17 BLOCKS (Davy Rothbart, 2019)
Tribeca Film Festival
Regal Cinemas Battery Park 11-1
102 North End Ave.
Saturday, May 4, 12 noon
Davy Rothbart follows a Washington, DC, family trying to break the cycle of drugs, gun violence, and poverty over twenty years in 17 Blocks, a powerful documentary making its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, where it won Best Editing in a Documentary Film. “The award for best editing goes to a film for its profound treatment of vast amounts of honest, often raw footage. The film is structured in a way that renders some of the most affecting moments with great subtlety. Viewers are transformed over the course of the film, a testament to the choices made in its making,” the jury said in its official announcement. Written, produced, and directed by Rothbart and written and edited by Jennifer Tiexiera, 17 Blocks features footage shot in 1999, 2009, and more recently, much of it taken by members of the Sanford family, including Cheryl Sanford, her sons Emmanuel Durant Jr. and Akil “Smurf” Sanford, and her daughter Denice Sanford-Durant, in addition to Rothbart and cinematographer Zachary Shields. Rothbart became friends with fifteen-year-old Smurf in 1999 and taught nine-year-old Emmanuel how to use a video camera, so the family was comfortable sharing intimate, deeply personal details of their lives over the years.
The Sanfords grew up just seventeen blocks from the US Capitol, but their experiences are all-too-representative of the country’s most vulnerable communities, which are ignored or misunderstood by the government. In 1999, nine-year-old Emmanuel has dreams of a bright future as Smurf starts getting involved with drugs. In 2009, Emmanuel wants to be a firefighter and marry his high school sweetheart, Carmen Payne; Denice is a single mother; and Smurf is living a dangerous life. Tragedy strikes, and two decades later the repercussions are still being felt in a big way. “I believe in hope,” Cheryl, one of the film’s producers, says despite all that happens to them. They don’t blame society as they try to understand and accept their own responsibilities for what has transpired and vow to get on with their lives, but opportunity is limited.
The film is seen primarily through Cheryl’s eyes; another tragedy is how she went from a smart kid going to private school to a drug addict who cannot stop a sad downward spiral. In his director’s statement, Rothbart, who considers himself to be an “adopted” Sanford, notes that after the tragedy, Cheryl came to him and said, “Where is your video camera? So many people are killed by guns in our neighborhood, but none have had their entire lives documented as thoroughly as my family.” It’s a brave decision to open up as much as they do. There are two key moments in the film that will stay with viewers for a long time. At one point, family members visit a shop that specializes in making T-shirts with the images of young people who were murdered on them, which are worn at funerals. And the closing credits begin with a list of all the DC homicide victims since the Sanford tragedy in 2009, with screen after screen showing hundreds of names. 17 Blocks is screening on May 4 at noon at Regal Cinemas Battery Park, with journalist and author Rothbart (This American Life, Medora) on hand to discuss the film and the nonprofit he started, Washington to Washington, an annual hiking adventure for DC kids to show them more of what the world has to offer.
It’s a shame that Puloma Basu and Rob Hatch-Miller’s new documentary, Other Music, is part of the Tribeca Film Festival section “This Used to Be New York,” because that means that their subject, the much-loved Other Music independent record store, is a “Used to Be,” no longer part of the city’s landscape. From 1995 to 2016, Other Music was an oasis for music lovers and musicians of all types, an escape from the mainstream; in fact, when the shop first opened, a giant Tower Records chain store was across the street, but OM thrived because it offered so much that was different. “Other Music was the quintessential place in New York City for people that appreciated music. It just was a place where you were able to search out things you had never heard of,” JD Samson of Le Tigre says in the film.
Basu and Hatch-Miller (Syl Johnson: Any Way the Wind Blows) not only focus on customers and performers but also on the devoted, fanatical OM staff that formed a kind of family, including Dave, Nicole, Clay, Amanda, Duane, Katie, Daniel, Jo Ann, Michael, Maris, Karen, Jenny, Geoff, and Stephanie, led by owners and cofounders Josh Madell and Chris Vanderloo. (Third cofounder Jeff Gibson did not participate in the film but is seen in old clips.) “People who just listen to records all day deserve to have a job where they can do that. People who work in record shops are always weirdos. Weirdos need jobs,” Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai jokes. Longtime employee Kris, noting that live shows weren’t enough for him when he first came to New York, explains why he worked at OM: “I wanted to be bombarded constantly. I wanted to have my ideas challenged, and I wanted to be fucked with.”
The documentary follows the store’s countdown to its closing on June 25, 2016, as customers come by to chat and buy records there for the last time and current and former employees share memories about their time at the shop, discussing OM’s unique categorization of music, the handwritten cards for recommended records, the confounding Decadanse section, the local musical response to 9/11, and their online business and epically detailed newsletters (which we at twi-ny relied on heavily). Josh’s wife, Dawn, and Chris’s wife, Lydia, add their thoughts on the impact the store’s two-decade run had on their lives. There are lots of old photos and archival footage, including snippets of in-store live appearances by Mogwai, Interpol, Yo La Tengo, Neutral Milk Hotel, No Age, the Go-Betweens, and cult favorite Gary Wilson; high praise from Meet Me in the Bathroom author Lizzie Goodman, Daniel Kessler of Interpol, Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend, Matt Berninger of the National, Dean Wareham of Luna and Galaxie 500, Brian Chase of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Regina Spektor, Jason Schwartzman, and former store employee Dave Portner of Animal Collective; a celebration of onetime OM staffer Beans of Antipop Consortium; and others who will make you regret either never having gone there or not having gone — or bought — enough. “It’s kind of like a religious experience,” Benicio del Toro says. Other Music has one more screening remaining at the Tribeca Film Festival, on May 5 at 8:45.
MAKING WAVES: THE ART OF CINEMATIC SOUND (Midge Costin, 2019)
Tuesday, April 30, Regal Battery Park 6, 8:00
Thursday, May 2, Village East Cinema 4, 3:45
Festival continues through May 5
Longtime sound editor and teacher Midge Costin pays tribute to her discipline in the eye- and ear-opening documentary Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound, having its world premiere this week at the Tribeca Film Festival. The celebration of sound focuses on three of the best in the business: three-time Oscar winner Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now, The English Patient), four-time Oscar winner Ben Burtt (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Star Wars), and seven-time Oscar winner Gary Rydstrom (Saving Private Ryan, Toy Story). “Before we were born, you’re looking at darkness. Sound is the first sense that’s plugged in,” Murch says at the beginning of the film. “Six months, seven months into the womb, it’s hearing the mother’s heartbeat, it’s hearing her breathing, it’s hearing Dad shouting from the garage. It’s making sense of the world. You have emerged into a kind of consciousness using only sound. And then you’re born. Sound affects us in a deeper way almost than image does. It goes deeper. And yet we’re naturally, seemingly oblivious to that.”
Costin was the sound editor on such major Hollywood films as Crimson Tide, The Rock, and Armageddon but left to become the Kay Rose Professor in the Art of Sound Editing at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, a position endowed by famous USC grad George Lucas. Lucas is among the many directors raving in the film about the magical work performed by sound editors, along with Steven Spielberg, David Lynch, Barbra Streisand, Christopher Nolan, Sofia Coppola, Robert Redford, Ang Lee, Peter Weir, and Ryan Coogler. They are joined by Murch, Burtt, Rydstrom, and such other sound editors as Pat Jackson, Teresa Eckton, Greg Hedgepath, Bobbi Banks, Victoria Rose Sampson, Mark Mangini, Ioan Allen, Karen Baker Landers, Richard Hymns, and Cece Hall, who describe the process of creating and adding sound, including redubbing dialogue, as well as the impact of stereo and, later, digital technology. Among the coolest scenes are those illustrating Burtt’s childhood fascination with science fiction, a look at the importance of the Beatles’ White Album, the transition from silent pictures, and the working relationship between PIXAR cofounder John Lasseter and the inventive Rydstrom. It’s a crash course in the art of sound, where viewers also learn about such key elements as production recording, dialogue editing, ADR, SFX, foley, ambience, and music. It’s also a big-time commercial for the art form and occasionally feels like an ad to study the craft in film school.
Writer, producer, and director Costin, a self-described technophobe who has a passion for teaching people how to listen, and writer and producer Bobette Buster, author of Do Story: How to Tell Your Story So the World Listens, take a deep dive into such films as Saving Private Ryan, Citizen Kane, A Star Is Born, THX 1138, Star Wars, Apocalypse Now, Ordinary People, Funny Girl, A League of Their Own, Top Gun, and Singin’ in the Rain, revealing some major tricks of the trade. But perhaps the most important thing in Making Waves is that all of the sound editors appear to love their job, smiling like children with candy when talking about certain sounds they captured and collaborating with directors. You’ll never look at — or listen to — a film the same way again. Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound is screening April 30 and May 2 in the Movies Plus section of the Tribeca Film Festival, followed by Q&As with Costin, Buster, and producer Karen Johnson.
Knives and Skin, Jennifer Reeder’s feature-length debut as a writer-director, is a creepy coming-of-age tale of girlhood, loss, and consent set in small-town America where the disappearance of a teenage girl tilts an already off-balance community even more on edge. Marching band member Carolyn Harper (Raven Whitley) has decided to lose her virginity to jock Andy Kitzmiller (Ty Olwin), but when she suddenly changes her mind, he becomes angry, pushes her to the ground, and leaves her in the woods. When she doesn’t come home, her mother, Lisa (Marika Engelhardt), quickly goes off the deep end, obsessed with her daughter’s clothes and smell. Fellow marching band members Charlotte Kurtich (Ireon Roach), April Martinez (Aurora Real de Asua), and Afra Siddiqui (Haley Bolithon), each of whose identities lie firmly outside old-fashioned mainstream America’s idea of girlhood, are preparing for homecoming, but Carolyn’s situation has cast a damper over everything.
Reeder focuses on two families over the course of the film, which was inspired by the work of such feminist auteurs as Chantal Akerman and Catherine Breillat in addition to such indie faves as Todd Solondz and Todd Haynes, with the heaviest debt to David Lynch’s Twin Peaks as she uses our generic societal anxiety about female teen sexuality to reveal the hidden underbelly of a typical midwestern town, complete with surreal moments. (There’s also bits of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Mean Girls, and The Breakfast Club embedded in its DNA.) Andy’s mother, Lynn (Audrey Francis), can’t face reality; his father, Dan (Tim Hopper), is an out-of-work clown fooling around with pregnant waitress Renee Darlington (Kate Arrington); his sister, Joanna (Grace Smith), sells underwear to the principal (Tony Fitzpatrick); and he is closest to his unusual grandmother (Marilyn Dodds Frank). Renee is married to Doug (James Vincent Meredith), the local sheriff in charge of the Carolyn Harper case; their son, Jesse Darlington (Robert T. Cunningham), is the school mascot and friends with Joanna; and their daughter, Laurel Darlington (Kayla Carter), is exploring her sexuality with Colleen (Emma Ladji). Racism, misogyny, sexual harassment, bullying, and more lie at the center of a community unable to come to grips with what’s really going on every day.
Cinematographer Christopher Rejano bathes the film in richly saturated blues, reds, greens, and pinks, accompanied by a lurking score by Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. There are several scenes that feature hauntingly beautiful a cappella versions of such 1980s hits as Modern English’s “I Melt with You,” New Order’s “Blue Monday,” the Go-Go’s “Our Lips Are Sealed,” Naked Eyes’ “Promises, Promises,” and Icicle Works’ “Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream),” lending the film a stark poignancy that overrides some of the inconsistent acting and over-the-top absurdities and singlehandedly makes it worth watching. Knives and Skin is screening in the Midnight section of the Tribeca Film Festival on May 2 at 8:00.
Tribeca Film Festival
April 24 - May 5, free - $50
One of the most exciting parts of the Tribeca Film Festival is the Tribeca Talks section, which features discussions with actors, directors, writers, and other film-crew members talking about their craft. Divided into “Directors Series,” “Future of Film,” “Master Class,” and “Storytellers,” the talks include such cool programs as Sarah Silverman with Mike Birbiglia, Martin Scorsese with Robert De Niro, Michael J. Fox with Denis Leary, David O. Russell with Jennifer Lawrence, Questlove with Boots Riley, Guillermo del Toro with Alec Baldwin, and Hideo Kojima with Norman Reedus along with such topics as “The Art of Adaptation,” “Is Anyone Home? Location-Based Entertainment,” “The Journey of Digital Storytelling to TV,” and “10 Years of 30 for 30.” The events, some of which are free with advance registration, take place at BMCC TPAC, the Tribeca Festival Hub, the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Theater, the SVA Theater, and the Beacon.
Thursday, April 25
Tribeca Games Presents: Hideo Kojima with Norman Reedus, Stella Artois Theatre @ BMCC TPAC, $40, 6:00
Directors Series: Guillermo del Toro with Alec Baldwin, Stella Artois Theatre @ BMCC TPAC, $40, 8:00
Friday, April 26
Future of Film: The Art of Adaptation, with Mathias Chelebourgh, Pete Billington, and Jessica Shamash, Tribeca Festival Hub, free with advance ticket, 1:00
Future of Film: Building the New Storytellers, with Ken Perlin, Lance Weiler, Alfredo Salazar-Caro, and Jeremy Bailenson, Tribeca Festival Hub, free with advance ticket, 2:30
Queen Latifah with Dee Rees with the Premiere of the Queen Collective Shorts, screening preceded by discussion with Queen Latifah and Dee Rees, Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Theater, $40, 5:30
Saturday, April 27
Future of Film: Is Anyone Home? Location-Based Entertainment, with Coline Delbaere, Ethan Stearns, and Antoine Cayrol, moderated by Loren Hammonds, Tribeca Festival Hub, free with advance ticket, 1:00
Storytellers: Jaron Lanier, Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Theater, $40, 2:00
Directors Series: David O. Russell with Jennifer Lawrence, Stella Artois Theatre @ BMCC TPAC, rush, 6:00
Sunday, April 28
Directors Series: Martin Scorsese with Robert De Niro, Beacon Theatre, 2:00
Monday, April 29
Future of Film: Immersive Storytelling Across the Mediums, with Jessica Brillhart and Aaron Katz, Tribeca Festival Hub, free with advance ticket, 1:00
Future of Film — Sharing Is Caring: Shared Experiences in Mixed Reality, with Adam May, Lucy Hammond, May Abdalla, and Amy Rose, Tribeca Festival Hub, free with advance ticket, 2:30
Master Class: The Art of Cinematic Sound, with Walter Murch, Ben Burtt, Gary Rydstrom, and Midge Costin, moderated by Glenn Kiser, SVA Theater 2 Beatrice, $40, 5:00
Storytellers: Sarah Silverman with Mike Birbiglia, Stella Artois Theatre @ BMCC TPAC, $40, 8:00
Tuesday, April 30
Storytellers: Michael J. Fox with Denis Leary, Stella Artois Theatre @ BMCC TPAC, $40, 6:00
Storytellers: Questlove with Boots Riley, Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Theater, rush, 2:00
Wednesday, May 1
Storytellers: Rashida Jones, Stella Artois Theatre @ BMCC TPAC, $40, 6:00
Friday, May 3
Master Class: Irwin Winkler on the Art and Craft of Producing, SVA Theater 2 Beatrice, free with advance ticket, 3:30
Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award, Stella Artois Theatre @ BMCC TPAC, $50, 4:00
Prune Nourry and Serendipity, screening followed by discussion with Prune Nourry, Rita Charon, and Nina Collins, Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Theater, $24, 8:00
Saturday, May 4
Tribeca Celebrates Pride Day, with Jeffrey Winter, Wade Davis, River Gallo, Sadé Clacken Joseph, Raul Castillo, Tanya Saracho, Ser Anzoategui, Roberta Colindrez, Kevin Huvane, Lesli Klainberg, John Cameron Mitchell, Leilah Weinraub, Simon Halls, Rivianna Hyatt, Fabrice Houdart, Alok Vaid-Menon, Tre’vell Anderson, Joanna Lohman, Sarah McBride, Malcolm Kenyatta, Stacy Lentz, Kathy Tu, Staceyann Chin, Twiggy Pucci Garçon, and many others, Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Theater, $30, 10:00 am
Directors Series: Marielle Heller, SVA Theater 2 Beatrice, $40, 1:00
Master Class — The Journey of Digital Storytelling to TV: A Discussion with HBO Talent, SVA Theater 2 Beatrice, free with advance ticket, 5:30
Sunday, May 5
10 Years of 30 for 30, with Connor Schell, Ezra Edelman, Alex Gibney, and Marina Zenovich, moderated by Chris Connelly, SVA Theater 2 Beatrice, $30, 3:30
Tribeca Film Festival
Friday, May 3, free
Festival runs April 24 - May 5
The Tribeca Film Festival continues its tradition of offering free films on Friday this year, with a host of feature narratives, documentaries, and shorts being shown on May 3. Admission is free, but you must reserve tickets in advance.
Tribeca Talks: Master Class — Irwin Winkler on the Art and Craft of Producing, SVA Theater 2 Beatrice, 3:30
Viewpoints: Changing the Game (Michael Barnett, 2019), about transgender teen athletes, Village East Cinema-04, 3:45
Shorts: Road Less Traveled, destination shorts by multiple directors, Village East Cinema-02, 5:00
Section: Viewpoints: 37 Seconds (HIKARI, 2019), staring Mei Kayama, Regal Cinemas Battery Park 11-1, 5:30
Shorts: Down to Earth, sci-fi shorts by multiple directors, Village East Cinema-03, 5:45
Viewpoints: Plucked (Joel Van Haren, 2019), about a stolen Stradivari violin, Village East Cinema-06, 6:00
Spotlight Documentary: The Quiet One (Oliver Murray, 2019), about Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman, Village East Cinema-01, 6:00
Section: Viewpoints: What Will Become of Us (Steven Cantor, 2019), about Sir Frank Lowy, Regal Cinemas Battery Park 11-9, 6:15
Tribeca Critics’ Week: The Weekend (Stella Meghie, 2018), starring Sasheer Zamata, Tone Bell, and DeWanda Wise, SVA Theater 1 Silas, 6:30
Documentary Competition: Our Time Machine (S. Leo Chiang and Yang Sun, 2019), about Chinese artist Maleonn, Regal Cinemas Battery Park 11-3, 7:00
Documentary Competition: Scheme Birds (Ellen Fiske and Ellinor Hallin, 2019), about a Scottish teenager, Regal Cinemas Battery Park 11-6, 8:00
Spotlight Documentary: Lil’ Buck: Real Swan (Louis Wallecan, 2019), about dancer Lil’ Buck, Regal Cinemas Battery Park 11-4, 8:45
Movies Plus: The Remix: Hip Hop X Fashion (Lisa Cortés and Farah X, 2019), Village East Cinema-01, 9:00
Spotlight Narrative: Lost Transmissions (Katharine O’Brien, 2019), starring Simon Pegg and Juno Temple, Regal Cinemas Battery Park 11-5, 9:30
Viewpoints: Wild Rose (Tom Harper, 2018), starring Jessie Buckley, Regal Cinemas Battery Park 11-3, 9:30
Spotlight Narrative: Skin (Guy Nattiv, 2019), starring Jamie Bell, Village East Cinema-07, 9:30
Shorts: On Tour, documentary shorts by multiple directors, Village East Cinema-04, 9:45
Shorts: Funhouse, comedic shorts by multiple directors, Village East Cinema-02, 11:00
The hottest events of the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival are taking place on the Upper West Side at the Beacon Theatre, where screenings, discussions, and live performances will feature Wu-Tang Clan, Spinal Tap, Francis Ford Coppola, the Trey Anastasio Band, and Martin Scorsese with Robert De Niro. Tickets are going fast, so act now if you want to catch any of these special presentations.
Thursday, April 25
Tribeca TV: Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men (Sacha Jenkins, 2019), followed by a live performance by Wu-Tang Clan, $116, 8:00
Friday, April 26
Movies Plus: Between Me and My Mind (Steven Cantor, 2019), followed by a live performance by the Trey Anastasio Band, 8:00
Saturday, April 27
Anniversary Screenings: This Is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner, 1984), followed by a discussion with Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, and Rob Reiner and a live performance by Spinal Tap, $46-$256, 8:00
Sunday, April 28
Directors Series: Martin Scorsese with Robert De Niro, 2:00
Anniversary Screenings: Apocalypse Now: Final Cut (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979), world premiere of fortieth anniversary 4K Ultra HD restored version, with special Meyer Sound VLFC, followed by a discussion with Francis Ford Coppola, $46-$116, 5:00