Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Tribeca, part 2

One of the sharpest and funniest films at the Tribeca
Film Festival this year has a young couple asking the
guy who is mugging them to pose for a picture. “Can
you hold the knife at his throat?” the woman chirps as
the mugger, well, mugs for her cell phone camera.
Then the couple wanders off to get some crepes, as she
says approvingly, “You really looked scared.”

It’s one of the shorts by American Express, the
sponsor of the festival, shown before the screenings,
and it exemplifies the cheerfully “fuggedaboutit”
attitude of a festival whose slogan is: “Even the city
that’s seen it all hasn’t seen this.” This is a
gathering for people who think of any situation, no
matter how dire, as a story to be told.

One issue that was raised in many contexts and venues
was the impact of new technologies on the world of
film-making. The
War Tapes
is one of the new category of
“Wiki-style” films. Documentarian Deborah Scranton
gave cameras to three soldiers in Iraq and let them
tell their own story. In a panel discussion, she
talked about getting the soldiers to trust her and
then editing their 800 hours of footage into a
feature-length film. “We were one degree closer than
an embed. We were able to see what it really means,
the immediacy of the experience, plus some perspective
by following them for 10 months after their return.”

Her fellow panelists compared the film to more
traditional forms of journalism and other kinds of war
coverage. Anthony Swofford, whose award-winning
memoir of his experiences in the Persian Gulf War was
the basis for last year’s Jarhead,
said that the soldiers did immediately what it took
him ten years to do: “For these soldiers, there is
very little distance between the event and receiving
the stark and real reality of what fighting is all
about. Stark and brutal images are less shocking to
us these days -- we have all seen headless and burned
bodies. What's more important to me is the narrative
of these guys trying to make meaning right away. One
concern with the lack of distance between the event
and communication is that we may be forgoing the 3-5
year period that it takes to achieve some
perspective.” One aspect that he found very accurate
was the “dark, dark, dark humor. That's what makes it
possible for these guys to get up every morning in the
midst of all the absurdity."

Time Magazine correspondent Aparisim Ghosh called this
format a “welcome addition.” While journalism
provides perspective and objectivity, and the war
changes so quickly that even if these three soldiers
returned they would find a very different story, the
immediacy of the moments in this film are very
significant and future historians will value this
unprecedented quantity of material.

Scranton said that it was Swofford’s book that
inspired her to want to help the soldiers tell their
stories. “It is one of the oldest stories in the
world, the hero's journey, like the Iliad and the
Odyssey. They go in our name and as a society we need
to know what it means to go to war and that's what I
wanted to show.”

Other challenges and opportunities for new technology
were raised in a session with Oscar-winner Morgan
Freeman, who concluded an interview about his career
with a discussion of his latest project, Click Star, an
entertainment and movie download service launching
this fall, with almost-immediate download of
theatrical releases, starting with Freeman’s “10 Items
or Less.” The service will include thematic,
genre-based channels to reflect the passions of star
performers, including an all-documentary channel run
by Danny DeVito. The service is in part a response to
the threats created by new technology. Their theme is
“We need to make movies easier to buy than to pirate.”
But Freeman and his partners see this as a great
opportunity to make non-studio films like the ones
featured at the Tribeca festival available to

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