Tribeca Film Festival, 2015, April 15 – 26


The Tribeca Film Festival is now running from April 15 – 26 at various venues. As is my habit, I have eschewed the glitz, glamour and celebrities of the festival because, for me, the festival is all about the films, documentaries in particular. At film festivals the documentaries are always the best parts, while fiction films can be “hit” or “miss.”

Autism in Love

“Autism in Love” is my favorite documentary at this year’s festival, so far. It is a portrait of autism that I don’t think has been previously brought to light. The documentary captures the logic, thinking, points of view and feelings of four autistic people dealing with real world, life issues – wanting a relationship, the possibility of taking a relationship to the next level and dealing with a health crisis within a relationship. These are poignant, frank, dignified portraits, richly observed with characters who are appealing. The film is simultaneously heartfelt, funny, sad and, above all, quite human. Director Matt Fuller has portrayed his subjects, and their families, with care and respect. Fuller’s talent as a director has been enhanced by the film’s excellent cinematography, editing and music.

First and foremost, “Autism in Love” is a beautiful looking film, shot by cinematographer Scott Uhlfelder. The subjects are photographed as thoughtful, dignified, articulate people. It is a pleasure to watch.

Film editor Alex O’Flinn has had the good sense and talent to know when to let interview segments play out and to not cut them short. Shots often linger on the faces of the subjects after they have answered questions – a tribute to editing, as well as directing. The result is that we see the subjects contemplating what they have just said and how the saying of this has made them feel. The subjects are very frank about their feelings on being autistic, how they view the world and, perhaps most important, how they feel the world sees them.

The music, by Mac Quayle, underscores the film’s emotions without poking the audience in the ribs and telling it how to feel. In other words the score accomplishes what good music should do.

In Transit

“In Transit” is one of the final documentaries by Albert Maysles. The subjects are passengers on board the Empire Builder, America’s busiest long distance train route. The three day long journey runs between Chicago in the east and Portland and Seattle in the west.

We meet many passengers throughout the documentary. I had the impression I was being shown a cross section of a sub-culture of long distance train travelers. Maysles presents snippets, as opposed to fully developed portraits, of the many subjects on board. The snippets are enough, though, to sketch in who these people are.

Most of the passengers have lives that are in the process of changing. They have regrets about their pasts and hopes for better futures. Maysles’ observational style puts us right on the train in which strangers converse with each other, as well as with Maysles.

“In Transit” is also about the bonds that form between strangers, who feel free to share intimate information about themselves. A passenger points out that it is better than an airplane ride because, on a train, there is much more social mobility and time. Maysles has captured his subjects as they take breathers from their lives.

The film explains that there are actually many Empire Builders crossing the country simultaneously, headed east and west, carrying hundreds of passengers, something which captured my imagination. If one took this particular group of people and multiplied by the thousands of people who take this ride, one would get a portrait of a country not only in transit, but also in transition.

Prescription Thugs

Every documentary has a point of view. There is no such thing as objectivity in documentaries. “Prescription Thugs” is certainly no exception this rule. Director Chris Bell (“Bigger, Stronger, Faster” – 2008) has created a harrowing, entertaining and, I’m sure, factual portrait of America’s dependence on prescription drugs. It is a personal documentary as well as an attack on big pharmaceutical companies, as Bell shows how drug use has effected his family, including his own demons with drugs and those of his brother.

Bell has clearly been influenced by the work of Michael Moore. Bell uses “Mooresque” techniques of humorous film clips, taken out of their original contexts, to get across his findings. “Prescription Thugs” is compelling, funny and makes great points. Bell points out that Americans (5% of the world’s population) consume 75% of the world’s prescription drugs. The bad guys area clearly the pharmaceutical companies, or, as Bell refers to them “pharma.”

While I am not saying that Bells’ points are not well taken, I do have to say that, after a while, I began to wonder about the personal responsibility of those taking the drugs. Bell does eventually, but all too briefly, touch on the personal responsibility issue inherent in the abuse of prescription drugs. He also gives a small nod to the many good things that drug companies have accomplished. After that, though, it’s back to attacking big pharma. Bell does this well and has created a thought provoking, albeit one sided, film in the process.


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on April 22, 2015, in Tribeca Film Festival 2015 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Excellent as usual, Seth! Succinct, concise and giving me just enough to make me want to see the films, but not enough to “give it all away.” Each of these three sounds particularly fascinating. Thanks!!

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