narrative is invaluable and by working to piece together all the great works that inspired so many great filmmakers is a great initial step towards building up the ultimate back catalog of film history. One such film, Cissé remembers from growing up, was produced by a Turkish filmmaker living in Istanbul. They manage to track him down and bargain to acquire the only remaining film reel of this work of art. It had been gathering dust in a cupboard in his home. Now it is restored and available again to everyone!
Manchia Diawara, Souleymane Cissé, Martin Scorsese and their moderator Glenn Kenny discuss The Film Foundation
Tribeca done. I’m exhausted. But can I just say.
Roll on next year.