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TFF '09: World Documentary Features

A dozen films will compete in the World Documentary Feature Competition at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival. Sponsored by Cunard Line.

Documentaries have always been one of the Tribeca Film Festival's strong suits. Sponsored by Cunard Line, this year's World Documentary Feature Competition slate includes gripping personal tales, illuminating examinations of global events and fresh perspectives on familiar topics. This international selection of captivating non-fiction films provides a rich tableau reflecting the complexity of human experience around the world.

Focusing on unique individuals—a genial inventor, an Afghan translator, an Australian environmental policy advocate who actually achieves change—the films portray the everlasting, forward-pushing energy of youth (from Brazilian ballet dancers to American car racers alike). These twelve filmmakers explore an array of political and social issues worldwide: from North Korea’s repressive regime to world hunger to one mother’s quirky inquiry into the controversy of male circumcision.

David Kwok, Director of Programming, fills us in: "Even though we are a young festival—just in our 8th year—it's amazing to have five returning directors come back with their work, including some award winners. That's almost half of the competition lineup. One of them, Cathy Henkel, won the Documentary Feature prize in 2004 for The Man Who Stole My Mother's Face. She's back with Burning Season. The others are Marshall Curry (Street Fight), Danae Elon (Another Road Home), José Padilha (Elite Squad), and Liz Mermin (Beauty Academy of Kabul).

"We are also pleased to welcome back some producers, including Nancy Roth, whose film, When I Came Home, won the New York Documentary Award in 2006. Only When I Dance was produced by Nikki Parrott, who produced 37 Uses for a Dead Sheep in 2006. And Sasha Alpert and the executive producers behind Autism: The Musical (TFF '07) are back with Shadow Billionaire."

Two of this year's films—Only When I Dance and Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi—received initial funding from the Gucci/Tribeca Documentary Fund, and Tribeca is pleased to present their final products.


The Burning Season

Directed by Cathy Henkel (Australia)—International Premiere
TFF award winner Henkel returns with this powerful portrait of three lives affected by deliberately lit fires raging across Indonesia. Destroying pristine rainforest, endangering wildlife, and contributing to climate change, these fires only benefit the lucrative palm oil industry. Following a carbon-trading entrepreneur, an orangutan rescuer, and a palm oil farmer, this doc inspirationally shows those caught at the intersection of big business and conservation. Hugh Jackman narrates. In English, Indonesian with English subtitles.


Defamation (Hashmatsa)

Directed by Yoav Shamir (Denmark, Austria, USA, Israel)—North American Premiere
Is anti-Semitism an extant threat on the verge of coalescing into a second Holocaust? Or is it a scare tactic used by right-wing Zionists to discredit their critics? Speaking with the head of the Anti-Defamation League, controversial author Norman Finkelstein, and others, Shamir sets out to discover the realities of anti-Semitism today. His findings are both shocking and wryly funny. In English, Hebrew, Russian with English subtitles.



Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi

Directed by Ian Olds (USA)North American Premiere
In 2007, the Taliban kidnapped 24-year-old Ajmal Naqshbandi and an Italian journalist. Naqshbandi was one of Afghanistan’s best “fixers”—someone hired by foreign journalists to facilitate, translate, and gain access for their stories. This gripping, tragic story is a behind-the-scenes look into the dangerous and unseen world that happens before we get the news. In English, Dari, Pashto, Italian with English subtitles.




Directed by José Padilha (Brazil)North American Premiere
Director José Padilha follows up his Golden Bear-winning Elite Squad with this austere, unflinching examination of the realities of chronic hunger for three Brazilian families. At once intimate and universal, Padilha’s hauntingly visual film humanizes the enormity of the global hunger crisis. In Portuguese with English subtitles.


Only When I Dance

Only When I Dance

Directed by Beadie Finzi (Brazil, UK)World Premiere
Two teenage ballet dancers from the working-class favelas of Rio are determined to dance their way to a better life, but to do so they must grow up against harsh prejudice, doubt, and some of the best dancers in the world. This inspiring doc trails their path to beat the odds and follow their dream of making it in the elite world of professional ballet. In Portuguese with English subtitles.




Directed by Kirby Dick (USA)World Premiere
Academy Award®-nominated filmmaker Kirby Dick (This Film Is Not Yet Rated) delivers a searing indictment of the hypocrisy of closeted politicians who actively campaign against the LGBT community they covertly belong to. Outrage boldly reveals the hidden lives of some of our nation’s most powerful policymakers, details the harm they've inflicted on millions of Americans, and examines the media’s complicity in keeping their secrets. A Magnolia Pictures Release.


Partly Private

Partly Private

Directed by Danae Elon (Canada)—World Premiere
To cut or not to cut? Pregnant with a baby boy, director Danae Elon and her husband face “a big choice about his little penis.” From New York to London, Istanbul to Israel, Elon travels the world in a shockingly funny, sometimes cringe-inducing effort to understand the controversial ritual of male circumcision.


Racing Dreams

Racing Dreams

Directed by Marshall Curry (USA)World Premiere
What Little League is to baseball, go-karting is to auto racing. Oscar®-nominated director Marshall Curry (Street Fight) follows the exhilarating and emotional journeys of three top racers competing for the national championship. Three adolescents and their families must discover if they have the talent and dedication—and sponsorship dollars—to one day become NASCAR superstars. Part of the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival.


Shadow Billionaire

Shadow Billionaire

Directed by Alexis Manya Spraic (USA)World Premiere
When DHL founder Larry Hillblom disappeared following a 1995 plane crash off his Micronesian island home, dozens of would-be heirs from the Philippines came out of the woodwork to lay claim to his mega fortune. Within the framework of the fantastic legal battle, Spraic’s debut doc slowly uncovers the stranger-than-fiction life of this eccentric billionaire.


Team Qatar

Team Qatar

Directed by Liz Mermin (UK)World Premiere
Equal parts competition movie and cultural examination, Team Qatar follows the first Qatari national debate team and their springy English coach as they train in Doha, London, and New York in preparation for the world championship in DC. Will this vibrant multicultural team handle the pressure and succeed on the world stage? Part of the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival.


Transcendent Man

Transcendent Man

Directed by Barry Ptolemy (USA)World Premiere
Some hail him as a modern-day Nostradamus, others dismiss him as a crackpot. Futurist and famed inventor Ray Kurzweil is the preeminent theorist on the pending fusion of humans and super-intelligent machines as the next phase of evolution, a "singularity" he predicts will occur within 30 years. This fascinating (and at times terrifying) doc explores the personal ideals behind his controversial ideas.


Yodok Stories

Yodok Stories

Directed by Andrzej Fidyk (Norway, Poland)North American Premiere
Exposing subject matter notoriously shrouded in secrecy, this uplifting and sobering doc chronicles a group of North Korean concentration camp escapees and their contributions to a powerful musical based on their experiences. Blending interviews and scenes from the controversial stage show, director Andrzej Fidyk explores the atrocities they faced as prisoners—and the challenges they face while trying to express them through art. In English, Korean with English subtitles.



Awards in the World Documentary Competition will be presented in the following juried categories: Best Documentary Feature and Best New Documentary Filmmaker (for first or second time feature directors), sponsored by American Express. In addition, films predominantly shot in New York and/or produced by a New York-based production company will be up for the Best New York Documentary Award. Films in the World Narrative Competition, World Documentary Competition, Encounters, Discovery, Midnight, Spotlight or Showcase sections are eligible for the Heineken Audience Award, the audience choice for best feature film.



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The 2009 Tribeca Film Festival opener will be Woody Allen's Whatever Works.


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