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March 3, 2011 - 5:09pm

Traverse City Film Festival: Day Two


Courtesy of Sharon Jacobs

The TCFF organizers have certainly been pushing the “great movies from around the world” aesthetic to the public, what with the various international flags strewn everywhere and Michael Moore’s pre-festival comment that there are fewer quality American independent films out there these days. So today’s mission at the festival was to seek out the best that world cinema had to offer in Traverse City.

Everything kicked off with a morning panel featuring Moore, SAC lecturer Hugh Cohen, SAC program head and self-professed “ski porn” expert Marcus Nornes, “Lebanon, PA” director Ben Hickernell and “Budrus” director Julia Bacha. What began as a discussion on how to remain film-literate in a changing society quickly changed into a rant on these kids today who are destroying the film medium by watching movies on their laptops and cell phones (though to be fair to Cohen, nobody should be watching movies on their cell phones). No matter, because soon after that was the sold-out screening of Bacha’s own “Budrus,” one of buzziest films of the festival.


Any documentary tackling the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is walking on nails before the curtains even come up. The most admirable thing about the Brazilian activist Bacha’s film, which concerns a small village in the West Bank that used nonviolent resistance to keep the Israeli army from building the separation border straight through their town, is how it refuses to pander, preach or otherwise frame the issues of the larger conflict at hand. Bacha culled together guerilla footage from citizen journalists to form an arresting snapshot of one town’s nontraditional struggle against a larger force. It gets bloody at times, yes, and the unflinching eye of the camera makes this down-and-dirty pill a tough one to swallow. But there is definitely valuable, life-affirming filmmaking being presented here.

The audience’s reaction after the movie, during both the Q&A session and the “film forum” held in nearby Lay Park, was considerably more opinionated than the film’s message, with lots of cries of “What are our tax dollars going to?” and other such things. But Bacha, in an interview after the screening, was much too smart to undermine her movie with finger-pointing. “Ultimately the objective should be always thinking about both societies, otherwise for me it’s meaningless,” she said. “I mean, why on Earth would I take one side over the other? I don’t see the point. Ever. In any conflict.”

Amen, sister.

“The Concert”

Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

Next up on our world cinema platter: Radu Mihaileanu’s screwball French/Russian comedy “The Concert.” In this immensely enjoyable crowd-pleaser, a formerly disgraced conductor of the Bolshoi orchestra seizes on a chance to round up all his old musicians, impersonate his former ensemble and score the opportunity to perform a sham concert in Paris to right the wrongs of his past. Lots of slapstick and absurdist humor abounds, along with the gorgeous Mélanie Laurent (“Inglourious Basterds”) as the principal violinist.

“The Concert” has a great, anarchic spirit to it that recalls, oddly enough, the madcap hijinks of “School of Rock.” And of course, like in every movie of its ilk, the music ultimately becomes the hero.

“Tiny Furniture”

Courtesy of Sharon Jacobs
Lena Dunham discusses her film “Tiny Furniture” at the Traverse City Opera House

Wow, what a great yet wildly varied pair of international films. Wonder what worldly work these guys have waiting for us in the opera house down the street? Just as long as it’s not one of those terrible American films, I’ll be happy.

What’s this? A low-budget indie from a recent college grad, filmed entirely in her Tribeca neighborhood, with a cast of mostly non-actors and even some family members playing out a story about surviving the doldrums of post-college life? Yes, writer-director-star Lena Dunham beat the odds with “Tiny Furniture” by making an American independent movie about a girl in her early 20s that was embraced by an older-skewing Traverse City crowd. This wry, sharp little gem uses very little camera movement, instead framing each shot in a geometric, eye-level manner that accentuates its deadpan feel. Dunham’s semi-autobiographical story of an unemployed liberal arts grad meanders a bit too much in its third act, but it’s got more than its share of quirky charm, as the world will no doubt see when IFC releases “Tiny Furniture” this November.

All these wonderful films were followed by a midnight program of shorts that were heavy on the horror-movie suspense, with titles like “Monsters Down the Hall” and “How I Survived the Zombie Apocalypse.” Sadly, this exhausting, world-traveling day had to come to an end at some point. So now the theatergoing transcontinental flight will take some time to recharge its wings for another day’s adventure.