Sales and audience excitement have already been building around a handful of titles at the Tribeca Film Festival, which opens today (April 22). Wendy Mitchell follows the buzz to six of this year’s film-makers.
Only When I Dance
Beadie Finzi is hardly a newcomer to the documentary scene, as one of the founding directors of Channel 4’s Britdoc Foundation and a producer of Rupert Murray’s Unknown White Male. She has directed TV projects (most recently More4’s The Hunger Season) and comes to Tribeca with the world premiere of Only When I Dance, about two young ballet dancers from Rio (the film was supported by the Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund). “It’s really unusual in that we cast it more like a fiction project. We spent two to three years looking for characters and then we shot them over a year,” Finzi explains. Catching them at the right time was crucial: “The critical point in any dancer’s transition is going from school to getting your break on the bottom rung professionally.” In Rio, Finzi was determined to present a new perspective. “This is about kids and their dreams and their family support. I didn’t want it to be another film about how shitty life is in the favelas,” says Finzi, who also shoots her own work.
Cheryl Hines, an actress best known for TV hits such as Curb Your Enthusiasm, admits there was a learning curve to directing her first feature film. “When you’re an actor, you’re responsible for something very specific - your character and giving your best performance,” she explains. “But as a director it feels like you’re responsible for everything. Every prop, every light, every detail. And that was overwhelming at first.” But she had help from her producers, her strong cast (led by Meg Ryan and Timothy Hutton) and she reveals, with a laugh, that she would text director friends from the set for advice. Hines appeared in Adrienne Shelly’s hit Waitress, and after Shelly’s 2006 murder, the writer-director’s husband Andy Ostroy and producing partner Michael Roiff asked Hines to direct Shelly’s last script, about a couple who encounter problems caused by a younger woman. Hines loved Shelly’s distinctive voice. “She was very gifted at capturing heartbreak and comedy in the same moment,” Hines explains. “I wanted to see that story come to life and keep it the way Adrienne wrote it.”
PAOLA MENDOZA AND GLORIA LA MORTE
Co-writer-directors Paola Mendoza and Gloria La Morte drew on family experience for their fiction debut feature, Entre Nos, a Colombia-US co-production about an immigrant mother in New York. “Entre Nos is based on my mother’s story,” Mendoza says. La Morte, a Colombian immigrant who moved to New York aged seven, adds: “My parents were factory workers who raised six kids so I knew what the immigrant experience was.” The pair say their fiction feature debut was much richer because of their exchange of ideas. La Morte says: “No-one does a film by themselves and this one on a film-making level is a testament to collaboration.” Tribeca All Access (TAA) helped the project connect with producers at Indiepix, and TAA On Track provided the shoot with free equipment which Mendoza says was “crucial for an indie film”. Mendoza is now working on a love story and La Morte is writing feature Fathers & Sons, a coming-of-age/midlife crisis story.
“I feel my soul is in this film,” says Irish writer-director Conor McPherson of The Eclipse, which stars Ciaran Hinds, Aidan Quinn and Iben Hjejle. McPherson is a much-lauded playwright who has film experience as the writer of 1997’s I Went Down and writer-director of 2000’s Saltwater. But after a somewhat frustrating experience in 2003 making The Actors (it was set up at DreamWorks before shifting to Miramax), he took a break from film. “I knew the next film had to be one I completely understood,” McPherson explains. “I really wanted to make sure I was certain at every moment what it is and why I’m doing it.” He co-wrote The Eclipse with his friend Billy Roche, inspired by Roche’s short story about a teacher volunteering at a literary festival - which McPherson wanted to bring into “a more supernatural arena”. McPherson admits the tight five-week shoot was challenging, but he enjoyed it: “In theatre, you’re working repetitively every day. On a film shoot, you’re fighting a tremendous war every day.”
Accidents Happen could be one of the standout US indies premiering at Tribeca - yet it is not exactly American. First-time feature director Andrew Lancaster shot in Sydney’s suburbs to stand in for 1970s and 1980s Connecticut. “Most of the film is set either at night or in interiors, which helped to disguise the gum trees,” Lancaster says. Based on Brian Carbee’s script, Accidents Happen stars Geena Davis as the mother of an accident prone 15-year-old son dealing with a tragedy. Somersault’s Anthony Anderson produced, and backers include Screen Australia and Bankside Films (also handling sales). Lancaster discovered the film’s characters when he saw Carbee impersonating his mother in 1997. “She was dry, hilarious and hard-nosed but there was a fragile core,” Lancaster remembers. The pair made a short film in 2001 and then experienced tragedy themselves, Lancaster explains: “The script is somewhat of a response, of us dealing with our grief.” Lancaster’s next project will be the mystery thriller Valve, about a man who discovers he has subsonic hearing. Even if he works with playful material, Lancaster says, he is always looking for “a true emotional heart”.