Find your festival fave: five specific recommendations from the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival

Tribeca is a terrific film festival, but it can also be a daunting one. With so many movies to choose from, it’s often tough to decide what to watch. Should you check out the big flick with the actors you recognize from television? Or should you take a chance on the smaller film from an emerging talent? To help separate the wheat from the chaff, we’ve compiled the following list of five recommended titles, and to help give you a sense of whether that wheat will be to your liking, we’ve paired each with a similar, older title. If you like that one, you’ll probably dig this one. And if not, well there are plenty more at Tribeca where that came from.

For Fans Of Unnerving Character Studies Like ONE HOUR PHOTO (2002)
Directed by Andrew Semans

In a recent interview with Indiewire NANCY, PLEASE director Andrew Semans said his horror-tinged character study about a writer’s-blocked doctoral candidate who slowly comes unglued was inspired by LA MOUSTACHE and THE PAPER CHASE. I’ve never seen either of those films so the reference I made was to ONE HOUR PHOTO, a similarly dark yet sensitive study of a mentally unwell man with dangerous obsessions. Semans’ films is less overtly horrific and more impressively ambiguous: when Yale student Paul (Will Rogers) moves in with his girlfriend he accidentally leaves behind a valuable book at his old apartment, which is still occupied by his “crazy” roommate Nancy (Eleonore Hendricks). When Nancy refuses to return Paul’s book, he claims it’s the latest incident in a long history of deranged behavior. But from his interactions with others, we can see that Paul is a procrastinator and a bit of a fabulist. He’s way behind on his dissertation and the loss of his treasured copy of Dickens’ Little Dorrit is as much an excuse to pass the buck as it is an important piece of his research. As Nancy continues to stonewall Paul, Semans shows with chilling plausibility how easy it is for someone to crack under the pressure. NANCY, PLEASE is more unsettling than scary, though any writer will recoil in horror at the film’s most terrifying recurring motif: the sight of a blank page on a computer screen.

For Fans of Religion-Based Documentaries like LAKE OF FIRE (2006)
Directed by Scott Thurman

Texas is one of the biggest buyers of textbooks in the United States, which means they dictate what book publishers put into those textbooks, which means a handful of men and women on the Texas State Board of Education hold an enormous amount of power over the future of education in this country. Scott Thurman’s eye-opening, unsettling, and surprisingly funny documentary THE REVISIONARIES takes an even-handed look at the factions fighting for control of the Texas State Board of Ed. As director Tony Kaye did in his exhaustive and fair-minded film about the abortion debate, LAKE OF FIRE, Thurman works hard to give both sides equal time, following liberal activists and Christian conservatives alike. It’s eye-opening to see the undue influence given to people on this board, it’s unsettling the way some of the right-wingers insist that “someone must stand up to the experts!” as if expertise on a subject is a bad thing, and it’s surprisingly funny to watch the Board deliberate curriculum standards line by line, bickering and arguing all the way. It’s like an episode of “The Office” with the fate of free world hanging in the balance.

For Fans of Single Location Action Movies like DIE HARD (1988)
Directed by Frederic Jardin

One man, one location, a ton of bad guys. It’s a tale as old as time, or at least as old as 1988, when John McTiernan and Bruce Willis made DIE HARD, the story of an off-duty New York cop who inadvertently inserts his shoeless self into a hostage situation in a Los Angeles office building. The creative and commercial success of DIE HARD inspired its own subgenre: soon there was a DIE HARD for every occasional and locale. DIE HARD on an airplane, DIE HARD on a bus, DIE HARD on a boat, DIE HARD on another ship and so on. SLEEPLESS NIGHT, a brilliant new thriller from France, is DIE HARD in a nightclub with one important twist: our hero, a vice cop named Vincent (Tomer Sisley) is no angel like John McClane. The film opens with Vincent and his partner robbing a drug courier; they get recognized in the act, so the local drug kingpin kidnaps Vincent’s son and holds him as collateral until the return of his pilfered goods. Now Vincent has to get his son back while staying a step ahead of at least three different factions inside this kingpin’s packed nightclub. DIE HARD was a modern action update of the Western; with its morally ambiguous hero surrounded by corrupt cops, SLEEPLESS NIGHT throws in a dash of film noir to the mix as well.

For Fans of Music Tour Diaries like DON’T LOOK BACK (1967)
Directed by Petter Ringborn

I love watching documentaries on subjects I know nothing about. I knew almost nothing about John Forté, a Grammy-nominated musician who collaborated with The Fugees and later spent seven years in prison on drug charges — and I knew less than nothing about contemporary Russian music culture — before I saw the documentary THE RUSSIAN WINTER. In the film, Forté is invited to tour Moscow and collaborate with local musicians on an album. Director Petter Ringborn’s photography is gorgeous and Forté’s music is beautiful. Like DON’T LOOK BACK, D.A. Pennebaker’s classic portrait of Bob Dylan’s infamous 1965 UK tour, THE RUSSIAN WINTER captures the magic of live performance, the tension of the touring life, and the sense of alienation that comes with time spent in a foreign country. (NOTE: THE RUSSIAN WINTER is currently available to watch for free online at

For Fans of Documentaries About Amateur Filmmakers like AMERICAN MOVIE (1999)
Directed by Myles Kane and Josh Koury

?Professional scientists and amateur moviemakers Troy Bemier and Eric Swain’s cinematic ambitions know no bounds. Their cinematic talents — not to mention their budgets — those maybe know some bounds. Troy and Eric have made a couple shorts together but now they’re embarking on a much more ambitious production. Using a skeleton crew, a couple of lights, and a room they painted blue (and then repainted green, after they heard that yields better results), Tony and Eric attempt to create a massive, space-spanning sci-fi epic called PLANET X. Like AMERICAN MOVIE, which followed two aspiring Wisconsin filmmakers through their struggle to complete an indie horror movie, the documentary about Troy and Eric, JOURNEY TO PLANET X, is a love letter to friendship and a testament to the power the movies hold over our collective imaginations.