Best of Tribeca 2010 REVISITED: Tribeca All Access

Last year’s Tribeca Film Festival turned out to be a truly magical experience for me, one that was definitely repeated in Qatar, at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival, another classy event. This year, for their tenth edition, TFF promises to be even more enchanting, cultural and ahead of its time. They are bound to outdo themselves yet again with a series of groundbreaking films, wonderful star appearances and a website that will come to redefine the word “INTERACTIVE” for its audiences. But my favorite upcoming part of TFF remains the discovery of the projects featured in its Tribeca All Access program, which simply put makes films possible and fulfills filmmakers’ dreams. I want to share with you a piece I wrote about last year’s program to better explain what I mean. Hope you enjoy it!

Before I began covering the Tribeca Film Festival, the total concept and awesome might of their Tribeca All Access program eluded me. I thought it had something to do with films, filmmakers and the Tribeca Film Institute, but my knowledge beyond that was nil. Until a post-press conference luncheon at downtown eatery Megu changed it all for me. Hurried by the fast walk over from the Tribeca PAC where I had just finished listening to Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal introduce the 2010 edition of TFF, I stepped into a magical world where filmmakers’ dreams come true and wonderful projects meet the due respect they deserve.

On April 20th, Megu was transformed into an idillic locale, where Hollywood distributors hobnobbed with screenwriters, directors, producers and the media, to create the beginning of some fabulous filmmaking, the projects which will eventually come to be featured at festivals like TFF – in the not-so-distant future!

Unaware and having gotten lost for a moment in the maze of dead end streets in Tribeca, I indeed stepped into a wonderful world where I discovered new talent, re-connected with filmmakers of some past favorite films and in the process, found new hope for an industry which I always imagined to be too dependent on luck – being at the right place, knowing the right people, etc… At Tribeca All Access it’s so much less about luck and so much more about talent, youl’ll see.

The day before attending the TAA lunch at Megu, I was asked by my media contact which filmmakers I wished to meet. I noticed that Ghazi Albuliwi — whose film West Bank Brooklyn I had enjoyed so much in the wake of 9/11 — would be attending, as well as Nisha Ganatra, who directed, co-wrote and starred in the 1999 film Chutney Popcorn which I also totally enjoyed. No mystery there, I asked to sit with Ghazi or Nisha of course. Her upcoming project is titled Raga Beats and is a cross-cultural love story set in the DJ scene of NYC.

After a drink, some mingling with other members of the press — note to self: in the future, do NOT discuss favorite films with journalists attending industry things as their views on what cinema should be are very different from mine! — and posing for a few photos at the upstairs bar, we all moved downstairs to be seated at our pre-assigned tables. I lucked out and did end up with the producers of Albuliwi’s project at TAA Peace after Marriage — his brother Bandar, who’ll also co-direct and Faruk Özerten — as well as screenwriter J S Mayank, who has written a multi-million dollar budget film titled Marathon. It was thrilling to find out about these phenomenal project before they happen, and for a while I felt the kind of adrenaline that Hollywood studio executives must feel when they come across a great idea, an outstanding project.

Albuliwi’s Peace after Marriage explores the Palestinian/Israeli conflict from a very charming and extremely funny angle. The main character — Arafat Salleem, played by Ghazi Albuliwi — is a thirty-year-old Palestinian-American man still living at home and addicted to porn, who agrees to marry an Israeli girl when she finds herself desperate for a green card. In the process, he discovers himself and his true feelings. Palestinian superstar Hiam Abbass — seen currently in Julian Schnabel’s controversial and beautiful Miral — is already attached to the project and slated to play Arafat’s mother. The film begins shooting on June 28th and the team was at TAA to come up with additional funding — the film has a very low budget and will be filming in NYC, as well as Israel and Palestine — as well as create buzz for future distribution.

On the other side of the spectrum, Mayank’s film Marathon is instead a high budget thriller. The plot revolves around an FBI agent who returns to work one day to receive an untraceable phone call from a woman who is holding the NYC Marathon hostage: 5 boroughs, 26.2 miles, 43,000 hostages and one of them is the agent’s younger sister. Full of twists and turns, the story is scripted in the classic tradition of heist movies.

The conversation at Megu was delightful, the food amazing, highlighted by sesame-crusted asparagus that were simply divine, and I knew deep in my heart that I would be hearing a lot more about the filmmakers’ exciting projects in the next few days, as well as for years to come!

But the fun and mission of TAA did not stop at Megu. The following evening I attended the Canadian Film Centre party at Bubble Lounge and there I got to catch up with Mayank a bit more, as well as meet the forces behind the CFC and Tribeca All Access. We all agree that Canada is way ahead of the US in terms of funding for the arts and the CFC is no exception. From training, to operational, to creating the right connections, the CFC has helped bring such wonderful films as Khaled by Asghar Massombagi, The Art of Woo by Helen Lee and Nurse.Fighter.Boy by Charles Officer to the viewing public. Highlighted by delicious food – mini baked potatoes, pasta with pesto sauce and fresh chocolate fondue! – the evening was a buzzing success! Everyone connected, to the sound of the DJ and the flowing Vodka drinks.

Then on Friday, April 23rd the Tribeca All Access Awards at the Union Square Ballroom was THE event to attend and yours truly found herself once again in the midst of the amazing talent and festive Tribeca atmosphere. If there ever was a festival that simply rocked while simultaneously running like clockwork it’s TFF. But I digress… Back to the party where I got to spend some time talking to Ghazi Albuliwi about his exciting upcoming film. His character Saddam in his first film West Bank Brooklyn, who decides he wants to be Puerto Rican instead of Palestinian and changes his name to Tito, was the comic relief to a very meaningful story. In person, the man is even funnier. As I stood amidst the Albuliwis, their producer Özerten, as well as some of the financiers and crew of Peace After Marriage, De Niro and Rosenthal took the stage to kick off the award part of the evening.

John Cho — whom I had just watched the night before in the fab yet terrifying FlashForward – the beautiful Sarita Choudhury and the handsome Kadeem Hardison handed the Emerging Narrative prize to Una Noche by Lucy Mulloy, while the Screenwriting prize was awarded to Plastic Indian written by T.J. Morehouse, James Murray and Gro Engelstoft. The Documentary section prize went to Farewell, Ferris Wheel by Miguel Martinez and Jamie Sisley and then it was time for the Narrative prize…

And, can I hear some drum-roll please… Peace After Marriage was announced as the winner and the creative team behind the promising film went wild. I personally have three words for that: Of course & Congratulations!

Albuliwi disclosed the personal feelings behind his projects, the driving force in his career: “On September 11, 2001 I watched in dismay on television as religious Islamic extremists attacked America. As photos of the hijackers flashed on the screen, all I could hope was that they were anything but Arabs. Well, they were indeed Arabs and what followed that was me walking around NYC feeling guilty of my ethnicity. The media’s representation of what occurred made it seem like all Middle Eastern people were fanatics, ready to crash planes into buildings. The irony is that I am personally afraid of heights and flying. I began thinking that there needed to be a voice out there portraying Arabs as good people, not the butt of comedy jokes.” And now TAA is certainly helping in getting his voice heard!

Mayank confessed, at the awards ceremony, that “TAA has been an amazing opportunity. Most of all, it was great meeting such talented filmmakers. Tribeca has provided a tremendous platform for us all.”

On Monday, April 26th it was time for the bittersweet farewell Tribeca All Access event, a lunch titled ‘Key Ingredients’ at David Bouley‘s Test Kitchen in Tribeca. If you are a foodie, then you definitely know that stepping into the test kitchen of a master chef like Bouley feels like Alice stepping into Wonderland! For a film aficionada, as well as a passionate food lover like me, this was the ultimate fantasy. Good food, sparkling conversation and great films being presented while still in development.

The mingling started for me with a quick chat with TAA director Tamir Muhammad, who is the perfect blend of grace and hip. I then spent a few precious moments with TAA filmmaker coordinator Dhwani Patel who is herself the image of pretty under pressure. I can only imagine the wonderful nurturing vibes that filmmakers feel when they step into the world of TAA, after years of struggling to get their voices heard. I also got a chance to talk to filmmaker and TAA alumni Tim Sternberg and his co-director/producer Francisco Bello, who are responsible for a gem of a short film about Kolkata and film-walla Mohammad Al-Salim. The award-winning film is titled Salim Baba and can be viewed on the YouTube Screening Room, so access the Ropa Vieja Films website for a link…

Two presentations followed, by filmmakers whose projects are in development. The History of the Universe as Told by Wonder Woman is a documentary directed by Kristy Guevara-Flanagan which will trace the history of comics-to-television heroine Wonder Woman, but also question how strong women are portrayed in the media, as well as the contradictions within the character of WW herself… Sexy, scantily clad, yet stronger than most of the male Greek gods.

The second presentation was by Tze Chun for a narrative feature film based on the unique story of his mother. You’re a Big Girl Now traces the journey of an orphan who is adopted into a brothel in Singapore and eventually finds her way to the US, through Hong Kong. The film will be shot entirely on location in HK and Malaysia – Singapore is too modern for the time period needed – and has yet to be cast.

Lunch of course was phenomenal. Starting with a few canapés and journeying through a crab and black truffle soup with porcini flan, then over a fabulous chicken breast baked with buttermilk and black truffle and ending on two decadently fabulous desserts, a chilled coconut soup with pineapple granite and yogurt sorbet, and finally a mango/passionfruit dome, with rosemary cocoa and white coffee ice cream. A meal fit for a king. Or a queen in this case…

As I walked home, with my little care package containing a tasty butter pound cake courtesy of Chef Bouley, and thought about my experience at Tribeca All Access, as well as Bouley’s own earnest passion for ingredients and his work, I realized these are the good times for me. That magical moment when hard work and my serious love of cinema does pay off, with a great meal, fun conversation and connection with the stars of tomorrow. Till next year TAA!

Parts of article originally posted as:

Images courtesy of Tribeca All Access and E. Nina Rothe 2010©

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