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Tribeca Spotlight on War Docs and Animation

The fifth annual Tribeca Film Festival wrapped here Sunday with a political and international selection of winners including three war themed films which took the top prizes. Tristan Bauers tale of a Falklands War soldier won the Founders award, while Deborah Scrantons Iraq-themed The War Tapes took the Best Documentary prize. The audience award went to Linda Hattendrfs “The Cats of Mirikitani” the tale of an American who lost family in the Hiroshima bombings.

Figures show this years fest attendance swelled to 445,000 people, up 62% from last year. Geographically the festival expanded well beyond the triangle below canal street that is it’s namesake and screenings took place as far uptown as Lincoln center. After the event , co-founder Craig Hatkoff offered his evaluation “ It’s the same 13 days as last year but more demanding because of our expansion, “ he said, in part referring to the addition of three new Loews Theaters venues uptown. Robert DeNiro added ”We’re very pleased with the growth of the festival and most appreciative of our sponsors, the community and our volunteers”. DeNiro and producing partner Jane Rosenthal founded the festival to revitalize the lower Manhattan neighborhood after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.


One of the least hyped 9/11 films of the festival centered on the late chaplain Father Mychal Judge. “The Saint of 9/11” touches the event in a manner more befitting such an intensely personal (yet public) tragedy. The film, rather than trying to manufacture ‘meaning’ from the day, instead lovingly recounts the life of just one individual who perished at the World Trade Center. The chaplain was the first recorded casualty of 9/11’s morning , and, in life, was also-in no particular order- a Catholic preist, a recovering alcoholic, a gay man , a fire house chaplain, and a dedicated servant of those suffering from AIDS. Leaving the Battery Park cinema after attending the emotional screening and Q+A , you couldn’t help but be struck by the gaping hole visible below-the present day result of the collapse of the twin towers.


On the more whimsical side of things the festival commissioned animator Bill Plympton to curate a selection of shorts titled “Animated New York” Plympton's illustrations and cartoons have been printed in The New York Times and The Village Voice , as well as the magazines Vogue , Rolling Stone , Vanity Fair , Penthouse , and National Lampoon . His political cartoon strip "Plympton", which began in 1975 eventually was syndicated and appeared in over twenty newspapers. His distinctive style is easily recognized. I caught up with busy animation guru and his colleague Signe Baumane :

Q: Tell us about the animation Scene in NYC?

Bill: I don't know why NY independent animation is so obscure. It may be that the big studios bury the independent with their promotion and marketing. Also, its maybe that there's still a prejudice that animation is for children and New Yorkers do adult themes.

We need an icon like Woody Allen, John Jarmusch, or Spike Lee to carry the banner and send the word out that NYC has the largest and most successful group of animators in the world.

And even more remarkable is that most of them finance their own films; there are few grants or sponsors to take on their expenses.

SIGNE: New York is the first place people think of when they think of animation - NY is the Capital of the worlds animation and Bill Plympton is its president!!
When we published "Avoid Eye Contact - Best of New York Independent Animation" DVD, we sold 2000 copies in one year
it was a bestseller in the festival circle, no
British animation collection , nor Canada film board animation collection could compete with sales of Avoid Eye Contact (and those guys have really cool films, because they are supported by Government, unlike NY indie low budget flicks)
If you ask why -
it is because when you think of animation - you think of New York!!! There is an unmatched wealth of talent here, you wont find it anywhere else in world, and we keep making films despite being unsupported by grants and foundations.

Q:Signe, Can you describe the production of your film” Dentist”? What software package do you use? How long did it take to create?

"Dentist" was made the old way - shot on 35 mm film -
it is because I love film and I love the process

I did line test in Premiere - another outdated software
Am not a luddite, just very slow at grasping new things

"Dentist" , 10 min, took about a year and half to finish,
I worked on it mostly alone, but had 6 interns to help me with painting cells

to compare - I made "Woman" , also a 10 min film, in Latvia animated film studio Rija
some 50 people helped me with the film -
and we finished it in 4 months

how about that?

Q: Who are some of the animators that inspire you?
SIGNE: hmm...
Jan Svankmayer, Bill Plympton, all the New York animators - it is a tight animation community here and we do encourage each other and support and critique and force each other to keep making films

Q: How did you select the animated films for this program?

BILL: I looked for films that I loved to watch. I know that’s very selfish but I figure if these films amuse me, then they’ll amuse the audience.

Although it is nice to have world premiers, that was not my priority. So many of these films are rarely shown on TV or in movie theatres and because of that, I know the audience would see them fresh.

One thing the audience can expect is that these are definitely not made for kids. I loved cartoons when I was a child and now that I’m an adult, I want to see cartoons with adult themes. And I believe there is a large hunger out there for these kinds of films.

The Sunday morning screening we attended at Lincoln Center was completely sold out and the animator was busy afterwards signing autographs for his fans.


One of the gems of this years festival was a documentary made for 8,000.00 that debunks a lot of the current media mythology about modern Iran. The country where half the population is under 30, Western music is banned, and the solo female voice has not been heard singing in public since the Revolution. But as this film reveals, young men and women in burgeoning underground bands are defying the system by using the Internet to get their music heard. “The Sounds Of Silence” shows how an oppressed , diverse artistic community struggles to connect with an audience using the internet and word of mouth.

Since the country's revolution in 1979, pop music has been banned, female vocals have been restricted and creative innovation has been curbed. All music in Iran is regulated and censored by Ershad, the Ministry of Islamic Guidance, which has separate committees for judging an artist's musical style and lyrical content. To get approval from the government, a song has to pass each committee's standards, and that is a rarity these days. Additionally, live performances are also scrutinized, with Ershad monitoring the appearance and actions of artists on stage.

The engrossing film by Amir Hamz and Mark Lazarz surveys Iran's rock and hip-hop scene, driven underground by a stultifying system of government censorship. The Iran-Iraq war killed a million people. The death of the war generation resulted in a startling demographic: 65 percent of Iran's current population are children of that revolution, making it one of the world's youngest countries. That generation - in its 20s now - craves contemporary music.

Lately, the music laws have loosened, but not enough. To get approval for a concert or album release, bands have to submit both their music and lyrics to government boards dominated by middle-aged judges who don't get along. Rejection is the norm: Not allowed are unsuitable words, grammatical errors, solo female singers, shaved heads, "unsuitable" personal grooming, "superfluous" stage movements, too much reliance on electric guitars, or lyrics that declare love for anyone but Allah. That, and the country's lack of nightclubs, result in hundreds of frustrated musicians with nowhere to play. They have come to rely on the Internet, by which Iran's emerging bands are developing an international fan base.

The Web, as it turns out, could prove to be the salvation of the bands in "The Sounds of Silence." A music documentary with subtitles might be a hard sell for distributors. But even if the film never screens near you, Iranian rock and hip-hop can still be heard. Just go to, and start downloading MP3s. There are dozens, and all free. Other sites can be found at the films website: www.sounds of

Other winners included "When I Came Home," examining homelessness among U.S. veterans and the struggles they face getting government benefits, which won the NY Loves Film Documentary award. The film, directed by Dan Lohaus, focuses on the story of Iraq war veteran Herold Noel.
"The Treatment," directed by Oren Rudavsky, won the award for the best narrative feature made in New York. The film is about a New York schoolteacher who battles his therapist's increasing hold on his life.
The special documentary jury prize went to "Voices of Bam," which described the experiences and hopes of the survivors of the 2003 earthquake that struck the ancient city of Bam, Iran. The film was directed by Aliona van der Horst and Maasja Ooms of the Netherlands.
Select new filmmakers were also honored at a ceremony held Saturday.
Marwan Hamed won under the narrative category for "The Yacoubian Building," a film about the lives of a group of Egyptians. Pelin Esmer won for "The Play," which tells the story of nine peasant women in Turkey who write and perform a show based on their lives.
The best actor prize went to Jurgen Vogel in "The Free Will," a German film. Best actress was awarded to Eva Holubova in "Holiday Makers," from the Czech Republic.
This year's festival, the fifth, included 274 films from 40 countries.

Article and Photo’s DANE ALLAN SMITH


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