Tribeca – Dirty Hands and Dirty Justice

Films to Watch

Manos Sucias, dir. Josef Wladyka, Colombia/USA, 2014, 84 minutes

The Newburgh Sting, dirs. Kate Davis and David Heilbroner, USA, 2014, 87 minutes

Dior and I, dir. Frederic Tcheng, France, 2014, 90 minutes

Tribeca is always a mixed bag – here are three films that merit watching. More to come.

Drugs in Colombia -- By Land or By Sea - 'Manos Sucias'

Manos Sucias (Dirty Hands) is a thriller, an example of a genre that’s we’ve seen grow over years in Latin American cinema. Young men with no prospects become drug couriers for dealers who pay them more than they could get from any job – if one existed – and subject them to the dangers of the drug trade. Remember Maria Full of Grace?

This time the men are in Colombia, on the Pacific Coast, where much of the population is black and the dream is to get to Bogota some day – for the only jobs available to blacks, washing toilets,  says Delio, the younger of two fishermen brothers caught up in the trade, who tow a torpedo full of drugs to a middleman up the coast.

The drama debut by Josef Wladyka, which premiered at the Cartagena festival in Colombia, is also a road movie, on water, each encounter taking you deeper into the urgency of the journey. These are parts of the Colombian coast that tourists don’t see, not that the tourist board wants to use Manos Sucias as promotion.

Beyond the acting of two newcomers as the desperate young men getting their hands dirty, the logistics of filming in a boat and in challenging locations in near-constant movement bring a tactile momentum to an old story.

Variety, from Cartagena (or from a dvd) was skeptical. I see lots of promising new talent in Manos Sucias.

On the doc side, from which a few discoveries emerge at Tribeca,  a film that is bound to get attention, now the Snowden revelations are in the news for the prizes that journalists won for getting that story out, is The Newburgh Sting, which looks at the FBI’s targeting of a mosque in Newburgh, a depressed city in the Hudson Valley north of New York. Its world premiere is at Tribeca.

Remember Tawana Brawley – she was one of the last Newburgh–related figures to bring notoriety (or any attention) to the place, a de-industrialized town known for drugs, crime and resistance to improvement. Beware of any articles predicting a revival of the river  town.

How to Blow Up a Synagogue, Courtesy of the FBI

Four men from a Newburgh mosque are sitting in federal prison, convicted of plotting to bomb two Jewish targets in the Bronx.

The plot was concocted by a Pakistani informant, a known practitioner of fraud working for the FBI after being implicated in other crimes, who brought the idea of a bombing to the men. Those men, unemployed ex-cons looking for cash that the informant promised them, turned out to be guilty of being uneducated and easy dupes for the war on terror.

They are not saints – far from it – but they are not terrorists.

Filmmakers Kate Davis and David Heilbroner revisit the whole case, concluding that entrapment of corruptible small players doesn’t accomplish much besides giving law enforcement the chance to congratulate itself. The imam of the mosque, a Black American, takes us through much of the story, but the smoking gun here is a huge amount of undercover footage of the informant and the four conspirators as the informant lures them in, much of it taken in the informant’s Mercedes as the four “plotters” come on board – footage leaked to the filmmakers, remarkably, from a source in the FBI. The filmmakers won’t name their whistle-blower, but the story is bound to get a lot of attention for its shameless targeting of Muslims. (Some of that profiling has been ended by the NYPD, but like the information-gathering of the NSA, how can we expect that it doesn’t continue?)

The raw tape of the sting will bring pressure to disclose who leaked it. The footage is as wild as scenes from American Hustle — no doubt potentially damaging to what’s left of the reputation of US law enforcement and to efforts to mobilize the Islamic population in the US to fight terrorism.

American Hustle? Don’t be surprised if we see efforts by Hollywood to make the story into a fictional feature. (The doc was recently acquired by HBO, where it will air.)

Tribeca has premiered a fashion documentary every year recently. Dior and I, the latest fashion film to hit the festival circuit, is directed Frederic Tcheng, who was the cameraman for films on Diana Vreeland and Valentino.

Dior and I and Jeff Koons's Flowers

There are two dominant personalities here. Christian Dior himself, as a voice-over narration gives us the late designer’s perspective from his autobiography, and there is Raf Simons, a Belgian “minimalist” who arrives from Jil Snyder, presumably to rejuvenate the old fashion house, now owned by the French luxury goods magnate of LVMH, Bernard Arnault, from its tumultuous fall from grace due to, among other things, the explosive rage of its former director, John Galliano. Raf, as everyone calls him, talks a bit like Arnold Schwarzenegger. He also doesn’t speak French – odd for any Belgian, good for selling the documentary in the United States, but a liability when you work with a staff that speaks French and nothing else.

The challenge is to put a couture runway show together that gives the public and the press this season’s new new thing, from a fashion house that had carved out its niche in tradition, albeit with lots of Galliano twists. As anyone who has watched the preparation for a runway show knows, the race to the finish line is not a beautiful thing, making beauty is not always a graceful process. It isn’t here. But there is a lot to watch. You have to wonder what the control-obsessed firm left out.

Imagine a show inspired by the flowers of the colossal Jeff Koons Puppy sculpture. Did Koons get a royalty? At the last minute, a white jacket needs to be black. It is spray-painted in the garden behind the office. Crazier things have happened in the frenzy of preparing a show, but if you wanted to know the French verb for spraypaint, it is bomber, as in faut-il bomber cette blouse?

As one member of the team put it, “It’s like that, fashion – flat, on the table. Then, in one night, it’s assembled, and suddenly you’re in 3-D.”

Raf, who sufffers from stage fright – and he’s not even walking with the clothes —  may not fit everyone’s notion of charisma, but the team in the atelier has enough unrehearsed spontaneous personality for a Preston Sturges film. Every one of them is s character actor, although they are not acting. Now they have their 15 minutes. You’ll want to see more.

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