Top Films of Tribeca Film Festival 2009

by Ariston Anderson


An unusually solid year for the Tribeca Film Festival, the post-9/11 creation formed by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff fared a much more manageable list of 85 features compared to the unwieldy slate of years past, resulting in a wealth of high quality films and events around lower Manhattan.

The smaller list didn't necessarily make it that much easier to narrow down, but we finally managed to conquer the task and, without further ado, here are a few of our favorites from the event.

Black Dynamite
Most film festivals tend to draw more from independent dramas than from independent comedies, which unfortunately overlooks a wealth of fresh new material. Scott Sanders' "Black Dynamite," which originally premiered at Sundance, had us rolling throughout the entire film. Both a spoof and an homage to '70s blaxploitation films, the flick nails the language, over-the-top plots and kung fu sequences of this bygone genre.

The plot borrows heavily from Melvin Van Peebles' "Three the Hard Way," and footage from films like Chuck Norris' "Missing in Action" and TV series "Charlie's Angels" shows up too. With the help of costume designer—and Spike Lee—favorite Ruth Carter, along with original and collected music from Adrian Younge, it's clear the filmmakers had a whole lot of fun putting the film together. Black Dynamite is out in theaters 4 September 2009.


Con Artist
The most intriguing documentary we saw this year was Michael Sládek’s biography on artist Mark Kostabi. Rising to prominence throughout the '80s, Kostabi proclaimed to the art world that he was in it solely for money and fame, saying, "Modert Art is a con, and I am the world's greatest con artist." While many artists rely on assistants to execute their ideas, Kostabi took it a step further and set up a Warholian factory of people to think up ideas and paint the finished projects, using his faceless motifs.

Panned in the art world for creating "emotionless" work, Sládek’s portrait delves deeper into this image of the artist, revealing Kostabi to be a lonely man who thought he'd only find love in fame. Also noteworthy is the archive footage of Kostabi's hilarious public access game show, "Name That Painting," where he awards an audience of downtown celebs $50 for doling out titles to his work.


Here and There
Director Darko Lungulov paints an intriguing portrait of two chaotic cities, Belgrade and New York, full of young people with creative ambitions. Robert, a down-and-out saxophone player, meets Serbian immigrant Branko while he moves him out of his apartment. With nothing else to do, Robert, agrees to travel to Belgrade to marry Branko's girlfriend for $5000. He ends up at the house of Branko's mother Olga, and while Branko tries to scrape together the cash in the U.S., Robert finds a new sense of himself with Olga.

The outcome is an incredibly honest and funny film that examines both people desperately trying to get out of Serbia and also the phenomenon of people moving to New York to pursue their artistic dreams—but who remain stuck in an unfulfilling lifestyle. Plus lead actor David Thornton even commissioned his wife, Cyndi Lauper, to compose a song and act in the film, making it all the more entertaining.