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    From Tragedy to Comedy … and Back Again. German films at the 9th Tribeca Film Festival

    By Tanja Meding | May 17, 2010

    Just like the city itself, the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City has become hot spot for discoveries, especially for emerging filmmakers and documentaries. Now in its 9th year, the 2010 edition featured a substantial German contingent with four feature-length films and one short, each screening in important sections of the festival.

    Screening in competition, Feo Aladag’s debut When We Leave (Die Fremde, 2010), celebrated its North American premiere after first screening at the Berlinale Panorama section. When We Leave stars Sibel Kekilli (best known for her powerful performance in Fatih Akin’s award-winning feature Head On/Gegen die Wand, 2004) as Umay, a young Turkish mother who, together with her young son, leaves her husband in Turkey to return to her family in Berlin. But, instead of being welcomed back into the family, irreconcilable cultural values stop Umay from leading an independent life as a single mother. Aladag’s moving family tragedy slowly builds from bad to worse to a final deadly catastrophe, and Kekilli portrays Umay with an inner calm, strength and stoic determination that is haunting and touching at the same time.

    When We Leave was presented with the Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature, while lead actress Sibel Kekilli received the award for Best Actress in a Narrative Feature. The jurors of the World Narrative Competition described Aladag’s debut as “a film that balances complex social issues with honest human yearnings. (…) Through the brutality, When We Leave is also a story of tenderness, the struggle for compassion, the inexorable pull of family and the need to love and be loved.”

    The World Documentary Feature competition also screened Alexander Gentelev’s documentary Thieves By Law (Diebe im Gesetz, 2009). Credited as a German-Israeli-Spanish co-production and executive produced by Simone Baumann of Leipzig’s LE Vision, Gentelev’s documentary portrayals three high-profile Russian businessmen who made their fame and fortune first outside and now within the law. With unprecedented access, Gentelev’s protagonists show us around their homes, take us on trips to the Russian countryside, the French Riviera and the outskirts of Moscow to shed some light on their unique life stories, yet leaving plenty of blank spots to fill in. In order to better understand how these former convicts were able to become such powerful public players, Gentelev puts their careers into the context of Russia’s most recent history – charting from the collapse of the former Soviet Union to the emergence of a free market, the filmmaker points out how the economic and political changes laid the foundation for this new class of authoritarian businessmen to emerge and establish themselves in today’s Russian society. Gentelev delivers a densely packed documentary which offers first glimpses into an otherwise closed society of power players.

    In an ongoing collaboration between the sports network ESPN and the festival, Tribeca dedicates an entire sidebar to films on sports. This year’s programme featured Björn Richie Lob’s debut documentary Keep Surfing (2009) – the winner of last year’s Audience Award at Munich’s Filmfest. Mentioned in many tourist guides, Munich’s Eisbach river wave is a world-known phenomenon, especially amongst river surfers. Instead of travelling with the water as in traditional ocean surfing, the Eisbach river has a constant stationary wave that allows one to surf on the spot – apparently, a much harder task than one would think. Through a handful of colourful characters who are all connected with the Eisbach river wave, Lob – an accomplished surfer himself – tells the story from the early beginnings to today’s tourist attraction. His documentary is filled with breathtakingly kinetic moments celebrating the skills of Munich’s local and international surf stars.

    Staying with uplifting and energizing subject matter, there was also Fatih Akin’s latest feature Soul Kitchen (2009) After its North American premiere at last year’s Toronto Film Festival, Soul Kitchen returned to the US to screen in Tribeca’s Spotlight section before being theatrically released by IFC films. A lively tragic-comedy with a lots of food and booze, great music, and plenty of twists and turns in its storyline, Soul Kitchen features Akin’s regular actors Adam Bousdoukos and Moritz Bleibtreu as Greek-German brothers Zinos and Illya, a chaotic, yet charming pair of chaps: one is a struggling restaurant owner with a failing relationship, the other a petty criminal with a gambling addiction – that nearly breaks everyone’s necks.

    Packed with energy and set to the sounds of good soul music, plus some strong female characters pulling the strings and calling the shots, Akin’s two anti-heroes stumble through Hamburg, desperately trying to hold it together …. and fittingly, when all seems lost forever, Akin delivers one more twist to finish with a happy ending!

    In addition, Fabian Busch’s debut Edgar screened as part of the short film programme (see separate report online below).

    For more information on the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival, please visit: www.tribecafilm.com/festival/

    Tanja Meding

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