Utah can keep Sundance. Right here, in our own backyard, we have the Tribeca Film Festival—known for being more hip than the others, imbued with that downtown New York attitude. This year, the Tribeca Film Festival takes place from April 21 to May 2.
And, just as Westchesterites swell the ranks of New York City’s working population during the day, our directors also are padding out the Tribeca lineup. Two of the documentaries featured in the festival are directed by Westchester residents—both, coincidentally, with ties to Mamaroneck.
First, Mamaroneck resident Bobby Sheehan directs Arias with a Twist, a “docufantasy” about collaboration between downtown cabaret and drag artist Joey Arias and master puppeteer Basil Twist. To get the whole story of Arias and Twist, though, Sheehan had to look back into that legendary lower New York art scene of the ’70s, and his film touches on the whole world of Jean-Michel Basquiat, David Bowie, Keith Haring, Jim Henson, Grace Jones, Ann Magnuson, Robert Mapplethorpe, Klaus Nomi, Kenny Scharf, and Andy Warhol. (The movie has some never-before-seen footage of some of these artists.) You can see a mezmerizing little clip here.
First-time director and Mamaroneck native Craig Teper also has a documentary in Tribeca that’s about an artist, albeit in a very different way. His Vidal Sassoon: The Movie traces the history of legendary hairdresser Vidal Sassoon. “Bauhaus-inspired hairdos he pioneered in the 1960s and his ‘wash and wear’ philosophy liberated generations of women from the tyranny of the salon,” writes Tribeca senior programmer Genna Terranova. “This fun, fast-paced documentary traces with visual gusto the life of a self-made man whose passion and perseverance took him from a Jewish orphanage in London to the absolute pinnacle of his craft.”
I had a chance to chat with Bobby Sheehan about the making of Arias with a Twist. Even though he’s been in Westchester for 14 years, his upbringing couldn’t have been more opposite that of your typical suburban childhood. He grew up on Henry Street in the City and eventually moved to Canarsie. In both places, he says, he was one of the few white kids, and there were “certainly no expensive condos.”
He eventually found his way to that lower Manhattan art scene, where he was always known as the person who had a camera all the time. “It became this place where these artists on all of these creative frequencies cohabitated and supported one another,” he says. “It was a special time. All of these creative people were working, and they were not driven by anything except the desire to have fun with themselves.”
Thankfully, that environment of support hasn’t died down, and when Sheehan went digging around for old footage, he found that many were generous with their old films. That’s how he was able to get those juicy, previously unseen bits with Andy Warhol and Jim Henson. “Normally, when you start a documentary, you’re worried about getting material and you start going around begging people to lead you to footage,” he says. “With this film, the material found its way to us. The hard part was cutting it down into an eighty-five-minute documentary.”
When it came time to show the film, the Tribeca Film Festival seemed like a natural fit. “It’s in everyone’s backyard,” Sheehan says. Including ours. Arias with a Twist will screen on April 23, April 27, April 28, and May 1.