Now less than a month away, the Tribeca Film Festival looms, coming off of a very successful year in 2006 in which it premiered three of the films that ended up making the Academy's documentary shortlist, including eventual nominee Jesus Camp. This year, in addition to its World Documentary Feature Competition (which includes We Are Together, the film that won the Audience Award at IDFA by a crushing margin), Tribeca has documentary features scattered throughout its many sections. Here is a preview of this year's nonfiction offerings (descriptions provided by the festival):
World Documentary Feature Competition
• Beyond Belief, directed by Beth Murphy. (U.S.A.) – World Premiere. Inspired by compassion for others whose loss they recognize as mirroring their own, two courageous women whose husbands died on September 11 turn their grief into a catalyst for action. They travel to Kabul to help other widows, soon recognizing that the plight of the Afghan women leaves them feeling almost blessed. In English and Dari.
• Bomb It, directed and written by Jon Reiss. (U.S.A.) – World Premiere. Bomb It tells the story of contemporary graffiti, tracing its roots in ancient rock paintings through Picasso to its place in hip-hop culture in 1970's New York City. This kinetic documentary looks at graffiti on five continents, using guerilla footage of graffiti-writers in action. You'll never look at public space the same way again. In English, German, French, Japanese.
• Forging a Nation (Hacer Patria), directed by David Blaustein, written by Irene Ickowicz. (Argentina) – North American Premiere. Accompanied by his mother, cousins, aunts and uncles, the director retraces the steps of his Jewish ancestors, who fled Europe in the 1920s hoping to find in Argentina the land of their dreams. This poignant film journey uses the documentary as a singular tool to explore the multifaceted ways in which the Argentine nation was built.
• I Am an American Soldier: One Year in Iraq with the 101st Airborne, directed by John Laurence. (U.K.) – World Premiere. This unflinching examination of the war in Iraq follows soldiers from the elite 101st Airborne Division for 14 months, from stateside preparations to their deployment in Iraq and back home again. Throughout, soldiers speak candidly about their experience in the military and demonstrate the powerful bond established as they struggle to stay alive.
• Miss Universe 1929, directed and written by Péter Forgács. (Austria) – U.S. Premiere. Amateur filmmaker Marci Tenczer was smitten with his cousin, Liesl Goldarbeiter and chronicled her rise from a modest childhood in Vienna to the Texas competition where she was crowned the first Miss Universe. Then Hitler upended everyone's universe. Péter Forgács (Best Documentary El Perro Negro, 2005 Tribeca Film Festival) continues his fascinating exploration of Europe's private history through home movies. In English.
• Planet B-Boy, directed by Benson Lee. (U.S.A.) – World Premiere. A powerful documentary about the vibrant global resurgence of break-dancing, Planet B-Boy goes inside the underground hip hop dance scenes around the world, as the best crews prepare for the "The Battle of the Year"—an annual "World Cup" of b-boying. Director Lee combines spectacular dance footage with poignant insight explaining why these dancers make tremendous sacrifices for their art. In English, French, Japanese and Korean.
• Santiago, directed and written by João Moreira Salles. (Brazil) - U.S. Premiere. In 1992, Salles began making a film about Santiago, the butler who had worked for his parents since his childhood. Years later, after the death of the flamboyant servant, he looked back at the unused footage. Combining Santiago's detailed memories and erudite contemplations with the director's voice-over, the film reflects deftly on identity, memory and the nature of documentaries.
• A Slim Peace, directed by Yael Luttwak. (U.K.) ¬– World Premiere. When 14 women—Israelis, Palestinians, Bedouin Arabs, and American settlers—in the West Bank are brought together with the shared goal of losing weight, they find out they have far more in common than they ever would have imagined. A Slim Peace takes a revealing look at the universal struggle for acceptance, understanding and personal transformation in a land of intractable conflict.
• A Story of People in War & Peace, directed by Vardan Hovhannisyan. (Armenia) – U.S. Premiere. A deeply personal meditation on the horrors of war and its effects is shown through the eyes of Armenian journalist Vardan Hovhannisyan. Weaving together footage he shot during his country's 1994 conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan over the Nagorno Karabakh region, Hovhannisyan creates a devastating portrait of lasting damage inflicted by the battlefield. In English and Armenian.
• The Sugar Curtain (El Telón de Azúcar), directed by Camila Guzmán Urzúa. (France, Cuba, Spain) – U.S. Premiere. Guzmán Urzúa makes her feature documentary debut with The Sugar Curtain, an intimate portrayal of the singular experience shared by people of her generation -- those living Cuba's utopian dream during the golden era of the revolution. It is also a lament for the end of that dream, which began to fizzle after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In Spanish
• Taxi to the Dark Side, directed by Alex Gibney. (U.S.A.) – World Premiere. This documentary murder mystery examines the death of an Afghan taxi driver at Bagram Air Base from injuries inflicted by U.S. soldiers. An unflinching look at the Bush administration's policy on torture, the filmmaker behind Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room takes us from a village in Afghanistan to Guantanamo and straight to the White House. In English and Pashtu.
• The Tree (El Árbol), directed and written by Gustavo Fontán. (Argentina) – International Premiere. Returning to his childhood home, filmmaker Gustavo Fontán documents his parents' deliberations over a tree planted the day he was born. Simple questions that pass between them—Is the tree dead? Should we cut it down?—become meditations on history, memory, knowledge and the sensory symphony of daily life.
• A Walk into the Sea: Danny Williams and The Warhol Factory,directed by Esther B. Robinson. (U.S.A.) – U.S. Premiere. Esther Robinson's engrossing portrait of her uncle Danny Williams—Warhol's onetime lover, collaborator and filmmaker in his own right—offers an engaging exploration of the Factory era, an homage to Williams's talent, a journey of family discovery and a compelling inquiry into Williams's mysterious disappearance at age 27
• We Are Together (Thina Simunye), directed by Paul Taylor. (U.K.) – North American Premiere. Though they've endured painful setbacks, including the loss of loved ones to AIDS, nothing can quell the angelic singing voices of the children in South Africa's Agape Orphanage. Told with compassion and grace, Paul Taylor's uplifting documentary celebrates the children's indomitable spirits and musical aspirations. Includes a special appearance by Alicia Keys and Paul Simon. In Zulu and English.
• Chops, a documentary film directed by Bruce Broder. (U.S.A.) – World Premiere. Each year, Jazz at Lincoln Center and its artistic director Wynton Marsalis host the prestigious Essentially Ellington Festival, a competition of high school jazz bands from across the country. This toe-tapping and empowering documentary focuses on one Florida band filled with young musicians who hit all the right notes.
• Pete Seeger: The Power of Song, a documentary directed by Jim Brown. (U.S.A.) – World Premiere. Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen are two of many who attest to Seeger's importance in this compelling documentary that is more than a simple biography. Using new interviews, archival footage and home movies, Brown presents a social history through the life of one of this country's most compelling forces for change and, arguably, the most significant folk artist of our time.
• The Power of The Game, a documentary directed by Michael Apted. (U.S.A) – World Premiere. Six stories intertwine in this dramatic and moving examination of the social impact of soccer across the world. Juxtaposing thrilling footage from games leading to and throughout the 2006 World Cup, Apted highlights stories of triumph over adversity from around the globe and skillfully conveys the remarkable transformative power of this sport. In English, German, Farsi, French and Spanish.
• Steep, a documentary directed by Mark Obenhaus. (U.S.A.) – World Premiere. Whether it's jumping out of a helicopter hovering above the powdery slopes of Alaska's mountain ranges, or trying to outrun an avalanche in the French Alps, Steep traces the legacy of extreme skiing from its early pioneers to the death-defying daredevils of today.
• Alexis Arquette: She’s My Brother, a documentary directed by Matthew Barbato. (U.K.) – World Premiere. An intriguing look at sex and celebrity, this richly textured documentary, filled with drag queens and Hollywood glitterati, is actually a serious movie about transgendered life. In this unique and candid work, Alexis reveals a more private side as she grapples with the process of sex reassignment surgery.
• Autism: The Musical, a documentary directed by Tricia Regan. (U.S.A) – World Premiere. Although the statistic is alarming—one in 150 children in the U.S. is now diagnosed with autism—this documentary is steeped in a sense of optimism. Filmed over the course of one year, it follows five autistic children in Los Angeles as they write and rehearse their own full-length musical,tossing aside all stereotypes in the process.
• The Ballad of Esequiel Hernandez, a documentary directed by Kieran Fitzgerald. (U.S.A) – U.S. Premiere. Nearly ten years after the death of an 18-year-old American at the hands of a U.S. Marine team fighting the War on Drugs in Texas, the border continues to see increased militarization. Juxtaposing the victim's family’s grief with the Marines' frustration and guilt in their first on-screen interviews, this probing documentary, narrated by Tommy Lee Jones, asks, “is history doomed to repeat itself?” In English and Spanish. Winner, Best Human Rights Documentary, Mexico City Film Festival.
• The First Saturday in May, a documentary directed by The Hennegan Brothers, written by The Hennegan Brothers and Mark Krewatch. (U.S.A) – World Premiere. Heartbreak and hope abound in this engrossing documentary about the holy grail of horse racing—the Kentucky Derby. Two brothers travel from Arkansas to Dubai and on to Churchill Downs to trace the paths of six rising equine stars, including the heroic Barbaro, and the people, passion and dreams at the core of this breakneck competition.
• A Guest of Life (Az Èlet Vendége), a documentary directed by Tibor Szemzö. (Hungary) – North American Premiere. In 1819, a Transylvanian traveler set out on foot for Asia, convinced that there he would discover "the original Hungarians." What he found, at the foot of the Himalayas, introduced Tibet's rich culture and the practice of Buddhism to the world at large. A first film by one of Hungary's leading film composers, narrated in English by Susannah York.
• Hard as Nails, a documentary directed by David Holbrooke. (U.S.A) – World Premiere. This fascinating documentary follows unordained evangelical minister Justin Fatica on his quest to save America's soul. Fatica uses his Hard As Nails Ministry to promote the gospel to all Christian faiths and reach out to the MTV generation. His gruff style and unusual methods bring salvation to some, but seem horrifyingly troublesome to others.
• Hellfighters, a documentary directed by Jon Frankel, written by Jon Frankel and Siobhan Dunne. (U.S.A) – World Premiere. The Hellfighters, Harlem's only high school football team, are a long way from Friday Night Lights. The bleachers are empty, practice space scarce and the Board of Education ruthless, but under the perseverance of coach Duke Ferguson, the Hellfighters are playing their way out of the ghetto, one touchdown at a time.
• Jerabek, a documentary directed by Civia Tamarkin (U.S.A.) – World Premiere. A powerful and deeply personal story of one Midwestern family confronting the death of a son in Iraq, Jerabek chronicles the lives of those closest to the fallen marine for nearly two years, as they try to cope with their tremendous loss and wonder what price they will have to pay to keep another son from suffering the same fate.
• The Last Jews of Libya, a documentary directed by Vivienne Roumani-Denn. (U.S.A.) – World Premiere. This family memoir recounts the history of an uprooted North African community. After WWII, Libya still had a small, but strong, Sephardic Jewish population with its own traditions and dialect. Sixty years later, no one remains. Roumani-Denn tells her family's history—Libyans for centuries, now scattered throughout the Diaspora. Narrated by Isabella Rossellini. In English, Hebrew, Italian and Arabic. Preceded by Shut-Eye Motel, Bill Plympton, USA, 2007, 12 min
• Lillie & Leander: A Legacy of Violence, a documentary directed by Jeffrey Morgan. (U.S.A) – World Premiere. Investigating the turn-of-the-century murder of her great-great aunt, a woman stumbles upon an explosive secret that hints at her own family's involvement in decades of racially charged murders. More than a crime investigation, this documentary takes an uncensored look at a community trying desperately to bury its racist past.
• The Man of Two Havanas, a documentary directed by Vivien Lesnik Weisman. (U.S.A.) – World Premiere. Growing up in Miami, the director witnessed drive-by shootings and death threats directed toward her father, a former friend of Fidel Castro and opponent of the embargo. Using never-before-heard CIA audiotapes and fascinating interviews with her father, Weisman links his past and present in an eye-opening film that's sure to be talked about. In Spanish and English.
• On the Downlow, a documentary directed by Abigail Child. (U.S.A) – World Premiere. A revealing portrait of four African-American men living in Cleveland, who all confront the struggles of everyday existence and the process of coming out. Experimental filmmaker Abigail Child uncovers their secrets as she explores the sexual, racial, and familial dichotomies of their lives. Screens with The Polymath, or the Life and Opinions of Samuel R. Delany, Gentleman.
• The Polymath, or the Life and Opinions of Samuel R. Delany, Gentleman, a documentary directed by Fred Barney Taylor. (U.S.A) – World Premiere. A fascinating portrait of science fiction writer and renaissance African-American artist and teacher Samuel R. Delany includes vivid tales of his sexual escapades in this experimental documentary. Screens in conjunction with On the Downlow.
• Postcards from Tora Bora, a documentary directed by Wazhmah Osman and Kelly Dolak. (U.S.A) – World Premiere. After the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, co-director Osman’s family fled to America with only a handful of photos and movies as reminders of the lives they had led. Now she returns home to search for her past and her father, who never left. Her quest reveals the history of this war-torn country in this personal film that's full of personality. In English and Farsi.
• So, a documentary directed by Aimee Jennings. (U.S.A) – World Premiere. Inspired by Chris Marker's Sans Soleil, this experimental road movie celebrates being single with one woman's trip through Australia. Still photographs, pixilated moving images and voiceover narration comprise an intimate self-portrait that becomes a personal journey to overcome fear, search for contentedness and accept life's experience as the accumulation of fragments of memory.
• Sons of Sakhnin United, a documentary directed by Christopher Browne, co-directed by Alexander H. Browne. (U.S.A) – World Premiere. Jews and Arabs striving for a common goal can seem unlikely in today's world, and yet—as depicted in this insightful documentary — the small Arab town of Sakhnin has been united by sport. Beating the odds in a quixotic quest for Israel's State Cup, the multi-ethnic soccer team B'Nei Sakhnin battles to maintain their premiere league status. In English, Hebrew and Arabic.
• The Third Wave, a documentary directed by Alison Thompson. (U.S.A.) – World Premiere. After the 2004 Tsunami ravaged coastlines across the Pacific Ocean, four independent volunteers from around the globe arrive in the Sri Lankan town of Peraliya to help in any way they can. What begins as two-week journey spirals into a year of unrelenting heartbreak, but eventually emerges as a triumphant story about the rebirth of an impoverished town. In English and Sinhalese.
• Unstrung, a documentary directed by Rob Klug. (U.S.A.) – World Premiere. Much as Spellbound did for spelling bees, Unstrung exposes the surprising dramas of the amateur tennis world, hitting the road with a handful of high school competitors as they head for the national championship. This inspiring documentary records the tremendous pressure and the sweat, blood and tears that can separate contenders from champions.
• Will Eisner: Portrait of a Sequential Artist, a documentary directed by Andrew D. Cooke, written by Jon B. Cooke. (U.S.A) – World Premiere. Others may be more renowned for their superhero creations, but Eisner was the godfather of the American comic book. From utilizing pictures and words to stretch the boundaries of storytelling, to innovating methods of production and publishing including the graphic novel form, Cooke's documentary presents how Eisner inspired other artists working in the field today.
• The Devil Came On Horseback, a documentary directed by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern. (USA) – New York Premiere. While serving six months as an unarmed military observer with the African Union in Darfur, Sudan, former U.S. Marine Captain Brian Steidle had access no journalist was afforded. Unable to intervene, he took thousands of uncompromising photographs that documented the genocide, then resigned his post and dedicated himself to exposing the magnitude of these atrocities.
• Doubletime, a documentary directed by Stephanie Johnes. (U.S.A.) – New York Premiere. If seeing is believing, watching these kids Double Dutch elicits double-takes and disbelief. Chronicling the world of competitive jump roping, this energetic documentary follows two teenage teams that combine dance and gymnastics to breathtaking effect, as they prepare and contend for the world championship at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.
• The King of Kong, a documentary directed by Seth Gordon. (USA) – New York Premiere. To those in the know, no classic arcade game is more difficult than Donkey Kong. Maybe that's why the world record holder is so protective of his celebrity. Look inside this world of competitive gaming, as obsession and ego drive a diverse and fascinating group of individuals to fight over who is the real king of Kong. A Picturehouse Release.
• Nanking, a documentary directed by Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman, written by Bill Guttentag, Dan Sturman, and Elisabeth Bentley. (USA) – New York Premiere. During the 1937-1938 Japanese occupation of Nanking, an estimated 200,000 Chinese were killed and 20,000 raped. But an unlikely partnership of Nazi businessmen and American missionaries saved 250,000 lives. Using letters, diaries and interviews with survivors and Japanese soldiers, Nanking exposes a still-controversial episode of WWII. In English, Japanese and Mandarin. A THINKFilm Release.
• Shame, a documentary directed by Mohammed Naqvi. (Pakistan, USA) – New York Premiere. In 2002, Mukhtaran Mai, a woman living in a remote Pakistani village, was publicly gang raped to atone for a crime her brother allegedly committed. Instead of killing herself, as she was expected to do, she raised an outcry that became an international cause. A powerful essay in courage. In Urdu and Sariki.
• Tootie’s Last Suit, a documentary directed by Lisa Katzman. (USA) – New York Premiere. Former Mardi Gras Indian Chief Tootie Montana is a New Orleans icon, famed for his brilliant handmade carnival costumes. When he decides to stage a late-life comeback, however, bitter family rivalries erupt. Filmed pre- and post-Katrina, this colorful portrait celebrates the resilient spirit of a man determined at all costs to preserve a vital cultural tradition.
The Family Film Festival
• Darius Goes West: The Roll Of His Life, a documentary directed by Logan Smalley, co-directed by Allison Firor. (U.S.A.) – New York Premiere. Darius, a 15-year-old with muscular dystrophy, has never been outside of Georgia, until his 11 closest friends rent an RV and take off across the country, hoping to convince MTV's Pimp My Ride to work on his wheelchair and raise awareness about the disease. Ontheir long adventure, they learn that life, even when imperfect, is always worth the ride.
• The Third Monday In October, a documentary directed by Vanessa Roth. (U.S.A.) – New York Premiere. In the tradition of Spellbound, this charmingly funny and often moving documentary takes an intimate look at student council races in four diverse middle schools across the country. Filmmaker Vanessa Roth deftly reveals how family, national politics, geography and class all have an impact on the day that's anxiety-filled for some and a blast for others.
• Anita O’Day - The Life of a Jazz Singer, directed by Ian McCrudden & Robbie Cavolina (U.S.A.) – World Premiere. An intimate and deeply moving tribute to jazz diva extraordinaire Anita O'Day, completed just weeks before her death in November 2006. Packed with terrific clips and anecdotes from friends and fellow musicians, this enjoyable documentary zips along at the speed of her renowned up-tempo interpretation of "Sweet Georgia Brown.” work in progress.
• Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe, directed by James Crump. (U.S.A.) – World Premiere. In the '70s and '80s, the relationship between legendary curator Sam Wagstaff, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and musician/poet Patti Smith was at the epicenter of New York's revolutionary art scene. This engrossing documentary, narrated by Joan Juliet Buck, features interviews with Smith and a bevy of art world luminaries including Dominick Dunne, Richard Tuttle, Eugenia Parry and Ralph Gibson.
• Chavez, directed by Diego Luna. (Mexico) – World Premiere. Actor Diego Luna (Y Tu Mamá También) steps behind the camera for this heartfelt documentary about the life and career of his countryman, Mexican boxer Julio César Chávez, considered one of the sport's - and Mexico's all-time greats. Luna follows Chávez through the final bouts of his career, even as he proudly passes the torch of boxing to his son.
• I Have Never Forgotten You, directed and written by Richard Trank, (U.S.A.) – North American Premiere. How did a man who trained as an architect track down some of the world's most notorious war criminals? Discover the history and legacy of legendary Nazi hunter and humanitarian Simon Wiesenthal in this stirring documentary. Narrated by Academy Award®-winning actress Nicole Kidman, it features previously unseen archival footage and interviews with friends, family, and world leaders.
• In the Beginning Was the Image: Conversations with Peter Whitehead, directed by Paul Cronin. (U.K.) – U.S. Premiere. Peter Whitehead's work as a key independent British filmmaker of the 1960's has been the subject of recent worldwide retrospectives. This documentary on the artist, by a returning TFF filmmaker, is important not only as a portrait, but also as a meditation on the construction of identity. Copresented by Anthology Film Archives.
• Music Inn, directed by Ben Barenholtz. (U.S.A.) – North American Premiere. A cinema veteran makes his debut as a filmmaker. Between 1950 and 1960 legendary jazz and folk giants gathered each summer in the Berkshires to discover the roots of their music through performance and discussions -- creating a venue where almost every major jazz musician performed, and finally culminating in the first school of jazz.
• Attica, directed by Cinda Firestone. (U.S.A., 1974) – World Premiere Revival.
In 1971, inmates at Attica State Prison seized control of D-yard and took 35 hostages after peaceful efforts for reforms failed. Attica investigates the rebellion and its bloody suppression, revealing institutionalized injustices, sanctioned dishonesty, and abuses of power. Attica provided courtesy of The New York Public Library, Donnell Media Center and New York Women In Film & Television.
• Heckler, directed by Michael Addis. (U.S.A.) – World Premiere. Comedian Jamie Kennedy confronts hecklers and heckled alike in this wry, spirited documentary. With appearances from limelight veterans like Rob Zombie, Mike Ditka, George Lucas and Bill Maher, Heckler illuminates the often contentious relationship between those in the spotlight and the critics in the crowd.
• The Poughkeepsie Tapes, directed and written by John Erick Dowdle. (U.S.A) - World Premiere. When hundreds of videotapes showing torture, murder and dismemberment are found in an abandoned house, they reveal a serial killer's decade-long reign of terror and become the most disturbing collection of evidence homicide detectives have ever seen. Brutal and engrossing, actual footage from these tapes mixed with interviews with FBI profiles and victims’ families begin to expose the many layers to this mystery.
Update: I've been informed that The Poughkeepsie Tapes is a fauxcumentary. I had been fooled by the words "actual footage" in the description.
• Scott Walker – 30th Century Man, directed by Stephen Kijak. (U.S.A./U.K.) – New York Premiere. Scott Walker is one of rock music's most enigmatic figures. This astonishing look at the reclusive artist features exclusive footage of Walker recording his latest critically acclaimed album, The Drift, as well as interviews with the man himself, famous fans and collaborators such as David Bowie, Radiohead, Brian Eno and Jarvis Cocker.