Tribeca Days

Through most of the Tribeca Film Festival, I spent my time at Chelsea, the cool New York district that isn’t actually that close to the Tribeca district. That’s where most of the screenings (and the press office) are located. Still, the first so-called “Tribeca” Film Festival I covered, only a few months ago (but it seems like a lifetime ago, except not really), was the Doha Tribeca Film Festival. The Middle East is even further from Tribeca, so a few subway stops doesn’t sound like such a long way.

On the first day, I was invited to a press conference for The Bang Bang Club, about a group of press photographers capturing the violence of South Africa in the early 1990s, so I watched the media screening in the morning. It’s not a bad film (despite some early reviews that would tell you otherwise). Over the closing credits, it followed the current trend in “based on a true story” movies, by showing black-and-white pics of the real people next to the photos of the actors. I’m not a big fan of this trend, mainly because it shows us that the actors looked vastly different to the characters, revealing the sad news that the real people didn’t look like film stars.

In this case, it revealed that the pictorial editor Robin Comley looked nothing like Malin Ackerman, who plays her with what is presumably one of South Africa’s more obscure regional accents. Strangely, it revealed that Comley looks much prettier than Ackerman.

For the press conference, I went to a small hotel room, the sort of room that is ideally suited to (and was frequently used for) intimate, one-on-one interviews between filmmakers and media. This was great, except that they crammed 20 journalists into the room, while the talent took turns at squeezing between our seats to clamber to the front table.

The actors and filmmakers gave decent answers, leaving me (and no doubt everyone else) wishing that we had been granted private sessions with these people. The claustrophobic conditions, of course, were part of the reason for that. Malin Ackerman looked striking, and very different to how she looked in the film. In fact, she looked like Robin Comley. Somewhere in South Africa, a make-up artist should have been fired.

For press conferences, it’s good to arrive early. I didn’t, as I had another engagement, so I was stuck in the back row. As there was no moderator, these conferences can be a free-for-all, so the back row was no place to be. At Doha, we would crowd around a table to talk with a star, but everyone was polite enough so that most of us got a question in. This is New York, however. Though they might have been Swedish, Italian or otherwise exotic, most of them were New York correspondents. All those clichés about New Yorkers being pushy? Yeah, I could see that.

On a few occasions, I tried to ask a question, only to get beaten to the punch by someone in the front row. One woman, in poll position, had particularly well-honed question-asking reflexes, so that it almost seemed like a private interview. I kept waiting for a slight pause (two, three nanoseconds, no more) to leap in and ask my question, not paying attention to the previous answer because I was too busy waiting for the gap. Someone in the front row (frequently that woman) would always beat me to it. It was like a game of American football or ice hockey, in which everything depended on being the fastest person to grab the ball or the puck. In Australia, we don’t play those games.

One of the other guys stuck in the back row, a seasoned veteran who’s been doing this since my early childhood, was also frustrated (though he was experienced enough to throw in a couple of questions). We were talking about this later, after I’d discovered that he was Danny Peary, one of my film-reviewing heroes. Film buffs might know the name. He wrote several coffee table books, most famously a series called Cult Movies. I’ve heard that you should never meet your heroes, but that’s rubbish. Whenever I’ve met someone whose work I admire, I’ve always liked them. Here was no exception. We were occasionally hanging out at local delis, with other film writers and filmmakers, in between doing whatever it is we’re supposed to be doing.

In my case, it’s been more than just movie-watching, thank you very much. On one day I was racing around Chelsea (and occasionally even Tribeca) for interviews and press conferences at various hotels. Every single one of them was delayed. That is apparently not unusual for Tribeca.

With one exception: the press conference for a documentary God Bless Ozzy Osbourne, about the legendary rocker who presumably hasn’t had enough media exposure yet. While all the less famous people were running late, the subject of that movie arrived on time. As the documentary reveals, he is now off drugs and drink, and very courteous.

Well, apart from his language, which was horrendous. Some things are still sacred.

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