Tribeca film festival 2017 reignites energy and volatile conversations

Posted on April 27, 2017


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By Eric Raddatz

Traveling from Fort Myers to New York City to attend the Tribeca film festival is an exciting endeavor on several levels.

1.)  The films, panels and discussions at Tribeca are some of the best you will enjoy at any festival worldwide. Having started two festivals here I realize Tribeca sits right at the top of the best in the world.

2.)  It’s New York. Come on. I mean the city offers food, parties, art, people, shopping and energy level you can’t compare to anywhere else.

3.)  I get to get out of South Florida for a few days.

4.)  With regard to #3 I will just say this—I love South Florida and no offense—but if you live in Southwest Florida and you don’t notice how slow people are—well, you are one of them. It is either that or you just have never lived in a big city.

Florida Films

There were films with themes that really resonate with Floridians. One, “Elian,” the story about a young Cuban boy—Elian Gonzalez, who survived escaping Cuba in a small raft, detailed both sides of a very passionate struggle. Elian’s mother who wanted to escape to America did not live to tell the tale. Elian did, but became a pawn in a struggle between Fidel Castro’s Cuba and the U.S. If you don’t remember the story, Elian’s distant relatives took him in and started showing the boy a life of ‘freedom’ here in Miami. Meanwhile Elian’s father demanded his return. The escalation climaxed in a very memorable AP photo of heavily armed U.S. agencies breaking in demanding Elian go back to Cuba to be reunited with his father.

If you ever wondered what happened outside of mainstream media on both sides, well, let’s just say executive producer Alex Gibney left no rock unturned. With archival footage never before seen and interviews from both sides of the story to comments from current President Donald Trump, Former Vice President Al Gore, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Miami Herald’s Carl Hiassan, we are reminded of just how Florida seems to get thrust on the international scene in totally unforgettable ways. Most profoundly, a grown 23-year-old Elian describes how he recollects the times when he was a smiling boy caught in one of the biggest news events in modern time, and what his future looks to be now reunited with his family in Cuba.

Tribeca on Earth Day

It made sense that there were plenty of climate and environmental films bringing attention to the issues on Earth Day. What was confusing, though, is how each film approached what to do about it.

At an Earth Day rally in Lowry Square, politicians, artists and filmmaker Josh Fox spoke to an enthusiastic, although smaller, crowd about the current administration, possible collapse of policies in place to protect clean air and water and what they thought were the answers. A few came up that seemed not only practical, but also likely they would make a real dent in preserving our earth.

1)   Ban fracking. New York state has become one of only threes state to do it along with Vermont and Maryland. While the scientists were on the upper east side rallying for Science Day this much was clear. Fracking has proven to destroy aquifers and water in many communities—enough so that the state was taking a stand and others should too.

2)   Support representatives that support caring for the earth. Your vote counts. Show what matters with your vote.

3)   Rally. Protest. Resist. Join the front line and get loud. If enough speak up something will get done.

4)   Download Josh Fox’s latest film “Awake, a Dream From Standing Rock.” This made sense because it is about the Dakota Access Pipeline and surrounding conflict with the government and the indigenous tribe living there. I got a chance to see the first screening of it at Tribeca, which corresponded to a nationwide rollout online. You can watch it too. Here is the link.

Back at Tribeca hub the film “Blues Planet: Triptych” followed environmental artist Wyland narrating and painting after the Gulf Oil Spill disaster. He gathered 30 of today’s artists to discuss it in a short film that played at Tribeca’s main hub. There wasn’t a lot of science in this film. But there was artistic passion and that may seem like a unique angle on how to deal with the environmental crisis, but then again, anything’s worth a shot. He did bring together artists for an unbelievably special performance by Taj Mahal and the Wyland Blues Planet Band who sang the blues about the dangers of destroying the planet to a room more than half full. This, I felt, was the MOST appropriate time to sing the blues and while without the answers I was hearing at Lowry Square, the tunes were way better. It certainly was not the solution to the problem, but it was a sort of therapy to grieve through it all. Sure the planet was a horrible environmental mess. Yes, the solutions weren’t easy or even at our fingertips but we WILL sing the blues now.

Josh Fox brought what seemed to be like most of the indigenous tribe from Standing Rock to Tribeca for his film “Awake, a Dream From Standing Rock” —which was brilliant—no surprise there. Honestly there were at least a dozen who were featured in the film sitting right there in the New York City theater. They were serious, sombre and united, dressed in traditional tribe apparel, taking a stand and having their say in discussion and in chants. The chants ‘water is life’ before and after from the packed theater came in English and their native language Lakota. Either way I grasped the significance, as the world turned its attention to this very small tribe in the middle of nowhere as they battled for the sovereign land they were entitled to, as big oil and government marched, smashed, shot, tear gassed and beat their way through their peaceful homes.  They spoke at a length about it before and after the film, so long in fact they spoke at times longer than the length of the film. In addition to wishing for more to join them on the front line, the movie ended with this five things to do.

1) Pray more.

2) Consume less

3) Wage peace

4) Protect water

5) Resist

Several other films tackled the subject many say is crucial to the continuance of the human species. “A River Below” we follow a marine biologist and reality TV star who look to save the pink river dolphin. “From the Ashes”  dives into what the future of the coal industry should and might look for under the Trump Administration, with stories on what’s at steak for our economy, health and climate.

In “Water Warriors” we see indigenous and white families uniting to successfully drive out an energy company who starts searching for natural gas in New Brunswick, Canada. Director Brian Schulz shows how communities can cope and deal with the water tragedy in “For Flint,” even managing to offer some optimism.

The return

Just a few days into feeling the quicker and smarter rhythms of the city I had to come home. Back to (slow) Florida. I realized in addition to feeling more at home with the uptempo,  high energy and quickness I may never get in Fort Myers, that I had also become kind of racist. Not racist, I guess, in that I think of any specific race as being superior, but that New York City people are well, way better when it comes to getting things done. Is that racist? I don’t know.

But as my Uber driver came to pick me up around the corner from JayZ and Beyonce’s place in a Toyota Camry looking to be in his mid 70s with a receded white head of hair, wrinkles and full white beard I assumed one thing. This trip to JFK is going to take longer than if I had someone much younger. Oh well, it still beat the A train. I jumped in and proceeded to do what I do whenever I get someone with some age in SWFL at the Uber wheel. “Can you see where I am heading on your screen there?” It was not meant to seem demeaning or disrespectful. I just am used to having to ask this and this guy, well I hope he could hear me. He tuned sharply to me and said “yes, of course I do” in such a way I realized that BECAUSE I live in SWFL I have become some kind of ageist, someone who ASSUMES because of someones age that they will be less quick, slower, maybe slower to grasp things. Rana took a quick, sharp look at my 3/4 cup of coffee in my carry-around ceramic, without a top, as if to say ‘yeah, you might be wearing that by the end of trip but surely you know this’ —giving ME credit to be smart enough to have thought of this. The Camry sped off. He took curves like a professional racer, whizzing past cars on the BQE like I was the President being chased by terrorists. This. Was. Impressive. I was amazed and delighted. Anytime you can get these kind of speeds in NYC it is kind of euphoric. And here was grandpa just gunning like a champ. I felt bad ever having doubted him, his ability, his potential because of his age. With the window’s part cracked at 100 m.p.h. it seemed like a little indie movie all by itself in the back seat of a Toyota in 50 degree city. I’ll never forget this ride, or Rana. He took my breath away and of course gave him 5 stars. I said simply as I left “that was beautiful. Beautiful driving. Thank you.” He nodded respectfully. Mission accomplished getting a Florida man to the airport.

The plane landed and as expected a family, all wearing Key West sweatshirts in the terminal, walked slower than a drunk Jimmy Buffett and took up the breadth of the tunnel slowing me back down to speeds that fit in here. I was home.

—Eric Raddatz is the Presentation Editor at Florida weekly and founder of the Fort Myers Film and Naples International Film Festivals. Follow him at

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