Laotian Drama ‘The Rocket’ Takes Best Picture At Tribeca Film Festival

Mark Deming
Movie Talk

The Tribeca Film Festival was founded in part by one of America's best-known actors, Robert De Niro. But as an artist who began his career working in small films for maverick directors, it's no surprise that De Niro is a supporter of independent filmmaking, and the prize winners at this years Tribeca festival, announced Thursday evening, reinforced that commitment, with a handful of bold works from independent voices taking home the major prizes.

Bryce Dallas-Howard, Blythe Danner, Paul Haggis, Kenneth Lonergan, and Jessica Winter comprised the jury for the 2013 Narrative Film competition, and they presented the Best Narrative Feature trophy to "The Rocket," a drama from Laotian filmmaker Kim Mordaunt about a family struggling with changes who find a dangerous path to financial security when they discover a rocket in the forest. The film's youthful leading man Sitthiphon Disamoe received Best Actor honors for his performance as Ahlo.

Felix van Groeningen's story of the ups and downs of a mis-matched couple, "The Broken Circle Breakdown," picked up two trophies, with Veerle Baetens honored as Best Actress for playing Elise Vandevelde, and Carl Joos and Felix van Groeningen cited for Best Screenplay.

Director of Photography Marius Matzow Gulbrandsen won the award for Best Cinematography for his work on "Before Snowfall," in which a young man from Kurdistan sets out to find his sister after she "dishonored" her family by running from an arranged marriage.

Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais was named Best New Narrative Director for "Whitewash," a dark-hued comedy about a man (played by Thomas Haden Church) whose bad luck just gets worse when he enters into a wary friendship with a stranger. And "Stand Clear Of The Closing Doors," a drama from director Sam Fleischner about an autistic boy who escapes from his troubles into the subway tunnels beneath New York City, received a Special Jury Mention.

In the non-fiction categories, judged by Joe Berlinger, Sandi DuBowski, Whoopi Goldberg, Mira Sorvino, and Evan Rachel Wood, Best Documentary Feature went to Dan Krauss's "The Kill Team," which examines the story of a band of U.S. soldiers accused of hunting humans for sport in Afghanistan.

Sean Dunne was named Best New Documentary Director for "Oxyana," a study of the effects of widespread prescription drug abuse in a small Appalachian community; the film also received a Special Jury Mention as a runner-up for Best Documentary Feature.

Jason Osder's film "Let The Fire Burn," which explores the untold story of the deadly 1985 standoff between Philadelphia police and the African-American radical organization MOVE, earned a prize for Nels Bangerter in Best Documentary Editing, and the film was also awarded a Special Jury Mention.

A handful of films competing at Tribeca were made available for on-line viewing, with the public invited to vote on them. Best Feature Film in the on-line category went to "Lil Bub and Friendz," a fitting choice since it studies the phenomenon of cat videos going viral. Best Short in the on-line competition went to "A Short Film About Guns," which explores the international trade in illegal firearms.

In addition to their trophies, winners at Tribeca also received cash prizes, ranging from $25,000 to Kim Mordaunt for "The Rocket" to $2,500 to the acting award recipients.