Tribeca Film Festival Preview: Music Docs Take Center Stage

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Nas
 

This story first appeared in the May 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

It's called the Tribeca Film Festival, but this year's edition, which kicks off April 16, could just as easily bill itself as the Tribeca Film and Music Festival since music, musicians and performances all will be center stage. It begins on opening night, when the festival will raise its curtain with the world premiere of Time Is Illmatic, a documentary from the multimedia artist One9 about the making of hip-hop artist Nas' landmark 1994 album Illmatic. Following the screening at the Beacon Theatre, Nas himself will take the stage to perform the album's music. "Nas' story is inspiring and quintessentially New York," says Tribeca director of programming Genna Terranova. "Especially with this album, pairing the film and a concert together just felt like capturing lightning in a bottle."

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The film's premiere will come almost 20 years to the day since Nas' album was released, but One9 and his collaborator, writer and producer Erik Parker, have been working on the project off and on for a decade. It began when Parker wrote a 10-year-anniversary piece on the album for Vibe magazine and then asked One9 if he would help him shoot an interview with Nas' father, the jazz musician Olu Dara. "It turned out to be an amazing, three-hour interview. We realized we had something that was a lot bigger than just the music -- it was also about social and cultural history -- and we needed to make a movie about that," One9 says. Nas agreed to open up to the filmmakers because, the director adds, "he knew we came from that same spirit of what hip-hop was and really wanted to tell the story from the inside out."

While This Is Illmatic shines its spotlight on hip-hop, the festival itself will cover a variety of musical idioms. Super Duper Alice Cooper, from directors Reginald Harkema, Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn, looks at the life of the theatrical rocker. (The film will open nationwide April 30.) And it should pair nicely with Mike Myers' directorial debut, Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, since that film is about the manager who counted Cooper among his clients. Mike Fleiss' The Other One: The Long, Strange Trip of Bob Weir will serve up a portrait of the Grateful Dead's rhythm guitarist. Alan Hicks' Keep on Keepin' On tells of the friendship between jazz legend Clark Terry and young, blind piano prodigy Justin Kauflin. The festival has persuaded Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) to present a work-in-progress screening of his untitled doc about James Brown. And Bjork is expected to attend to debut her new concert film, Bjork: Biophilia Live. "It's a live concert doc, but it's done in a very creative way, so we'll be showing the whole range of music docs," Terranova says.

And to ensure the festival ends on a harmonious note, the closing-night film will be The Weinstein Co.'s Begin Again, which originally played the Toronto Film Festival under the title Can a Song Save Your Life? Writer-director John Carney's follow-up to 2006's Once, it stars Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo in a romance set against the backdrop of the New York music scene.

TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL; APRIL 16-27; NEW YORK CITY

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