While the New York Film Festival, the city's premier showcase of titles culled from the European awards circuit, prides itself on being a tidy, carefully curated affair, Tribeca is, by contrast, an ungainly beast. Navigating through the hundreds of selections playing below Canal St.—or actually, this year, at the Clearview Chelsea—is not an undertaking for the faint of heart. A notoriously uneven assemblage of titles, Tribeca aspires toward something like a mini Toronto, but despite, in recent years, bringing such important films as Jia Zhang-ke's Still Life and Mohammad Rasoulof's The White Meadows to Gotham for the first time, it lacks not only the cachet, but the quality of offering, of its similarly overstuffed counterpart to the north.
All of which can make the pleasure of discovery that much more satisfying. (Last year, stumbling across Dream Home, Pang Ho-cheung's gruesomely pointed take on the Hong Kong real-estate market, was such a moment for me.) This year's selection has no shortage of potential keepers, many of which are to be found in the festival's out-of-competition Viewpoints section, the title presumably suggestive of the unique cinematic vision of the selected filmmakers. Among those films worth a potential look are The Miner's Hymns, Decasia director Bill Morrison's consideration of both the past and present of the now-abandoned Durham coalfields in northeast England, and Neds, Peter Mullan's gritty coming-of-age tale set in 1970s Glasgow.
But it's in the (also non-competition) Cinemania section that we have to look for the festival's most provocative and likely most rewarding fare. Whether taking in Panos Cosmatos's loopy sci-fi whatsit Beyond the Black Rainbow, André Øvredal's Nordic mockumentary Trollhunter, or Shinji Imaoka's musical updating of Japanese "pink" movies, Underwater Love, you're sure to find yourself miles away from the mediocre product that tends to dominate the festival's competition, gala, and spotlight sections. Not that there isn't quality programming to be found in those categories, though. It's here, after all, that we must look to find the latest films from such stalwarts as Michael Winterbottom, Tsui Hark, and the impossibly prolific Alex Gibney. Andrew Schenker
Check back daily throughout the festival's run for reviews of select titles. The 2011 Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 20 to May 1. For tickets click here.