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Critic's Notebook: Films That Debuted Elsewhere Outshone Tribeca Film Festival’s World Premieres

Una Noche
"Una Noche"

NEW YORK -- As the 11th edition of the Tribeca Film Festival rolls to a close April 29, its biggest news is not a breakthrough hit or celeb sighting but two actors who didn't show up. Anailin de la Rua de la Torre and Javier Nuñez Florian, costars of the Cuban import Una Noche, disappeared on a Miami stopover during their flight from Cuba to New York, possibly because they defected. The actors have made no contact with the filmmakers. Given that their film is about teens trying to escape Cuba, perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise.

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But their absence does complicate things for director Lucy Mulloy, who was already planning a sequel before Una Noche cleaned up at TFF in juried awards, taking home best actor, cinematography, and new director honors in the Narrative competition. Kim Nguyen's War Witch was awarded best feature and actress in that category.

Both films premiered at February's Berlinale, lending ammo to those who dismiss Tribeca as something less than a hotbed of new discoveries. Other well-received competition titles, like the docs Planet of Snail and The Flat, which won best editing, were also picked up from other festivals.

Outside the competition, plenty of world premieres had their champions, but no single title seemed to be on everyone's lips. And films that were well received weren’t necessarily perceived as TFF films, such as Julie Delpy's 2 Days in New York, which not only was seen earlier this year at Sundance but already has distribution in place via Magnolia Pictures. Raymond De Felitta's standout civil rights doc Booker's Place was already playing in New York and LA by the festival's end. Few distribution deals were signed at the fest itself.

Some TFF attendees lamented the loud, inescapable "pre-show" that played from the moment theater doors opened to the dimming of the lights -- whereupon another seven or eight Tribeca-related ads preceded the film. The repeating loop of corporate messages urged audiences to use digital social networks to explore the fest and its related activities, but made actual in-theater socializing difficult.

One of those looped ads promoted Brookfield Properties, comparing the real-estate giant to such Manhattan icons as Woody and Marty. This angered doc directors Laura Poitras (The Oath) and Sam Green (The Weather Underground) and 24 other filmmakers, programmers and critics, who signed an April 26 Open Letter to the Tribeca Film Festival, complaining that Brookfield’s opposition to the Occupy Wall Street movement makes it an enemy of the free expression TFF claims to promote.

“Given Brookfield’s role in evicting the Occupy movement from Zuccotti Park,” they wrote, “Brookfield hardly seems an appropriate sponsor.”

As of this writing, the protest letter has not been signed by Tribeca juror and Occupy booster Michael Moore. On this subject, he could prove as elusive as the missing Cuban actors.