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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

The Doc is In As Tribeca Heads Into First Weekend

Two full days into the Tribeca Film Festival, my gut instinct (and the word on the street) tells me that this year’s documentaries are going to outrank their narrative peers by at least a couple of weight classes. I have yet to even check out buzz-hoarding titles like The Bridge and The War Tapes, but when I find myself recommending docs on something like a four-to-zero basis, my bad knee says that is a sign.

Jonestown director Stanley Nelson at his film’s April 26 premiere (Photo: STV)

But most people seem to agree it is a good sign. “This festival, I gotta say, this thing has come of age,” said director Marc Levin, whose own docs have earned festival accolades for years and who sits on a decidedly formidable International Documentary Competition jury. “It’s fantastic that documentaries have risen to a place at major festivals where they are a major focus of discussion, and people want to be involved in it. It’s great that they have such a high-powered jury. I’ve certainly looked at the list of films; I thought United 93 would be, ‘OK, if I can survive that…’ But I looked at the list and there’s Jonestown and The Bridge–there’s some amazing stuff.”
Indeed. In the meantime, NY, NY Documentary Competition juror (and esteemed New York Magazine film critic) David Edelstein sends word that the one doc he’s seen so far–Kristi Jacobson’s Toots–is delightful. “It’s all a wondrous new adventure to me,” he said this morning in an e-mail to The Reeler. “I look forward to arm-wrestling Rosie Perez in the jury room, though.” And while I have made my case previously for both American Cannibal: The Road to Reality and A Stadium Story, here are a few more winners from The Reeler’s preliminary Tribeca documentary survey:
Jonestown: The Life and Death of People’s Temple: Unapologetically direct in its retelling of the suicide/massacre that claimed more than 900 lives, Stanley Nelson’s documentary explores more than just the unqualified psychosis we have seen in God knows how many A&E chronicles of Jim Jones’s religious sect–it illuminates the vulnerability that sank Jones and all of his followers. Nelson exquisitely intercuts survivor interviews with stock photo and video footage of the dead, reconstructing a human tragedy whose scale, devastation and avoidability has no contemporary analogue. Anyone with a heart should bring Kleenex.
Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos: Is it too long? Absolutely. Does it shove soccer’s global appeal down American throats? Perhaps. But directors Paul Crowder and John Dower also adore their subject, the professional soccer franchise that emerged from the imaginations of New York media titans like Steve Ross and Ahmet and Neshui Ertegun to become the talk of a tortured town in 1977. The anecdotes run from hardscrabble goalkeepers posing nude to Cosmos star Pele mistaking the green spray paint on Downey Stadium’s field for a fungus when it showed up on his feet. “You know this is going to be like Rashomon, don’t you?” a former Cosmos executive warns the filmmakers. Of course we do, and we should be grateful Crowder and Dower have the acuity to put all the contradictions into such entertaining focus.

Tell Me Do You Miss Me: You could argue that Matthew Buzzell’s you-are-there chronicle of Luna’s 2004-05 farewell tour will probably boast little appeal beyond the band’s fan base. And to some degree, you are probably right; Tell Me‘s best moments revolve around the 12-year-old Luna’s history of underappreciation and every artist’s implicit dread of dying with a whimper. But Tell Me also exposes the agony and ecstasy of touring, where for every hour-long show one faces grueling travel, lousy pay, cynical critics, intra-band squabbles and other challenges to longevity. Luna’s leader, Dean Wareham (right), acknowledges that the problems posed by the rock life are not the worst you can have, but that they can only be endured for so long. Tell Me examines that tipping point in a sober, scultpted spotlight befitting its moody subject.
Then there is the second tier: Saint of 9/11, which tells the story of NYFD chaplain Mychal Judge, who perished during the rescue effort at the World Trade Center on 9/11; The Cats of Mirikitani, which tells the powefrul (if meandering) story of homeless artist-turned-civil rights symbol; and Once Upon a Time in Marrakech, the chronicle of Hunter College film students joining a Marrakech Film Festival master class with Abbos Kiarostami and Martin Scorsese. In all honesty, the latter film is probably only half-watchable; the Kiarostami short that precedes it plays like an almost laughable, interminable screensaver-meets-soliloquy, full of lukewarm bromides like: “The road is the expression of the man’s journey in search of provisions. … Whoever neglects his pack animal wil never reach his journey’s end.” But then you get to the master class, where Kiarostami and Scorsese do supply about a half-hour of introspection that will have cinephiles mouthbreathing in minutes. Added bonus: Look for an appearance by Man Push Cart auteur Ramin Bahrani, who scored the plum gig translating Kiarostami for the Americans. I always knew that guy would make it someday.
(Wareham photo: Franck Dewannieux)

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Leonard Klady's Friday Estimates
Friday Screens % Chg Cume
Title Gross Thtr % Chgn Cume
Venom 33 4250 NEW 33
A Star is Born 15.7 3686 NEW 15.7
Smallfoot 3.5 4131 -46% 31.3
Night School 3.5 3019 -63% 37.9
The House Wirh a Clock in its Walls 1.8 3463 -43% 49.5
A Simple Favor 1 2408 -50% 46.6
The Nun 0.75 2264 -52% 111.5
Hell Fest 0.6 2297 -70% 7.4
Crazy Rich Asians 0.6 1466 -51% 167.6
The Predator 0.25 1643 -77% 49.3
Also Debuting
The Hate U Give 0.17 36
Shine 85,600 609
Exes Baggage 75,900 62
NOTA 71,300 138
96 61,600 62
Andhadhun 55,000 54
Afsar 45,400 33
Project Gutenberg 36,000 17
Love Yatri 22,300 41
Hello, Mrs. Money 22,200 37
Studio 54 5,300 1
Loving Pablo 4,200 15
3-Day Estimates Weekend % Chg Cume
No Good Dead 24.4 (11,230) NEW 24.4
Dolphin Tale 2 16.6 (4,540) NEW 16.6
Guardians of the Galaxy 7.9 (2,550) -23% 305.8
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 4.8 (1,630) -26% 181.1
The Drop 4.4 (5,480) NEW 4.4
Let's Be Cops 4.3 (1,570) -22% 73
If I Stay 4.0 (1,320) -28% 44.9
The November Man 2.8 (1,030) -36% 22.5
The Giver 2.5 (1,120) -26% 41.2
The Hundred-Foot Journey 2.5 (1,270) -21% 49.4