"Stolen Life" is the third Chinese film in a row to nab the best narrative film prize at the Tribeca Film Festival. And though this year's festival was roundly heralded by critics and industry execs for the increasing quality of its programming, "Stolen Life" is far inferior to past TFF winners, Li Yang's "Blind Shaft" (2003) and Liu Fen Dou's "Green Hat" (2004). An overwrought melodrama by acclaimed female director Li Shaohong ("Blush"), "Stolen Life" follows the misadventures of a female student whose life is destroyed by a treacherous lover. With none-too-subtle sounds of industrial clanging on the soundtrack any time our poor heroine is getting screwed over, the DV feature suffers from other such obvious filmic gestures as seeing the girl surrounded (read: trapped!) in a bed's cloth-netting when she's pregnant. It's a ceaseless parade of feminine misery that is anti-adoption and abortion-wary, leaving few options for the women of this overpopulated nation, and little pleasure for audiences there (where it was banned), and abroad.
Part of the problem with Tribeca's jury awards has a lot to do with the judges. Unlike most film festivals that try to populate the jury with film-savvy professionals, Tribeca insists on throwing in a few celebs to decide what's a good film. This year, alongside such cinema tastemakers as Damon Dash (have you seen his masterpiece "State Property 2"?) and media titan Mort Zuckerman (do New York moguls make good film crtics?), Tribeca selected those fonts of cinematic knowledge Teri Hatcher and Sheryl Crow.
You have to wonder what festival co-founder Martin Scorsese thinks about the pop singer's ability to pick out the best film among a competition slate that included such avant-garde Rotterdam favorites as the inexplicable Russian fever-dream "4" or Caveh Zahedi's nearly pornographic confessional "I Am a Sex Addict." What would her fans think?
As the Tribeca Festival gets a more mature program, it also deserves a more mature jury.