Originally founded in 2002 by Jane Rosenthal, Robert De Niro, and Craig Hatkoff to kickstart the once-thriving neighborhood in Lower Manhattan, the Tribeca Film Festival has grown year after year into a multi-week event that’s about more than just movies. While 2021’s fest will be slightly scaled back due to more cautiously optimistic panning at the outset, there’s still plenty to keep people busy both in NY and virtually June 9 – 20.
To mark the high achievement of their 20th year holding the festival, the organizers of Tribeca have pulled together a massive list of titles for their feature film division across a wide spectrum. Over 3,000 films were submitted, and the final list was (at the time of this writing) down to 66, with some holdovers from the postposed 2020 festival. It’s nice to read in the press notes for the festival that more than 60% of the films this year are directed by women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ filmmakers, voices from groups that are traditionally underrepresented in film. Giving them a platform like this where their movie could gain wider distribution if it plays well is just the thing that keeps our film community advancing in the right direction.
For this special year, Tribeca is going the extra mile with something completely new, a community screening program in all five boroughs of NYC in indoor and outdoor spaces. Great effort has obviously been made to accommodate everyone no matter where the comfort level is as we all slowly emerge from our year in lockdown.
The three main lineups that I’m following and will be previewing for you are Feature Film, Shorts, and Virtual and while this won’t be representative of all the titles available at the fest (check out Tribeca’s website for all the info on titles and tickets) it will give you an idea of how to navigate the options open to you.
Like I said above, this bucket covers a wide range of film and film styles and a number of these will only be available to screen if you attend the fest in person. Check the website for full details as screenings through Tribeca at Home may be added but if something piques your interest, do what I do and keep a notebook handy so you can make sure to watch for it in the future.
Any time I am faced with a long list of movies to choose from I tend to always look for two categories first, documentary and horror/thrillers. These are often the films that can emerge from festivals with a warm glow of buzz surrounding them, and I’m already hearing good things about Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, Morgan Neville’s documentary about the late superstar chef Anthony Bourdain. Neville is an Oscar winning documentarian and Bourdain, though a complicated man in life and death, is a dynamic screen presence so expect this one to hit big. On my radar is also Dan Chen’s documentary Accepted, concerning an elite prep school with a solid reputation that crumbles after a NY Times article shatters public perception.
If you like celebrity documentaries, there are three that I think might be fun ones to get in line for. a-ha the Movie charts the career of the Norwegian synth-pop band who had several massive hits and even landed a coveted James Bond theme song. The wild life of a funk legend and music icon is explored in Sacha Jenkin’s BITCHIN’: The Sound and Fury of Rick James and Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story, from director Laura Fairrie, goes between the pages of the life of the glamorous novelist of lusty fiction
Fans of the arts will get their cups filled with documentaries on world-famous choreographer Alvin Ailey (Ailey, directed by Jamila Wignot) and Oscar-winning actress Rita Moreno (Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It, directed by Mariem Pérez Riera) while lovers of the written word should consider checking out selections such as Suzanne Joe Kai’s Like a Rolling Stone: The Life & Times of Ben Fong-Torres focused on the Rolling Stone writer and editor and Vivian Kleiman’s No Straight Lines: The Rise of Queer Comics, following five LGBTQ+ comic book artists as they rise from obscurity to international fame.
Finally, there are three that might wind up being sleeper hits based on their content and appeal to crowds on the ground. The Scars of Ali Boulala, directed by Max Eriksson introduces us to Swedish skateboarding prodigy Ali Boulala “through the DIY videos and fast-paced lifestyle of his coming-of-age in the ’90s skating scene.” The trailer for CJ Hunt’s The Neutral Ground sold me on it, though I already know I’ll be wincing at some of the conversations he’ll have as the comedian explores the removal of Confederate monuments in New Orleans, leading to a deeper look into the history of the Confederacy. Evan Mascagni’s Building a Bridge feels like a film with a message we could all use right now, profiling a NY priest attempting to bring the Catholic Church and LGBTQ+ community together.
Documentary not your thing? What about something a little more on the scary/nervy side of the aisle?
I’m keeping an eye on Shapeless, directed by Samantha Aldana. Written by a husband-and-wife team that also star, this looks like a scary little bit of body horror using an eating disorder as a jumping off point. Director/writer Jim Cummings is building a nice following with his quirky and dark films and The Beta Test, about a Hollywood talent agent that lives to regret a steamy sexual encounter appears to be another feather in his cap. The preview reveals more of a comedic slant but Josh Ruben’s Werewolves Within, could be winning Agatha Christie-esque thriller…plus it has a great cast. I’m also listening closely for early word on the creepy Ultrasound, directed by Rob Schroeder, revenge thriller Catch the Fair One, written and directed Josef Kubota Wladyka and executive produced by Darren Aronofsky, and We Need To Do Something, directed by Sean King O’Grady, about a family weathering the aftermath of a tornado unaware something worse is out to get them.
Bridging the gap between horror and drama are films like God’s Waiting Room, from writer/director Tyler Riggs about dangerous lives intersecting in Florida and director Lauren Hadaway’s The Novice featuring Isabel Fuhrman as a college freshman who becomes obsessed with achieving top status on her university’s rowing team. Count on hearing about Amber Sealey’s No Man of God in some form after Tribeca concludes. Not only is it another film about Ted Bundy (this time about his conversations with FBI investigator Bill Hagmaier) but because it stars Elijah Wood.
If you’re looking for stars, check out the cast list for With/In: Julianne Moore, Don Cheadle, Sanaa Lathan, Rebecca Hall, Rosie Perez, Emily Mortimer, Alessandro Nivola, Debra Winger, Arliss Howard, Chris Cooper, Julianne Nicholson, Gina Gershon – just some of the names of the writer/directors/stars who made short films on their iPhones during last year’s quarantine, tasked with turning their lockdown into something freeing. That’s followed up with another pandemic-filmed, cameo-laden effort, How It Ends, directed and written by Daryl Wein & Zoe Lister-Jones, but this one has a more comedic tale to tell. Another feature in a similar vein but told entirely through video calls and digital diaries detailing the ups and downs of lockdown is as of yet, directed by Chanel James & Taylor Garron.
The remaining titles all focus on the human relationships and the funny/sad/dramatic/happy ways they shape our daily lives. In Mark, Mary & Some Other People, writer/director Hannah Marks follows two newlyweds through some unexpected turbulence, revealing more truths than they had originally known about each other. Director Andrew Gaynord’s All My Friends Hate Me, invites us along on an awkward birthday weekend for Pete and his college crew. The Columbus, OH music scene and a tricky mentorship is the setting for Ori Segev & Noah Dixon’s Poser. Will audiences hail the Queen of Glory, directed and written by Nana Mensah with central character Sarah, a Ghanaian American reevaluating her future plans when a tragedy at home shifts her priorities?
Travel the world a bit and venture toward Ayten Amin’s Souad, featuring an Egyptian university student struggling with the duality of her traditional family life and more free-spirited peers – which sounds similar in theme to Geeta Malik’s India Sweets and Spices. Hear the call of the Wild Men (Vildmænd), in Thomas Daneskov’s Norwegian comedy about a man who seeks purpose by emulating a strange historical character. Star Essie Davis has been on the cusp of a breakout role for several years now, could The Justice of Bunny King, directed by Gaysorn Thavat, help her crash through as a woman attempting to gain back her estranged children? Writer/director Ziyang Zhou travels to a dinosaur theme park in the Inner Mongolian desert for his drama Wu hai and wine is on the menu for the Australian entry Blind Ambition, directed by Robert Coe following four Zimbabwean men who form their country’s first Wine Tasting Olympics team.
Three final films to pay attention to would be Oscar-nominee Vanessa Kirby’s newest film, Italian Studies, directed and written by Adam Leon. I don’t know much about this one, but it sounds like something an indie distributor (or Netflix) would like to get their hands on. I’m also encouraged by the press materials for Macha Colón’s Perfume de Gardenias concerning an elderly Colombian woman’s talent for creating the perfect funeral…and the lengths to which the town biddies will exploit it. Finally, I must confess that I’ve already seen 12 Mighty Orphans, directed by Ty Roberts, and it’s very good. It’s the true story of the Depression-era football team the Mighty Mites, made up of players from a Fort Worth orphanage. This one will sneak up on you.
So, you see…lots to choose from and we haven’t even gotten to the Shorts or the Tribeca At Home options even! Have you bought your pass yet??