PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — I just returned from a weekend at the legendary Tribeca Film Festival, founded by Robert De Niro back in 2002. Over the years this has become one of the premiere film festivals in the country. This year was no exception.
For me, it was an opportunity to see and hear some of the great American filmmakers and actors talk about their movies and offer some fascinating insight into the creative process.
It began on Saturday afternoon with Jared Leto’s documentary work-in-progress A Day in the Life of America, an ambitious project covering a single day in the life of our nation on July 4, 2018. 92 film crews were dispatched to all fifty states as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Hundreds of hours of footage were recorded in addition to thousands of submissions from Leto’s legion of loyal fans (in addition to being an Oscar-winning actor, he is also the front man for the band 30 Seconds to Mars).
While the film pursued the hot-button topics of the day, it felt as though only a fraction of the many hours of coverage made it into this cut. It raises the question about whether this amount of material can ever be faithfully compressed into a 78 minute format or whether a cable series might afford the time of format to really do this project justice. Again, Jared, in full rock star mode and Gucci attire, made it clear that this is just an early cut of the movie. The fans didn’t seem to mind.
Later that afternoon, I attended a film talk with David O. Russell and Jennifer Lawrence.
Their movies, to date, include Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, and Joy. They work well together and it’s clear that their chemistry is undeniably one of the great collaborations in modern American cinema. Jennifer Lawrence remarked that if she could, she would only work with Russell and no one else for the rest of her life. When you consider the screen magic that they have made together, you understand why. Recall that she won the Oscar for Best Actress for her role in Silver Linings Playbook in 2012. That movie co-starred Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro, and as a special surprise, De Niro walked out on stage and joined the conversation with his recollections about the making of that movie. In particular, the famous scene where his character meets Lawrence’s character for the first time and the sparks that fly when he accuses her of stealing what he believe is his son’s juju for helping the Eagles football team win. One of the all-time classic comedy moments that forever feels like lightning in a bottle.
The following day, I attended a session, held at New York’s famous Beacon Theater, that coupled Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese.
I would have paid to see either one of them individually, for the record. They commented on movies clips from Mean Streets to Casino with some wonderful anecdotes. Remarkably, Scorsese admitted having serious self-doubts about directing Raging Bull since he wasn’t much of a sports fan or boxing fan in his youth (which he spent in his parent’s apartment gazing down on the world from above since he suffered from asthma, an experience which reverberated in his movies with what critics called his God perspective shots).
During their talk, Leo DiCaprio’s name came up and, lo and behold, he happened to be one of the audience members. Only in New York, right? To his credit, even though he and Scorsese have made five movies together, he never chimed in or interrupted the conversation happening on stage. A real class act, and a real moment of respect for a couple of guys who were responsible for his artistic growth and success.
Later that afternoon, The Beacon screened the world premiere of Francis Ford Coppola’s new epic version of the Vietnam War movie Apocalypse Now, released in 1979.
As fans know, an extended version of the movie (Apocalypse Now: Redux) was released in 2001. But Coppola is calling this Apocalypse Now: Final Cut, the version the he wanted to release for posterity. Steven Soderbergh interviewed Coppola following the screening, but not before a surprise appearance from no less than the star of the movie, Robert Duvall who came out briefly to wave to the crowd and deliver his famous line from the movie “Charlie don’t surf!” which brought the house down.
Also in attendance, in the audience was Walter Murch one of Hollywood’s famous editors who was such a vital part of the success of Apocalypse Now (which earned him an Oscar). Again, a moment that might not happen anywhere else than in the Big Apple where it’s not uncommon for people like this to just pop up at events like this.
The screening of the new, definitive version of Apocalypse Now was stunning. I have always been a fan of what film critics have called a “flawed masterpiece” over the years. It may not be a perfect film but it might be as close as anyone could ever get when you consider the boldness of the movie (being released so soon after the end of the Vietnam War) and the surreal beauty that it has to this day. The famed helicopter attach sequence itself is enough to make this a movie that will forever be on the list of the all-time great American film montages.
I can’t say enough about the Tribeca Film Festival but I do want to conclude by saying that, if you really love movies, this film festival is one that you don’t want to miss. Surprisingly affordable if you choose to take a Greyhound or Megabus and find a comfortable place to stay in the Big Apple for a couple of nights. The tickets to the events and screenings won’t break your bank account. You can get them for as little as $40 or so, far less than what you would pay for a hit show on or off Broadway.
The Tribeca Film Festival is a real treat. You might spend much of your time pinching yourself and reminding yourself that it’s all really happening. It is a film event that really delvers on the promise of some great movies and memorable, insightful discussions with some of the towering filmmakers and actors of our time.