Tribeca 2017 Awards
What the critics and juries are saying about the winners.
The Tribeca Film Festival, whose 16th editions runs through Sunday, has announced the winners of this year's awards. Let's have a look at what the juries and the critics have been saying about them.
Update, 5/1: At IndieWire, Michael Nordine reports on the Audience Award-winners, The Divine Order and Hondros, "which won the narrative and documentary prizes, respectively." Damon Cardasis's Saturday Church and Oren Jacoby's Shadowman are the runners-up.
U.S. NARRATIVE FEATURE COMPETITION
The jury: Josh Lucas, Melanie Lynskey, Denis O’Hare, Alex Orlovsky, and Stephanie Zacharek. The Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature: Rachel Israel's Keep the Change. The jurors cite the "heartwarming, hilarious and consistently surprising reinvention of the New York romantic comedy, which opens a door to a world of vibrant characters not commonly seen on film."
The Los Angeles Times' Steven Zeitchik notes that the Keep the Change "is an offbeat romantic comedy that uses nonactors, many on the autism spectrum, to tell its tale; the film is partly set in a New York support group, where an unlikely relationship blossoms." "David is an upper-class charmer struggling to hide his disabilities, and Sarah is a young woman who is totally unashamed of herself," Israel tells Women and Hollywood. Deadline's Matt Grober: "While diversity remains a hot-button topic in Hollywood, there remain many communities who are poorly served in the industry, through representation on screen, and the community of individuals on the autism spectrum is certainly one of those, making Israel’s film timely and important, in addition to genuinely charming." Best Actor in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film: Alessandro Nivola in Liz W. Garcia’s One Percent More Humid. The jury cites "his raw, complex and deeply human portrayal of middle-aged teacher and writer who tries to rekindle his creativity by plunging into an ill-advised affair with a student." "Humid picks up with childhood friends Iris (Juno Temple) and Catherine (Julia Garner) spending the summer together in the vicinity of their hometown," explains Jesse Hassenger in Brooklyn Magazine. "Iris also goes to college locally—she self-identifies as a townie—and strikes up a relationship with her thesis advisor (Alessandro Nivola), while Catherine’s home-for-the-summer hookup is seedier, and connected to a traumatic event from the girls’ shared recent past." For Nick Schager, writing for Variety, this "indie drama plays like a tag sale of cinematic clichés, each one piled haphazardly atop another. A dreamy tale of guilt and grief whose affectations prevent any sort of genuine engagement with those emotions, this story about two girls coping with their role in the death of a friend has sporadic moments of genuine passion and humor." "Movies that feature tragedies that no one wants to talk about are more alike than unalike (piecemeal flashbacks leading to the Whole Story, etc.), but this one is grounded," finds New York's David Edelstein. "It plays like a fervently written college-course short story, one you wouldn't be ashamed to reread after digging through your closet a decade later," suggests Sam Weisberg in the Village Voice. More from John Fink (Film Stage, C-). Women and Hollywood has a few questions for Garcia, and the Hollywood Reporter has a clip.
Best Actress in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film: Nadia Alexander in Blame. The jury cites "her powerful, multilayered and risky portrayal of a troubled teenager in Quinn Shepard’s accomplished directorial debut." Introducing his interview with Shepard for Filmmaker, Randy Astle calls Blame "a poignant and incisive examination of modern American adolescence, as filtered through the lens of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and the Salem witch trials of 1692, which form the inspiration for this modern-day narrative. The film delves deepest into high school mean-girl culture—with excellent performances by Sarah Mezzanotte and Nadia Alexander, who actually has arguably the most complex and pivotal role—but also looks at mental illness, parenting, abuse, and both teen and adult sexuality." "What makes the movie so interesting is its creative force," writes Jesse Hassenger in Brooklyn Magazine. "Quinn Shephard, a former child star who plays misfit Abigail, wrote, directed, edited, and produced it when she was all of 21 (she’s now a wizened 22). She also co-wrote several songs for the film’s soundtrack. Having a filmmaker not so far removed from her teenage years make this type of movie is an interesting idea, although Shephard sometimes does her best to act the clueless adult." "What looks to be another queasily steamy story of a student's affair with her teacher gradually morphs into a drama exploring the toxic tangle of relationships between four young women at a New Jersey high school," writes Jon Frosch in the Hollywood Reporter. "Blame essentially flirts with one set of clichés only to settle down with another. But it has the merit of at least striving for the substantive (the agonies of teenage girlhood) over the merely titillating (transgressive sex). Along the way, the film is powered by some fine acting, as well as a current of sincere feeling that helps you forgive some of its more conspicuous flaws and limitations." At Women and Hollywood, Kelsey Moore has a few questions for Shepard.
Best Cinematography in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film: Chris Teague for Love After Love. The jury cites "a visual style that beautifully mirrors the fraught and messy landscape of grief." "Blending the intimate volatility of John Cassavetes with the elegant lyricism of Hou Hsiao-hsien," writes Nick Schager for Variety, "Russell Harbaugh crafts an alternately ugly and lovely—and altogether authentic—snapshot of the tumultuous process of grieving a lost loved one. Bolstered by superb lead turns from Chris O’Dowd and Andie MacDowell, as well as a formal structure that enhances the roiling emotions propelling its characters into a downward spiral, Love After Love is an assured debut feature that announces its writer-director as a formidable new American indie voice." "The screenplay by Harbaugh and Eric Mendelsohn invites comparison to the work of Kenneth Lonergan, with its knack for locating weight in seemingly inconsequential moments," suggests David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter. "But the movie belongs to a school of melancholy American domestic drama that stretches back to Woody Allen's Interiors. However, while that film's veneration for Ingmar Bergman meant every scintilla of the sturm und drang was thrashed out onscreen in hyper-articulate dialogue, Love After Love is more notable for how much is left unspoken." "Harbaugh has found a unique way in to exploring grief without wallowing in sorrow," adds Stephen Saito. Best Screenplay in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film: Angus MacLachlan for Abundant Acreage Available. The jury makes note of "its portrayal, both universal and intimate, of two families who meet, clash and ultimately discover what it means to call a place home." "A tight ensemble of five seasoned actors explores questions of grief, faith, mortality and legacy in Abundant Acreage Available, which takes director Angus MacLachlan to a lonely North Carolina tobacco farm, not too distant from the setting of his breakout screenplay, Junebug," writes THR's David Rooney. "This drama is an altogether more somber affair, with Amy Ryan and Terry Kinney lending gravitas as siblings still absorbing the death of their father when strangers arrive with unsettling revelations. However, while the intriguing setup pulls you in, this gentle American heartland story peters out into an unsatisfying payoff." But Brandon Harris, dispatching to Filmmaker, admires the film's "compelling vision": "Maclachlan, who began as a playwright, prefers to generate meaning in the shot as opposed to the cut. Kinney, so wonderful in the late ’90s as the lead on Oz, gets right to the soul of a man who, in the story of how these unexpected visitors lost their childhood home, finds echoes of his own tragic past. His scenes with Ryan, as the siblings war over what to do about these newfound visitors, rips open the thinly concealed patriarchy that dominates so much of American life. It would be a shame if no adventurous distributor steps up to find audiences for this movie; it’s exactly the type of picture many pockets of rural America would likely flock to, if only some apparatus existed to get it to them." "Those who see it will likely do so for its performances, the richest of which comes from Ryan," suggests Variety's Peter Debruge. "It’s a pleasure to see such a fine actress navigate the nuances of her role." More from David D'Arcy (Screen), John Fink (Film Stage, B+), Eric Kohn (IndieWire, B), Rodrigo Perez (Playlist, B), Nathaniel Rogers and Stephen Saito.
INTERNATIONAL NARRATIVE FEATURE COMPETITION
Jury: Willem Dafoe, Peter Fonda, Tavi Gevinson, Alessandro Nivola, and Ruth Wilson.
Best International Narrative Feature: Elina Psykou's Son of Sofia (O Gios tis Sofias). The jury: "When we were watching these movies we were looking for something we hadn’t seen before. We unanimously agree that one film challenged us to see in a new way, and we were seduced by the surprising humanity of its difficult characters. The direction was assured, and its tone unique, and we look forward to seeing Elina Psykou's next work." "Son of Sofia is set in Athens during the 2004 summer Olympic Games," writes Vassilis Economou at Cineuropa. "11-year-old Misha (Victor Khomut), is coming from Russia to reunite, after two years apart, with his mother, the titular Sofia (Valery Tscheplanowa). Sofia is now married to Mr. Nikos (Thanassis Papageorgiou), a conservative old gentleman who was a children’s program TV star during the dictatorship. Nikos and Misha belong in two completely different worlds and their only connection is their love for Sofia, who tries to balance her needs and her own personality between the two men…. The fairy tale of the Olympics and the false blessing they represent reveals something of the roots of today’s political crisis in Greece." "Contrasting an unsettling childhood reality with the comforting refuge of fantasy, the film has echoes of several recent productions on a similar theme from J.A Bayona’s A Monster Calls to Marco Bellocchio’s Sweet Dreams," adds Allan Hunter in Screen. "In the end, despite all its careful craft, composure and attempt to bring a fresh perspective to a child’s eye view of an uncertain world, Son of Sofia just feels too familiar for its own good." Kelsey Moore has a few questions for Psykou at Women and Hollywood.
Best Actor in an International Narrative Feature Film: Guillermo Pfening in Julia Solomonoff's Nobody’s Watching (Nadie Nos Mira). The jury admires "a performance of extraordinary vulnerability and commitment that anchored the film." Christopher Bourne at ScreenAnarchy: "Nico (Guillermo Pfening), an actor in a popular soap opera in his native Argentina, decides to chuck it all and move to New York City to start fresh (if you can make it here, etc.). He does so for a number of reasons: weary of paparazzi, wanting a new locale and a new start. But most of all, he needs to escape his frustrating and doomed affair with Martin (Rafael Ferro), the married-with-kids producer of his TV show…. This is a lovely, poignant portrait of loneliness and confusion that finds room for some gentle humor and insightful character portraiture." "In a moving depiction of this vibrant city, director Julia Solomonoff's touching feature presents a portrait of immigrant solitude," writes Frédéric Boyer for the Advocate. "Nico faces the difficulty of finding not only a home, but himself amid the indifferent metropolis." Alfonso Rivera at Cineuropa: "Solomonoff ponders the fantasies we perpetuate in trying to create a reality that more closely resembles our dreams; dreams that not even a society so supposedly open and receptive as the USA can turn into solid reality—just an abstract concept that becomes more dubious and more doubted every day." Joseph Allen has questions for Solomonoff at Women and Hollywood. Best Actress in an International Narrative Feature Film: Marie Leuenberger in Petra Volpe's The Divine Order (Die göttliche Ordnung). The jury cites "a performance that is patient, intelligent and graceful, that captured the liberation of a young woman." "In this delightful comedy, writer-director Petra Volpe introduces us to calm, sensible Nora (Marie Leuenberger), a housewife in a kerchief living in a rural Swiss village in 1971," writes Ren Jender in the Voice. "She campaigns for women's suffrage (Switzerland was one of the last Western democracies to grant women the vote), leaving her family and the laundry room's endless racks of drying socks to brainstorm with an Italian divorcée and an older widow on how they can get the town's men to vote yes. Leuenberger looks a little like Dakota Johnson and Romy Schneider but also convinces as an ordinary person. Her breezy, deadpan Nora is both hilarious and heroic." "Though the film’s feel-good construction undercuts its ability to surprise, Petra Volpe’s cine-history lesson remains a mainstream crowd-pleaser adept at inspiring and amusing in equal measure," writes Nick Schager for Variety. "Although the obvious comparison to draw is with Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette (2016), the culture clash dynamic of The Divine Order means the film has perhaps more in common with Matthew Warchus’s Pride, although it has neither the wrenching emotional impact of the former or the riotous comedy of the latter," writes Wendy Ide for Screen. More from Giorgia Del Don at Cineuropa. And Kelsey Moore has questions for Volpe at Women and Hollywood.
Best Cinematography in an International Narrative Feature Film: Mart Taniel for Rainer Sarnet's November. The jury: "We were particularly impressed by the high level of the cinematography of the films we’ve just seen which had very different styles and demands. One film was particularly audacious and showed supreme command of its visual language." "From its first five minutes—in which a rolling bone-demon with a steer skull kidnaps a cow and 'helicopters' it away—Estonian writer-director Rainer Sarnet drops you into a world that's part Grimm fairy tale, part Eastern European folklore and all fever dream," writes Rolling Stone's David Fear. "Sure, it's your typical boy-meets-girl, boy-falls-in-love-with-local-baroness, girl-casts-spell-on-her-romantic-competition chestnut, rendered in some of the most gorgeous black-and-white cinematography in recent memory. But where most old-world yarn spinners would take the building blocks of freaky Freudian bedtime stories (sleepwalking damsels, deals with the devil, witches, werewolves, class warfare) and milk them dry, Sarnet doesn't stop until he's fried them (and your frontal lobe) to a crisp." For the Voice's Danny King, it's " a sort of training-wheels Hard to Be a God—which is to say, a pretty unclassifiable piece of work…. This is mostly an anthology of nuts-for-nuts'-sake anarchy…, but it's frequently compelling to look at, and there are some inspired comic riffs — like the scene in which a briefcase of underpants belonging to a German baron sends a local villager into a dizzying rant on the origins of Estonian rule." More from Jason Adams (Film Experience) and Tristan Priimägi (Cineuropa). Best Screenplay in an International Narrative Feature Film: Bohdan Sláma for Ice Mother (Bába z ledu). The jury: "A screenplay can create a world. With warmth and humor, this movie leads us into a specific and eccentric world driven by an unlikely love story." "Taking a page from a formula established by Douglas Sirk’s classic soapy melodrama All That Heaven Allows (1955)," writes Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema, "Czech director Bohdan Sláma retools this sentimentalism for his latest feature Ice Mother, a well-crafted vehicle for actress Zuzana Kronerová (who has appeared in each of the director’s previous four features). Widowed and all alone in a home which is now too large to manage alone, she has remained content with availing herself to her hopelessly selfish sons and their less than amiable wives, who are attempting to push her to sell the family home, each for their own clandestine reasons. With a narrative arch as clichéd as it is emotionally gratifying in its protagonist’s attenuated characterization, this has the potential to be Sláma’s widest reaching endeavor yet." "A widow once again embracing life via an unexpected romance isn't new dramatic territory, but... Sláma animates this story with welcome patience and a dynamic approach to scene construction," adds Danny King in the Voice. Screen's Wendy Ide finds that "Ice Mother handles the lives of its older protagonists with sensitivity and admirable candor." More from Christopher Bourne (ScreenAnarchy), Stefan Dobroiu (Cineuropa) and Alissa Simon (Variety).
The jury: R.J. Cutler, Alma Har’el, Barbara Kopple, Anne Thompson, and David Wilson.
Best Documentary Feature: Elvira Lind's Bobbi Jene. The jury: "In a diverse field of worthy films, one work captivated our jury with its exquisite blend of emotional depth and rigorous craft. Fulfilling the promise of classic cinema verité, where camera serves as both observer and provocation, this film connected two artists, filmmaker and subject, pushing nonfiction intimacy to bold new places. Our winner documents the deeply personal process of a brilliant woman finding her voice—paired with a director whose own artistic vision dances elegantly with that of her subject." "In American dancer Bobbi Jene Smith, director Elvira Lind has found a fascinating subject," writes Brandon Harris for Filmmaker. "The film uses incredibly intimate, often quite lyrical verite shooting strategies juxtaposed with the occasional archival news interview to follow the title character—long one of the premiere dancers for the Tel Aviv-based Batsheva dance company—as she decides to journey back to the states and begin dancing and choreographing on her own. This professional story is juxtaposed with a personal one about her break up with storied Batsheva choreographer Ohad Naharin and the newfound love she finds with Or Schraiber, a fellow dancer whom Smith chooses to leave behind in Israel. The movie gives you a really detailed sense of the work that goes into top flight dance choreography and Smith is an alluring and unusual character, by turns elegant, circumspect and humorous." Laura Berger has a few questions for Lind at Women and Hollywood. Best Documentary Cinematography: Elvira Lind for Bobbi Jene. Here, the jury notes "the film’s extraordinary relationship to an artist who is willing to go bare not only in performance but in stunningly intimate scenes that are poetic, honest and moving, seemingly without barriers between camera and subject." Best Documentary Editing: Adam Nielson for Bobbi Jene. And the jury's issued a third statement on "a film whose precise economy of construction creates space for the rich sensual palette of a committed artist going through a life change, and whose internal rhythms mirror the art it portrays."
Special Jury Mention: Jamie Meltzer’s True Conviction. "For its compelling storytelling and for introducing us to three heroic characters who transform the injustice they suffered into active change," explains the jury. "The Sisyphean struggle to turn far too many wrongs in the Texas judicial system into rights is the noble subject of True Conviction, a straightforward, right-minded documentary blessed by the central presence of a dogged and charismatic champion of justice," writes THR's Todd McCarthy. "Stylistically old-school in the traditional PBS manner, Jamie Meltzer's single-track film focuses on the efforts of three men who, after wrongful convictions and eventual exoneration, have dedicated themselves to helping other prisoners who may not deserve to be behind bars." For the Voice's Danny King, "Meltzer's sketch of their lives compensates for its occasional lapses into listlessness—a scene of the trio listening to an interrogation recording arguably isn't much of a movie scene at all—with a beguiling attention to character." And for Aramide A. Tinubu at Shadow and Act, "True Conviction is powerful, devastating and remarkable."
BEST NEW NARRATIVE DIRECTOR
The jury: Bryan Buckley, Clea Duvall, and Michael Pitt. Best New Narrative Director: Rachel Israel, Keep the Change. The jury notes that "we were looking for a filmmaker with a fearless, authentic voice. Our decision was unanimous. This filmmaker created a world full of vibrant characters often under-represented in cinema. It is a unique, yet universal love story told in a way we’ve never seen. We anxiously await to see what this filmmaker does next."
BEST NEW DOCUMENTARY DIRECTOR
The jury: Amy Berg, Alice Eve, Marilyn Ness, Zachary Quinto, and Shaul Schwarz. Albert Maysles New Documentary Director Award: Sarita Khurana and Smriti Mundhra for A Suitable Girl. The jury notes that "we chose a film that helped us to rethink the dynamics of love through a moving portrayal of a cultural tradition." "Weddings in any culture are almost by definition archaic," writes Emily Yoshida at Vulture, "but this moving documentary about the byzantine matchmaking process in modern India, seen through the eyes of the brides-to-be, throws that fact into harsh relief. Directors Sarita Khurana and Smriti Mundhra follow three women of varying socioeconomic backgrounds, all of whom are approaching their final marriageable years and who have their own misgivings about marrying themselves off…. The weddings themselves are boisterous, beautiful, and full of heartbreak." "In such a corrosive environment, where women are judged only by their looks and meekness, and men are deemed worthy by the size of their bank accounts, misery naturally reigns," writes Nick Schager at Variety. "Employing intimate up-close-and-personal aesthetics that convey women’s damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t circumstances, A Suitable Girl proves a somber lament for a part of the world still clinging to its restrictive past, at great cost to (particularly) its female population." THR's Frack Scheck: "That the film succeeds to the extent that it does is largely due to the engaging personalities of its subjects and their families, who clearly trusted the filmmakers enough to give them access to their most intimate moments. Their faith is rewarded by this deeply sympathetic and empathetic depiction of a struggle for a happy match." For Screen's Wendy Ide, "it feels like a tiny chink into a vast and complex subject." Joseph Allen has questions for Khurana and Mundhra at Women and Hollywood. Special Jury Mention: Greg Campbell's Hondros. The jury: "In considering a wide range of subjects in our category we were moved by two different kinds of love stories. The film we decided to honor with a special mention delves into the fractured worlds of chaos and violence and the interconnectedness of humanity. A childhood friend carries on his legacy to show the enduring power of love." "Great art often entails taking great risks," writes Nick Schager in Variety, "and no one knew that better than Chris Hondros, the award-winning Getty photographer whose acute in-the-thick-of-things wartime snapshots made him a legend in the field, until his life was cut tragically short at age 41 by mortar fire in Libya in 2011. Hondros, a nonfiction biography directed by lifelong best friend and collaborator Greg Campbell, pays stirring tribute to its subject’s courage, resolve and empathy, the last of which helped elevate his work to the realm of greatness." "Campbell, a journalist, was a childhood friend of Hondros, and they worked together on some assignments over the years," writes Stephen Farber in the Hollywood Reporter. "But Campbell does not seem to have sacrificed any objectivity because of his personal friendship with Hondros. On the contrary, it seems as if their relationship influenced the director to dig deeper in an effort to do justice to his subject."
NORA EPHRON PRIZE
The jury: Dianna Agron, Joy Bryant, Diane Lane, Zoe Lister-Jones, and Christina Ricci. The Nora Ephron Prize: Petra Volpe, writer/director of The Divine Order. The jury cites "its intrepid and compassionate storytelling, beautiful cinematography (DP-ed by a woman), complex characterization of the female experience, seamless navigation of both drama and comedy, and true embodiment of the personal being political." Special Jury Mention: Keep the Change.
SHORT FILM COMPETITION
Best Narrative Short: Kaveh Mazaheri's Retouch. The jury makes note of "its message of choice, liberty, and renewal where the lines of morality and honesty are blurred, leaving the audiences own projection of the events open for discussion and introspection. We appreciated the unification of the aesthetic and the ethical."
Best Animated Short: Kristin Ulseth's Odd is an Egg (Odd er et egg). The jury: "We found the story of this animated short sweet and moving. We were also very impressed with beautiful visuals, which were artistic, cool and haunting. The filmmaker shows great promise." Best Documentary Short: Ben Holman's The Good Fight. The jury calls it an "unflinching portrait of finding hope in a world of danger; a journey of perseverance in the face of tragedy; an uplifting and visually compelling story of redemption."
Special Jury Mention: Josh Izenberg and Wynn Padula's Resurface. The jury: “Shedding light on the struggle for normalcy, hope, and recovery that US Veterans face every day, this is the story of reviving the human spirit through connecting with something deeply powerful and larger than the self: the Natural World.”
Student Visionary Award: Laura Moss's Fry Day. The jury cites "its success in balancing an immersive coming of age experience with relevant social commentary in a historically specific context; compelling performances and expert filmmaking." Special Jury Mention: Marianne Amelinckx's Dive. The jury: “Visceral, deeply moving meditative and exquisitely constructed. A nuanced examination of love and moving on after grief."
Storyscapes Award: TREEHUGGER: WAWONA created by Barnaby Steel (Co-Founder, Creative Director), Ersin Han Ersin (artist, Creative Director) and Robin McNicholas (Co-founder, Creative Director) of Marshmallow Laser Feast.
The jury: "The project we chose exemplifies the highest standards of artistry and inventiveness. It explores the potential for new visual forms and investigates unique modes of storytelling that allow us to tap into aspects the world and our lived experience that are intuitively known but seldom articulated. Through its use of poetic abstraction, embodiment, and the viewer’s own imagination and interpretation, we are able to unlock new ways of understanding and experiencing the world around us. We’ve selected this piece because we hope it will inspire others to start creating in ways that take risks and use the limitations of technology to revamp story and experience."