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Standouts from the Tribeca Film Festival

Anna Paquin, Kevin Connelly, Dennis Farina and Diego Luna bring their best best efforts with four new films.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Over the past week and a half, hundreds of filmmakers and actors have descended upon downtown New York City for the sixth annual Tribeca Film Festival.

Among those who left memorable impressions were an “Entourage” star turned director, a child actor all grown up, a ubiquitous character acting veteran, and a Mexican heartthrob turned documentarian. As the festival came to a close, each discussed their films and careers with The Associated Press.

Anna PaquinBorn in Canada, raised in New Zealand and currently living in New York, Anna Paquin may have a rootless, international life. But in “Blue State,” she plays a very American character who’s fleeing the country after the re-election of President Bush in 2004.

She co-stars with Breckin Meyer, with the two characters setting out on a road trip to Winnipeg, Canada. Meyer’s blogger, John, fulfills a promise to leave the U.S. if Bush is re-elected, and Paquin’s Chloe comes along for the ride.

The 24-year-old Paquin, however, says she’s not especially political.

“I’m not American, I don’t get to vote, so my feelings strong or otherwise are pretty irrelevant,” she says. “I’ve actually never voted because I don’t live anywhere where I’m allowed to.”

“Blue State” is a family affair. Her brother Andrew produced the film, which is directed by Marshall Lewy, a friend of both Paquins since he attended Columbia University with Andrew.

Paquin and her brother, who run a production company together, had wanted to make a movie for some time, and when “Blue State” presented itself, Paquin says it would have been a little silly if he didn’t approach her.

“It’s a young 20-something lead, it’s not like my brother is going to be like, ‘I have a really great idea for an actress for this and it’s not my sister,”’ jokes Paquin.

In a movie full of passionately political characters, Paquin is the voice of reason. Though Chloe and John begin as strangers to each other, she gradually beguiles John — much as Paquin has been doing for movie audiences since her Oscar winning performance in 1993’s “Piano.”

She was just 11 years old when she won her best-supporting-actress award, but Paquin has since built an impressive filmography that twists and turns unpredictably. She has acted in acclaimed indies like “25th Hour,” “The Squid and the Whale” and “Hurlyburly,” but most know her as Rogue from the “X-Men” franchise.

Paquin has acted in numerous plays, including Kenneth Lonergan’s “This is Our Youth,” and recently wrapped a starring role in Lonergan’s “Margaret,” his second film after “You Can Count on Me.” Upcoming projects on HBO — the film “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” (premiering May 27) and the Alan Ball drama series “True Blood” — will also likely awaken many to Paquin’s burgeoning talents.

“Be it theater, gigantic summer blockbuster or indie, it really isn’t about the medium,” she explains. “It’s about whether it’s a project that interests me.”

Kevin Connolly

Kevin Connolly pose before the premiere of "Gardener of Eden" at Tribeca film festival in New York, Friday April 27, 2007. Bebeto Matthews / AP

The North America premiere of “Spider-Man 3” at Tribeca may have drawn the most attention, but the more interesting superhero movie was Connolly’s “The Gardener of Eden.”

Connolly, who plays Eric Murphy on HBO’s “Entourage,” premiered his directorial debut at Tribeca, where it was well received and found attention from distributors. That’s in part because two of Connolly’s friends played key roles in making the movie: Leonardo DiCaprio co-produced and Lukas Haas (“Last Days,” “Brick”) stars.

“It was just like three great friends going to work together,” says Connolly.

Haas plays a wayward young man living at home in New Jersey after being kicked out of college. He unknowingly beats up a serial rapist, and is subsequently hailed a hero. This sets him on a demented but righteous path of becoming the town’s defender. His archenemy is a drug dealer played with slimy perfection by Giovanni Ribisi.

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But “The Gardener of Eden” is more likely to remind you of “Taxi Driver” than “Spider-Man.” It’s a parody of the black and white world of comic-book films; “Eden” instead aims for realism by portraying the grayness of morality and criminality.

“The strange nature of the material was something that attracted me to it,” says Connolly. “It really played by a sort of different formula.”

It’s an impressive directorial debut for the 33-year-old Connolly, who has long harbored interest in getting behind the camera. He honed his skills by directing several episodes of the TV series “Unhappily Ever After” in the late-’90s and by making the 2003 short film “Whatever We Do,” which included Robert Downey Jr. and Tim Roth.

“I knew that the end goal while I was making those films was to get on the set of a feature,” says Connolly.

Finding time was a challenge, he says, noting that shooting the third season of “Entourage” meant shutting down the editing of “The Gardener of Eden” for eight months.

“Acting is in my blood, so I’ll always act,” says Connolly. “It’s something that I’d like to integrate in between my acting jobs.”

Dennis FarinaIn the poker mockumentary “The Grand,” nearly everything was improvised — even the climactic final table showdown between the film’s main characters, played by Woody Harrelson, Cheryl Hines, Dennis Farina and others.

The movie’s conclusion was decided in those poker hands, and Farina, playing the old-school gambler L.B.J. Deuce Fairbanks, went for the pot just like everyone else.

“You play the cards that are dealt to you,” the 63-year-old actor says with a chuckle.

Farina, though, has also determined his own fate. He was a Chicago policeman until, as he neared 40, he switched to a career in acting. Farina’s past has often been what journalists focus on, but as he says, “It’s been done to death.” It has sometimes overshadowed his ample gift for injecting a movie with wry, tough-guy panache.

This undated photo supplied by the Independent Film Channel shows Dennis Farina in a scene from "You Kill Me" which was shown at the Tribeca Film Festival. The ubiquitous character acting veteran was among those who left memorable impressions after hundreds of filmmakers and actors have descended upon downtown New York City for the festival INDEPENDENT FILM CHANNEL

Farina appeared in not only “The Grand” at Tribeca, but as an overbearing boss in Edward Burns’ “Purple Violets,” and as a rival mobster in “You Kill Me.” The latter stars Ben Kingsley as a rehabilitating hit man (for alcohol, not killing) and will be released June 22.

“If I’m characterized as a character actor, that’s fine with me. Whatever they want to call me is fine,” say Farina. “In the kind of roles I do, you can do them and walk away from it and have a really nice time.”

“The career path I’ve had, I’m OK with,” he says.

Farina got into film by first working as a consultant on Michael Mann’s 1981 film “Thief,” which led to a small part in the movie. He’s since been a regular of Mann’s, including the film “Manhunter,” the TV series “Crime Story” and several episodes of “Miami Vice.” (A car accident prohibited him from appearing in “Collateral.”)

He’s had memorable roles in “Midnight Run,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Get Shorty” (probably his most beloved performance) and another adaptation of an Elmore Leonard book, Steven Soderbergh’s “Out of Sight.”

He starred in “Law & Order” as Detective Joe Fontana for two seasons and then left the show last year. Next up is the Farrelly Brothers produced “National Lampoon’s Bag Boy,” which comes out later this year and Farina says may have been the most fun he’s ever had on a movie.

“Sometimes you can take those dramatic roles and maybe interject a little humor into them and I think the reverse also works,” says Farina. “One of the funny things in life to me is a guy who takes himself very seriously.”

Diego Luna

Diego Luna is interviewed by the Associated Press in New York, Thursday, April 26, 2007. Diego first directing effort, "Chavez", a documentary about the legendary boxer Julio Cesar Chavez, premiered at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival. The Mexican heartthrob turned documentarian's film left a memorable impression at the festival. Seth Wenig / AP

To the female fans of Diego Luna (and there are many), that the actor would hide himself off camera is an injustice.

But the 27-year-old Mexican actor who emerged after his internationally hailed performance in 2001’s “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” did just that. At Tribeca, Luna premiered his directorial debut “Chavez,” a documentary on the legendary Mexican boxer Julio Cesar Chavez.

Though the actor can occasionally be glimpsed in a few of the film’s interviews, Luna is otherwise unseen. An actor jumping into the director’s chair isn’t uncommon, but one beginning with a documentary is a rarity.

Luna says he didn’t have any interest in making a biopic on Chavez.

“Every time I see those kind of films, the character is dead,” Luna says. “I had the chance to be close to the real guy and celebrate him, not myself or my talent or the talent of somebody else. I wanted all the attention to go to him.”

For Luna, Chavez is a national hero whose career in some ways mirrors the story of Mexico. The fighter held a series of farewell bouts in 2005, retiring with a record of 108 wins, 6 loses and 2 draws. At one point, he held a streak of 87 victories.

“I became a man in the process (of watching Chavez) and I started to have an opinion about my country,” says Luna. “So in a way, it’s a chance to talk about a very important time in my life where Julio was always present.”

Luna, who had previously only directed a play, says — like many first time directors — that he was surprised at the long work of post-production.

“I never went to school, I never learned from A to B what to do,” he says of filmmaking. “So I think a documentary gives you a free kind of way to find that, to find your own way to tell a story.”

Luna will have two notable films released this year: “The Night Buffalo” and “Mr. Lonely,” a movie about celebrity look-alikes in which he plays a pseudo Michael Jackson. The actor says these projects and “Chavez” helped him rediscover his love of movies.

“My life changed after ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’ and I then started to take everything that came to me. It all sounded exciting,” Luna says. “The last year and half, I was losing the enjoyment of acting. That’s why two years and a half ago, I started thinking about directing. I was kind of sick of jumping from one project to another without having my own stuff going on.”