Tribeca - A film festival finally getting into its groove

Tribeca celebrated its 10th birthday with a mix of stars, quirky programming and controversy. Sarah Hughes reports from New York

New York's Tribeca Film Festival dares to be different. When it began in 2002, the popular belief was that America's newest film festival would function as something of a brash younger brother to Sundance, giving a glitzy East Coast spin to that festival's laid-back indie cool.

It's true that, in its early days at least, the festival, which in 2002 opened with the Hugh Grant comedy About a Boy and closed with the Star Wars prequel Attack of the Clones, was as well-known for its ability to draw A-list stars to its swish downtown premieres as it was for its wide-ranging but occasionally muddled programme of films.

Yet what a difference nine years can make. The stars – from Julia Roberts and Martin Scorsese to Will Ferrell and Orlando Bloom – are still out in force to celebrate the festival's 10th anniversary but they are notably no longer the event's biggest draw.

People queued at the Soho Apple Shop to watch Ferrell talk about his downbeat new comedy, Everything Must Go, and again at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center to hear Sean Penn discuss his coruscating post-terrorism documentary Love Hate Love. But they also lined up to attend the festival's less film-centric events, including a surprisingly successful all-day celebration of football, and are expected to do so again for this Saturday's annual Family Festival Street Fair.

It's a timely reminder that, while it might lack the gravitas of Berlin or the Oscar-friendly nature of Toronto, the New York festival's strength lies in the fact that it marches to its own beat, placing as much emphasis on the community aspect of the festival – it was founded in order to rejuvenate the Lower Manhattan area after the 9/11 attacks – as on the films themselves.

It has also never been afraid to court controversy, on screen and off, and this year has been no exception to that rule with a number of headline-grabbing moments, cinematic and otherwise.

Chief among the latter was festival co-founder Robert De Niro's decision to use a rare interview marking the event's 10th anniversary to attack the property magnate Donald Trump over his adoption of the right-wing "birther"' cause. Dismissing Trump's demands that President Obama produce his birth certificate and prove that he was born in the USA as "crazy", De Niro added: "It's like a big hustle... like being a car salesman. Don't go out there and say things unless you can back them up. How dare you? It's awful."

The never publicity-shy Trump, who has repeatedly claimed that he will confirm or deny his candidacy at the end of the current series of The Celebrity Apprentice, swiftly hit back, saying that while he admired De Niro's films the actor was "not the brightest bulb in the planet... we're not dealing with Albert Einstein". Yet although the spat dominated headlines, it was overshadowed by a strong slate of films. Some big movies misfired – notably Lance Daly's melodramatic The Good Doctor, starring Orlando Bloom as a harassed medic, and the facile war-photographer flick The Bang Bang Club, which stuttered despite a strong turn from the rising star Taylor Kitsch – but there was still plenty to admire.

Lee Hirsch's harrowing school documentary The Bully Project, the strong favourite to take the audience award, reduced many in the audience at the West Village's AMC Loews to tears and has been snapped up for distribution by the Weinstein Company; Bombay Beach, the Israeli director Alma Har'el's stylised and original take on the inhabitants of a decrepit California seaside town, proved compelling.

There was a theme of sorts, though Tribeca would never be so unhip as to admit it. This year's event included 16 music-related features, with films on subjects as diverse as New York's infamous Limelight club and the life of the English musician and performance artist Genesis P-Orridge, as well as Michael Rapaport's Beats, Rhymes & Life: the Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, a controversial take on the hip-hop stars which has already seen the band member Q-Tip take to Twitter to claim that he does not support the warts-and-all film.

Pre-festival hype focused on its opening film, The Union, Cameron Crowe's study of the relationship between Elton John and Leon Russell. Yet Crowe's first film in six years proved to be a solid, unspectacular tale, which gazed starry-eyed at its subject instead of pulling back the curtain. Far more entertaining were the rambunctious God Bless Ozzy Osbourne, which managed to provide new insights into the over-exposed rocker, and Stephen C Mitchell's Kings of Leon documentary Talihina Sky, which derives much of its power from focusing on the Southern band's relatives.

The elegiac The Swell Season, which follows what happened to Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová after the Oscar-winning glow of their 2007 indie romance Once wore off, was smaller in scale but arresting. Best of all was Roadie, Michael and Gerald Cuesta's follow-up to the creepy yet compelling L.I.E., a downbeat look at lives half-lived on the rock'n'roll fringes with outstanding performances from Ron Eldard and Bobby Cannavale.

Elsewhere, the Italian star Toni Servillo gave one of the strongest performances of the festival as an ex-mobster in A Quiet Life, Sam Shepard was haunting as an ageing Butch Cassidy in the mournful Blackthorn, and Carice van Houten compelled in Black Butterflies, Paula van der Oest's uneven but interesting look at the life of the South African poet Ingrid Jonker.

Three very different British films were also well-received. Hailed as "hugely enjoyable and wickedly funny", Michael Winterbottom's The Trip stitched together the best bits of the BBC series to create a surprisingly coherent 70-minute movie. Peter Mullan's Neds won plaudits for its brutal tale of youth gone awry. At the other end of the social scale, Lotus Eaters, Alexandra McGuinness's languid study of gilded youth starring Johnny Flynn and Antonia Campbell-Hughes, was praised for style if not substance.

Hollywood stars had a more mixed reception. Vera Farmiga's clever directorial debut, Higher Ground, which charts the lives and loves of a born-again Christian, was generally considered a success. Last Night, a drama about infidelity starring Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington, was more divisive, some critics being less than convinced by the central pairing.

Everything Must Go, an adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story, was entertaining and nicely downbeat, with a surprisingly subtle turn from Will Ferrell. The comedy Jesus Henry Christ, executive produced by Julia Roberts, and starring Michael Sheen and Toni Collette, turned out to be a little too self-consciously quirky, while Angel's Crest, a depressing small-town drama starring Jeremy Piven as a lawyer prosecuting a young father (an outstanding Thomas Dekker) for the death of his child, received plaudits for its acting alongside brickbats for its uneven tone.

The most divisive film of the festival was Detachment, the British director Tony Kaye's overblown, surreal assault on the American education system. Summed up by one critic as "great cast, awful movie", Detachment was also hailed as a "gut-wrenching achievement" featuring Adrien Brody's "best turn since The Pianist". While there's no doubting Kaye's sincerity or the power of Brody's performance, the film's lurches between the trite and the transformative mean that it is very much a movie you will either love or hate. Much like the often hectic, enjoyably muddled experience of Tribeca itself.

Tribeca triumphs: Five of the best films

1. Donor Unknown

Jerry Rothwell's sweet-natured, affecting documentary follows a young woman, JoEllen Marsh, on her search to uncover her heritage and track down her sperm-donor father and the half-siblings she never realised she had.

2. She Monkeys

The Swedish director Lisa Aschan's subversive and smart twist on old coming-of-age tropes centres on the very complicated and often shocking growing pains of the 15-year-old Emma, a talented teenage gymnast, and her precocious seven-year old sister, Sara.

3. Romantics Anonymous

America and Britain have done their best over the years to ruin the romcom but this wonderful French film from Jean-Pierre Améris, about a nervous chocolate-maker (Isabelle Carré) and her timid beau, goes some way towards addressing the balance by leavening the sentimentality with honesty and wit.

4. Koran by Heart

Described as fundamentalist Islam-meets-'American Idol', Greg Baker's fascinating documentary looks at the International Holy Koran Competition, held every year in Cairo, in which hundreds of school children turn up to demonstrate their knowledge of the holy book.

5. The Carrier

Margaret Betts's debut film is a delicate and probing documentary about the life of an HIV-positive Zambian woman, Mutinta, and her family. It's a difficult subject, beautifully handled.

Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West found himself at the centre of a critical storm over the weekend after he apparently claimed to be “the next Mandela” during a radio interview
music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig and Rory Kinnear film Spectre in London
film
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
music
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?