By Michael Avila
Special to DNAinfo
MANHATTAN — The Tribeca Film Festival’s first weekend offers a slew of options for moviegoers looking for a break from mainstream multiplex fare, including several films with strong New York City connections.
Chief among them is perhaps the festival’s hottest ticket, the work-in-progress documentary about the incredible rise and fall of former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, called the “Untitled Eliot Spitzer Project.” Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney gained extensive access to family, friends and foes of the one-time "Sheriff of Wall Street" as he examines one of the greatest political scandals in recent history.
It’s not often filmmakers show an unfinished movie without an official title, but Gibney’s history with the festival and local interest in the Spitzer movie convinced him to make an exception. It is not known if Spitzer will accept an invitation to attend the screening.
One person who will definitely be out and about at the festival this weekend is director Ed Burns. No filmmaker is more identifiable with Tribeca than Burns. Not only does he call the neighborhood home, but the festival is an annual launching pad for his projects. His fifth Tribeca movie, “Nice Guy Johnny,” premieres Friday night.
“Nice Guy Johnny” is a conversational drama about a 20-something guy trying to figure out what to do with his life, while on a trip to the Hamptons with his uncle played by Burns. The movie will also be screened Sunday and will be available online as part of Tribeca’s Virtual fest.
Ed Burns isn't the only one in his house debuting a film at the festival this weekend. Super model wife Christy Turlington is getting into the family business with a documentary she directed about the worldwide dilemma of maternal mortality called “No Woman, No Cry.” The movie follows the lives of four pregnant women in four countries.
Fans of documentaries — a traditional Tribeca strength — have several other intriguing options this weekend.
“Arias With A Twist: The Docufantasy” is a profile of Joey Arias and Basil Twist, icons of New York’s downtown underground art scene; and “Just Like Us,” which looks at the challenge a group of stand up comedians face when they go on a comedy tour across the Middle East.
The documentary “Last Play at Shea” is a love letter to the Mets’ old digs in Queens. Using the career and of Long Island’s favorite son Billy Joel as a parallel, the film chronicles how the stadium wound up as the staging ground for some of the greatest musical figures of all time.
Movie fans will also several opportunities this weekend to see their some of their favorite stars stretching their craft in low-budget, indie films.
Renee Zellweger does just that in “My Own Love,” from the director of the Oscar-winning “La Vie En Rose.” The actress stars as a wheelchair-bound singer on a soul searching cross-country journey with actor Forest Whitaker.
Dysfunctional family films are a staple of movie festivals. “Every Day” is a dramedy about one such family struggling to keep it together, and it stars Liev Schreiber, Helen Hunt, Brian Dennehy and Carla Gugino.
Younger movie fans have two interesting options on Sunday. Amanda Seyfried (“Mamma Mia!” and “Jennifer’s Body”) stars in the romance “Letters to Juliet,” and James Franco plays a Manhattan thug trying to go straight in the crime drama “William Vincent.”
Oscar-winning actress and “True Blood” star Anna Paquin co-stars in her brother Andrew’s directorial debut, the creepy thriller “Open House.”
Think you had a rough time in junior high? Try being a hermaphrodite with kinky hair and bad skin. That’s the premise of “Spork,” a black comedy from first-time filmmaker J.B. Ghuman Jr. that looks at the cruelty and creativity of the tween years.
Science fiction fans may be interested in the cyberpunk thriller “Tetsuo The Bullet Man,” the third chapter in the Tetsuo trilogy from Japanese director Shinya Tsukamoto. There is also the animated dystopian future noir “Metropia,” which features stunning animation and the voices of Vincent Gallo and Juliette Lewis.
Some films at the festival are harder than others to get into and it's a good idea to have back-up options in case a screening sells out. Be sure to check movie screening times at www.tribecafilm.com.