Tribeca Festival, the event that wants to offer something for everyone, returns Wednesday with its sprawling collection of features and shorts, live music, TV, podcasts, games, and AR/VR. The annual New York City-set fest has moved mostly back indoors this year, but will feature nods to 2021 like free outdoor screenings and an online edition, Tribeca At Home. A rich documentary slate tackles abortion, press freedom and the rise of social media. There’s a first-time award for environmental impact and a series of talks with Blackhouse Foundation centered on POC storytelling.
“We’re an activist festival,” said Jane Rosenthal, co-founder with Robert De Niro and CEO of Tribeca Enterprises. “When you think back to how we founded the festival, we’ve always been political,” she added, a nod to the duo launching Tribeca after the September 11 terrorist attacks to buck up a physically and emotionally devastated neighborhood.
This year, docs like Cynthia Lowen’s Batleground, which follows three women active in the anti-abortion movement; Endangered, intertwining stories of journalists in Brazil, Mexico City and the U.S. fighting to report against lies, misinformation and intimidation; and Alex Winter’s The YouTube Effect, on the ascension of the world’s most popular video-sharing website, show “filmmakers responding to the world we’re in,” festival director Cara Cusumano said. Ditto for Jed Rothstein’s Rudy!: A Documusical, an unusual take on the psyche and circumstances of a man in free-fall.
Music pervades this year’s edition, beginning with the opening-night film Halftime, the Amanda Micheli-directed Netflix doc about Jennifer Lopez that will have its world premiere to open the festival. Reps confirmed there will be a “special performance.” A stream of music docs over the course of the 12-day fest are paired with live events, a particular focus of organizers.
“I think there was a feeling of wanting to lean into music, because of the community and the kind of celebration element. When we thought of the kinds of events that people would want to come back to…live music was essential to that,” said Cusumano.
Taylor Swift brings her 2021 All Too Well: The Short Film to the Beacon Theatre followed by a discussion with Mike Mills. The world premiere of Machine Gun Kelly’s semi-biopic Taurus, about a rising but troubled musician, will be followed by an appearance by star and exec producer Colson Baker. De Niro presents Common with the festival’s second Harry Belafonte Voices for Social Justice Award (Stacey Abrams received the first one last year) along with a never-seen extended version of Letter to the Free by Bradford Young, a conversation with Nelson George and a live performance by Common.
The fest premieres Untrapped: The Story of Lil Baby, and the rapper will take the stage after; TÍU, about Icelandic band Of Monsters and Men, with have a live set by the band; and Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song, will be followed by a tribute from Judy Collins, Amanda Shires and Sharon Robinson. Other music docs include HBO Max’s Menudo: Forever Young, about the Puerto Rican boy band that made Ricky Martin famous; Nothing Compares about Sinéad O’Connor; Hargrove, about jazz trumpet legend Roy Hargrove; and The DOC. about the life of the rapper followed by a performance by DJ Quik, Das and Kurupt.
It’s about “reminding people how vibrant the theatrical experience is — and bringing that experience off the screen into the theater,” said Cusumano.
Other docs include Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb’s Butterfly In The Sky, the origin story of the LeVar Burton-hosted children’s show Reading Rainbow, which ran for 21 seasons starting in 1983. Burton joins a conversation after. Closing night film, Josh Alexander’s Loudmouth, explores Al Sharpton, Jr.’s life as an activist and spiritual leader, followed by a conversation with Sharpton, Spike Lee and John Legend.
Narrative filmmakers were still grappling with limitations of Covid, which continued to put its stamp on productions and storylines. Cusumano cited Robert Machoian’s The Integrity of Joseph Chambers, where a husband, father and insurance salesman played by Clayne Crawford heads into the woods to hunt. Parker Seaman’s comedy Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying centers on two aspiring filmmakers who chronicle a cross-country trip to visit a friend and former co-worker who’s contracted Covid. Alone Together, from Katie Holmes, is a rom-com about two strangers stuck together in lockdown.
Del Kathryn Barton’s Blaze stars Simon Baker as the attentive single father of 12-year-old Blaze (Julia Savage), who goes off the rails after experiencing trauma. Frank Berry’s Aisha with Letitia Wright and Josh O’Connor charts the experiences of a young Nigerian woman seeking asylum in Ireland.
The fest also features Somewhere in Queens, directed by Ray Romano and starring Romano and Laurie Metcalf; B.J. Novak’s directorial debut Vengeance with Novak, Issa Rae, Ashton Kutcher, Boyd Holbrook, J. Smith-Cameron, and Dove Camero; Joachim Back’s Corner Office starring Jon Hamm; American Dreamer with Peter Dinklage, Shirley MacLaine, Matt Dillon and Danny Glover; The Cave of Adullam, produced by Laurence Fishburne; Beauty, written by Lena Waithe; Jerry & Marge Go Large by David Frankel and starring Bryan Cranston, Annette Bening and Rainn Wilson; My Name Is Andrea with Ashley Judd; Space Oddity, directed by Kyra Sedgwick; Acidman with Thomas Haden Church and Dianna Agron; and Official Competition by Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat with Penélope Cruz, Antonio Banderas and Oscar Martínez.
Tribeca At Home is back and likely to remain a permanent feature. It offers some online-only premieres (in a revenue split with filmmakers) and Tribeca Talks as well as delayed showings of most in-person screenings. Rosenthal said At Home has allowed the festival to have a national and international footprint.
The television slate has nine series premieres and two first looks at returning shows including ESPN’s The Captain, about iconic New York Yankee Derek Jeter; Amazon Prime Video’s A League of Their Own, inspired by the 1992 film; FX’sThe Bear; TIME Studios for A&E Network’s Right to Offend; Epix’s Bridge and Tunnel; and the mid-season premiere of the final season of AMC’s Better Call Saul.
On the immersive front. Evolver, exec produced by Ed Pressman and Terrence Malick, is a “musical real-time multiplayer experience that invites audiences to follow oxygen’s flow deep into our bloodstream.” Featuring Meredith Monk, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Howard Skempton and music by Jonny Greenwood. Intravene uses “binaural 360-degree audio” to plunge listeners into the heart of an overdose crisis in Vancouver, Canada.
Tribeca received a record 11,000 submissions across 10 categories, with the lions’ share feature films or shorts; overall, it’s showcasing 111 feature films and 16 online premieres from 151 filmmakers across 40 countries. Venues include BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center, Spring Studios, SVA Theatre, Cinepolis Chelsea, Village East by Angelica, Tribeca Film Center, the Beacon Theatre and United Palace. Free screenings and outdoor events will be held at Pier 57 at Hudson River Park and the Waterfront Plaza at Brookfield Place, Battery Park City.
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