The 2010 Tribeca Film Festival: Finnish rugby, martial arts, cults and more

The Tribeca Film Festival, which has now fully taken over Chelsea and the East Village, is back in town with a diverse slate of films.  Gone is the bloated, overly New York-centric programming of years past, as the Festival – now in its ninth year – tries to catch up to more prominent events such as Cannes, Toronto and Pusan.

The Festival serves as a great way to check out some works long before distributors pick them up, and here’s a roundup of some of the offerings that will screen between now and May 2.  For ticket information, go to

“Clash (Bay Rong)” (Vietnam)

Le Thanh Son admitted that he did not want to direct an action movie: he had never done it before, and he really didn’t feel compelled to take on this particular genre.  But actress Ngo Thanh Van, who plays femme fatale Phoenix, actually begged Le to accept the project.  The result is a gunfight-riddled, roundhouse kick-packed flick with a touch of Buddhism that was the highest-grossing film of 2009 in Vietnam, a country that had never previously seen a movie focused on crime as the plot.  Phoenix leads a team of men to carry out a mission for her crime lord boss, but the mission is not as straightforward as it seems.  The team includes smoldering Vietnamese American stuntman Johnny Tri Nguyen – Ngo’s real-life love interest and fellow lead in the 2007 Vietnamese hit “The Rebel” – who showcases his moves and his choreography as the conflicted Tiger.  The “party of martial arts,” as Le called it, certainly has more than its share of stereotypical melodrama and prolonged stares into the distance, which caused some laughter from the audience.  Le, however, was glad he heard the snickers, saying that it was encouraging that the New York audience was able to catch his intentional clichés (whereas the locals apparently did not).
“Clash” screens Apr. 29 and 30 at the Village East Cinema.

“Freetime Machos” (Finland)
Brought to you by the co-founder of the Air Guitar World Championships – won by Asian Americans such as C-Diddy and MiRi Park – director Miki Ronkainen turns his cameras on a group of aging men comprising one of Finland’s worst rugby teams.  At first glance, one would think that this 86-minute work was a comedic narrative shot in documentary style…but as it turns out, the men are real (and headed by one hilariously deadpan British coach named Roger Holden).  The off-the-cuff dialogue is real.  The everyday issues that the team faces, which go beyond trying to win games, are real.  And suddenly, this oeuvre morphs from a mere look at the poor Oulu team’s attempts to stave off relegation to a multilayered commentary on Finnish masculinity, Nokia, economic woes, family and friendship.
“Freetime Machos” screens Apr. 26, Apr. 28 and May 1 at various venues.

“Sons of Perdition” (USA)
Plenty of documentaries have been made about the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) cult headed by Warren Jeffs, but none have followed those who have escaped the clutches of the FLDS to the extent that filmmakers Tyler Measom and Jennilyn Merten have.  For two years after their escape, three teenage boys – Sam, Joe and Bruce – try to reconcile their decision to leave the suffocating Colorado City, Ariz. (also known as “The Crick” and home to the FLDS) for St. George, Utah, where most FLDS exiles find refuge.  Their sudden integration into society can’t be anything but difficult, although even the viewer is caught ill-prepared for the trials that the boys, their family members and their friends face: a branding equivalent to ex-convicts, an inability to find stable residences and a yearning to see the families that they left behind.  Somehow, despite their self-description as “sons of perdition,” the boys maintain a youthful optimism about what lies ahead, and it’s a journey that they are continuing to this day.  (All three attended the Apr. 24 screening during their first-ever trip to New York City.)
“Sons of Perdition” screens Apr. 27 at the Village East Cinema.

“Soul Kitchen” (Germany)
If you looked up the definition to “Murphy’s Law” in the dictionary, you’d likely see a picture of Zinos, an owner of a restaurant in Hamburg called Soul Kitchen.  His girlfriend takes her career to Shanghai, the tax inspectors are on his case, and his jailbird brother wants him to throw him a bone, only for poor Zinos throw out his back instead.  The film is less about food and more about Zinos literally trying to drag himself through the day-to-day throes of life while trying to reclaim everything, and everyone, that means most to him.  While some scenes border on cartoonish, “Soul Kitchen” has bits of humor throughout and a pulsating original retro soundtrack.
“Soul Kitchen” screens Apr. 26 and 28 at the Village East Cinema.

“Spork” (USA)
Adolescence is not being kind to Spork, a hermaphrodite from the trailer park who endures her worst jabs once she steps into her junior high school.  But throw in such colorful characters as Chunk (a heavyset Asian kid with the occasional kernel of wisdom), Betsy Byotch (who heads a miniature version of The Plastics a la “Mean Girls”), Tootsie Roll (Spork’s African American neighbor with a fast moving dirty loud mouth and dance moves to match), and the war is on.  Given that the battle of pre-teen minds revolves around a dance contest, “Spork” curiously suffers in terms of pacing – unnecessary slo-mo sequences bog down the film in parts, for example – but never sags in spirit, as Spork and her newfound friends try to find ways to beat the system.  The sassy half-Korean, half-African American Sydney Park is especially noteworthy in her role as Tootsie Roll.
“Spork” screens Apr. 30 and May 1 at various venues.