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Documentaries spotlight familiar faces at Tribeca festival

By Chris Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A world heavyweight champion, a brassy Broadway legend, ground- breaking comics, an Oscar-winning director and a four-legged Internet star are among subjects documentary filmmakers have trained their lenses on at this year's Tribeca Film Festival.

Organizers say the two-week festival, which opened on Wednesday and includes nearly 100 features, has historically comprised nearly as many documentaries as narrative films, which often prove to be among its most popular offerings.

This year the documentary roster includes a number of subjects boasting bold-face names, from pioneering comedian Richard Pryor to writer Gore Vidal and boxing great Muhammad Ali.

"We're excited about showing how creative documentary filmmakers are," said Genna Terranova, the festival's vice president of programming. "While all these subjects are great, not everybody can make a great documentary about a great person."

This year's offerings include "Shoot Me," an intimate look at the life and career of Broadway (and "30 Rock") star Elaine Stritch featuring interviews with Tina Fey and Nathan Lane.

In "Michael H. Profession: Director," the camera lens turns on the sometimes controversial filmmaker Michael Haneke, who won the best foreign language film Oscar in February for "Amour".

Well-known for such films "The White Ribbon" and "The Piano Teacher," the Austrian director "has typically been a little cagey, a little resistant to people penetrating his psyche," says Terranova.

"But Yves Montmayeur has been around him for a very long time, and gained access and trust like no one else really has," she said of the French journalist and filmmaker who directed the documentary.

Other highlights, such as "Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic," had to depend on archival or found footage, since Pryor died in 2005 at age 65.

With the help of interviews with Mel Brooks, Robin Williams, Jesse Jackson and Whoopi Goldberg, the portrait of the often-troubled, ground-breaking comedian and actor is being billed as the most extensive examination of Pryor to date.

Goldberg also turns up as director of another Tribeca selection, with "I Got Somethin' to Tell You," about the pioneering black comic Moms Mabley, which festival organizers describe as "a true passion project" for the actress.

"The Trials of Muhammad Ali" shows how race, religion and politics crashed together to help shape one of the world's most famed competitive athletes.

In "The Director," Christina Voros channels her expertise as a cinematographer to bring a unique perspective on how creative director Frida Giannini transformed Italian fashion house Gucci.

"The way Christina tells that story, there's a cinematic sensuality to it, which is very much as the heart of Gucci - which of course is the subject of the film," Terranova said.

"Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia" melds one-on-one interviews with the celebrated writer, who died last year, with commentary by his closest friends, including his nephew, filmmaker Burr Steers, and the late Christopher Hitchens.

But for all their fame, notoriety and achievements, the festival's starry lineup could be eclipsed by a fur ball who boasts his own website and YouTube channel.

"One personality that's generating some buzz isn't a human one. It's the cat," Terranova said, referring to Lil Bub, the wide-eyed subject of "Lil Bub & Friendz."

"That one really is garnering a lot of attention."

(Reporting by Chris Michaud; editing by Jill Serjeant and Jackie Frank)

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