Bugs, Armour And Talking Thumbs: Things Learned At The 2016 Tribeca Film Festival

Elizabeth Benjamin reports back from this years Tribeca Film Festival in New York

Is VR the new kid on the block?

‘Storyscapes projects’ now in its fourth year at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival is the interactive section of the events, dedicated to both installations and Virtual reality. And the buzz around it is loud, so of course I have to attend and wade through the queues of punters in an already overcrowded, echo-y room.

I’ll admit it that I’m generally sceptical of VR – I don’t play video games, and was never interested in creating my second life avatar back in the mid 90s, despite my university flatmates becoming obsessed. I’m more of a self-confessed luddite. So, it’s no fault of VR or the filmmakers who use it, either as a marketing tool – if you ask more cynical folk about it – or for bonafide, stand alone pieces of work. This part of the festival was always going to be a challenge.

The Argus Project, is an installation that tackles police accountability to the public, a subject that’s bitterly relevant in the US. Shame that you’re greeted by an intimidating Robocop-style mansuit on display at the entrance then. Alarm bells start ringing before I even get into the room. This is followed by a triptych video projection simultaneously showing activists, police officers and young people all impacted by violence. The work begs the question: If the police wear body armor to protect themselves while in public, what must ‘The Public’ wear to protect themselves from the police? And although the interviews were really strong, I couldn’t help but wonder, is that really the one question we should be asking? The presence of the suit, amplified by the Terminator style graphics on screen in between the heartfelt interviews, feels silly and falls flat.

I get that technology can be used "to create empathy" or to raise questions around subjects like racism, violence and disability – to put you in someone else’s shoes and make you feel what they feel, but does it have to be done in such a cringingly unsubtle way?

A less cringeworthy project is Notes On Blindness, which won the Storyscapes award for its groundbreaking approach to storytelling and technology and can be seen at Sheffield and the East End Film festival this June. Notes uses snippets from the audio diary of the late John Hull, a prolific poet who lost his sight. You go on his journey both indoors and outside, exploring ideas of sound, for example, when exposed to nature’s elements. In one chapter, you’re sat in his home with rain pouring down from the ceiling, and in another you’re crunching your heels through the snow as you walk away from the house, only to realise you’re lost in space and alone – queue a panic that sets in. This piece works on an auditory level alone, and although the aesthetics weren’t quite to my taste, it’s certainly a considered piece of work and one that’s still on my mind.

British indies throw the best parties

Among the British contingency of independent filmmakers representing at Tribeca, Ben Wheatley and first time filmmaker Rachel Tunard make some noise with their films, and their after parties.

High Rise has its North American premiere followed by a glamorous party with the stars Sienna Miller, Tom Hiddleston and Mr. Wheatley in tow. Held in the former ‘Boom Boom Room’ of the Standard Hotel on the High line, a swanky 1960s, white leather and chrome styled penthouse bar on the 18th floor. The main attraction there is the incredible view, with the sprawling Hudson River on one side and the glorious cityscape on the other, complete with a spaceship reflection of the beaming lit up bar from inside. I learnt that the hotel building plays a part in the revival of the district’s once seedy past, with exhibitionists making full use of the floor to ceiling windows, doing their thing while keeping the lights firmly switched on. Not to mention the individual bathrooms which expose you whether you like it or not. They really couldn’t have chosen a better venue, a nod to Royal’s penthouse suite in the film, the height of luxury.

Back down to earth and keeping things ‘real’, Director Rachel Tunnard has her world premiere and makes her mark by winning the prestigious Nora Ephron award ($25k given to a woman writer or director with a distinctive voice who embodies the spirit and vision of the legendary filmmaker). Not bad going for a first time director. Tunnard’s Adult Life Skills is an offbeat, witty, rural North England tale about a woman (Jodie Whittaker) trying to ‘find herself’ in the wake of her twin brother’s death (Ed Hogg). She spends her days making videos using her thumbs as actors, who bicker about things like whether Yogi Bear is a moral or existential nihilist. The afterparty was held at Sid Gold’s Request Room, an aptly vintage, shabby chic piano karaoke bar, where behind the velvety drawn curtains Jodie Whittaker proved she can sing, even after a few drinks. Fun times had by all to be sure. The film has its premiere at the East End Film Festival and is in cinemas from 24 June.

Andrea Arnold isn’t interested in the gender question

Andrea Arnold is in conversation with Ira Sachs to talk about her career in the run up to her latest film, American Honey, her "most me" film to date. She explains how she trusted herself throughout the process. It stars Shia Labeouf and a crew of non-actors, who sell magazines across the Midwest, and I can’t wait to see it.

When Ira asks her the inevitable question of how it feels "being a woman filmmaker", she bats it right back at him. She doesn’t see herself through that lens, and why would she? She’s a filmmaker. So that’s that then. She also talks about almost casting a bin-man she saw in a park as the lead in Fish Tank, instead of Michael Fassbender, but then realised 2 non-actors as leads would have been too much to deal with. And she speaks frankly about being “in a dark place” when she shot Wuthering Heights, and so isn’t so keen on talking about it, or revisiting it. And so… fair enough, she’s my new hero.

Ant egg ice cream tastes good

Bugs is a film revolving around the search for new tastes and techniques to eating insects by three young men from the Nordic Food Lab. It’s a beautifully crafted documentary that takes them around the world anthropologically exploring traditional techniques of food preparation and that also looks at sustainable food systems. These are clever young men who are both studious and funny and their research and the film are both inspiring. So much so, that their friend Peter Gerard, an experienced ice cream maker/hand cranker, decided to make escamole (ant larvae) ice cream and hand it out on the well traversed High line. I had some and it really tasted good, kind of like vanilla really (sorry Peter). Recipe here

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