New York City’s Tribeca Festival opened Wednesday night, launching its 21st edition with a starry documentary about Jennifer Lopez. Over the next week and a half, narrative films, non-fiction, shorts and filmmaker Q&As will unspool both in theaters and to watch at home.
The festival, which runs through June 19, includes more than 100 feature films (fiction and documentary), nearly two-thirds of which are directed by women, as well as programs of short films and TV. The vast majority of films are world premieres, or have had limited festival exposure — such as Kathryn Ferguson’s exceptional Sinead O’Connor documentary, “Nothing Compares,” which debuted atearlier this year — so the opportunity is ripe for discovery.
Among the premieres: films starring Jon Hamm (“Corner Office”), Letitia Wright (“Aisha”), Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening (“Jerry & Marge Go Large”), Ray Romano and Laurie Metcalf (“Somewhere in Queens”), Katie Holmes (“Alone Together”), Peter Dinklage and Shirley MacLaine (“American Dreamer”), and Colson Baker, a.k.a. Machine Gun Kelly (“Taurus”).
Documentaries cover such diverse subjects as sports (“Kaepernick & America”; “McEnroe”; “Unfinished Business,” about the WNBA’s New York Liberty), music (“Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song”; “Untapped: The Story of Lil Baby”; “Angelheaded Hipster: The Songs of Marc Bolan & T. Rex”), civil rights (Sam Pollard and Geeta Gandbhir’s “Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power”; “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks”; “An Act of Worship,” about Pakistani-Americans’ experiences in America), abortion (“Battleground,” about anti-abortion rights advocates), climate change (“Rebellion”; “To the End”), and politics (“Rudy!,” a “documusical” about Rudy Giuliani).
The festival’s opening night feature on Wednesday was the documentary “Halftime,” spotlighting the career of singer and actress Jennifer Lopez. (Additional in-person screenings June 9, 11. Debuts on Netflix June 14.) The centerpiece attraction is the comic horror film “Vengeance,” the feature directorial debut of “The Office” actor B.J. Novak. (In-person screenings June 12, 17, 19. Theatrical release: July 29.) The closing night feature is Josh Alexander’s documentary “Loudmouth,” a profile of activist and political commentator The Rev. Al Sharpton. Sharpton will appear after the premiere along with Spike Lee and executive producer John Legend. (In-person screenings June 18, 19.)
The festival presents a 50th anniversary screening of “The Godfather,” hosted by Al Pacino (June 13 at the United Palace); the 1995 crime drama “Heat,” followed by a discussion with stars Pacino, Robert De Niro and director Michael Mann (June 17 at the United Palace); 1997’s “Eve’s Bayou,” followed by a conversation with director Kasi Lemmons and members of the cast (June 16 at the SVA Theater); and 1998’s “Velvet Goldmine,” followed by a conversation with star Ewan McGregor, director Todd Haynes and producer Christine Vachon (June 17 at the OKC Theater).
There are panel discussions and interviews with industry figures about creative, technical and business challenges in the worlds of film, theater, TV and games, as well as Q&As with such personalities as director Adam McKay (At Home beginning June 9); singer Taylor Swift (June 11); filmmaker Tyler Perry, interviewed by CBS News’ Gayle King (June 13); and “SNL” veterans Seth Meyers and Aidy Bryant (June 13).
Selected film highlights:
This year’s festival includes 111 feature films from 40 countries. Though only a small portion has been previewed at press time, below are several highlights, some of which will be available for home viewing through June 26 via the Tribeca At Home platform. More reviews will be published as the festival continues.
Since many of the films playing at Tribeca do not have distributors signed on, there is no telling when — or if — they may become widely available. (One of the best at last year’s festival, Elisabeth Vogler’s post-lockdown Parisian tale “Roaring 20’s,” is — weirdly — still not released.) So, now’s your chance!
“Butterfly in the Sky” (World Premiere)
In the pantheon of beloved television personalities, one could easily find actor. The star of “Roots” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” he is most fondly remembered by readers young and not-so-young as the host of the public television series “Reading Rainbow,” which brought the love of books to the hyped-up universe of children’s television over the course of its quarter-century run.
Directors Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb look back at the evolution of the series, how Burton put his stamp on it, and the outsized impact the show has had (on the host and his young viewers). Interviews with Burton, the creative team, and some of the show’s young book reviewers, now grown up, who were invited to share their favorite books with a TV audience, add up to a winning tribute to the series. It’s also a testament to the value of literacy in a world of screens, and of treating a young audience with respect and kindness. In-person screenings June 9, 10, 17. At-home screenings begin June 11. Ticket info.
“Lynch/Oz” (World Premiere)
Alexandre O. Philippe’s engrossing video essay delves into the countless ways in which the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz” continues to influence the works of David Lynch. And what similarities, you ask, does a children’s film have with “Eraserhead,” “Blue Velvet,” “Mulholland Drive” or “Twin Peaks”? Loads, actually, as explained by such contributing narrators as John Waters (“Pink Flamingos”), Karyn Kusama (“Girlfight”), David Lowery (“A Ghost Story”) and Rodney Ascher (“Room 237”), who pull at the threads of Lynch’s obsessions over all things Ozian, as well as Judy Garland, little people, doppelgangers, red shoes, unknown men pulling levers behind a curtain, and of course, the unique hold that the concept of home has on one’s psyche. Guaranteed, you will never watch “Wild at Heart” (Lynch’s 1990 road movie in which Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern are trapped in a veritable Oz) and not appreciate how the tactile imagery and underlying psychosexual tensions found in the work of this most idiosyncratic filmmaker relate to the love he feels for a Technicolor confection from the Hollywood studio system’s Golden Age. In-person screenings June 9, 10, 17. At-home screenings begin June 11. Ticket info.
“My Name is Andrea” (World Premiere)
The outspoken feminist author Andrea Dworkin (1946-2005) seemed to court controversy with her essays, criticism, short stories and novels about sexual politics, sexual violence, pornography and civil liberties. Using rare archival footage and performances by the actresses Ashley Judd, Christine Lahti, Andrea Riseborough, Soko and Amandla Stenberg, director Pratibha Parmar traces the unfamiliar life of a familiar media presence, including her sexual assault at a young age; her brief, violent marriage with an anarchist in Holland; her roles in the feminist and anti-porn movements; and her relationship and marriage to John Stoltenberg. A thoughtful examination of one of America’s most challenging voices. In-person screenings June 10, 11, 18. Ticket info.
“Subject” (World Premiere)
The success of a documentary is often contingent upon the attraction or poignancy of the movie’s subjects, with whom a filmmaker engages, builds a trust, and bonds, as he or she spends months or years shooting that person’s life, which will then be edited into a narrative that may only reflect a sliver of reality. And if the resulting film is a success, or stirs controversy? The subjects have little to say about that.
Directed by Jennifer Tiexiera and Camilla Hall, “Subject” visits with people audiences have come to regard as familiar, such as Arthur Agee, the young basketball star of “Hoop Dreams”; Ahmed Hassan, an Egyptian revolutionary from “The Square”; Jesse Friedman, a convicted child molester profiled in “Capturing the Friedmans”; Margie Ratliff, whose father, Michael Anderson, was convicted of murdering his wife as told in “The Staircase”; and Mukunda Angulo, who with his brothers was featured in “The Wolfpack.” Each has conflicted feelings about their role in a critically or commercially successful film, and how fame changed their lives, not always for the better. “Subject” may be seen as a cousin to Michael Apted’s “Up” series, whose cast of aging children has existed with one foot in the real world and one foot in the realm of cinema, unable to be only one or the other ever again. It is fascinating to revisit these subjects and recognize the desire we have to find out more, and to have our hopes fulfilled or dashed, after wondering, “Whatever became of…”? In-person screenings June 11, 13, 18. Ticket info.
“Aisha” (World Premiere)
Letitia Wright (“Back Panther”) stars as Aisha, a Nigerian refugee who exists in a stateless limbo, trying to navigate Irish bureaucracy while seeking asylum to escape the violence that killed her father and brother back home. She tries to maintain a stoic belief that her story will gain her permission to stay — a belief that gets repeatedly battered by events. Subject to the whims of seemingly uncaring officials and social service providers, Aisha is helped by a security guard (Josh O’Connor), whose offer of friendship provides a sense of humanity that is missing otherwise.
Written and directed by Frank Berry, and based on the experiences of real-life refugees, “Aisha” avoids melodramatic flourishes to focus on the despair that exists on the edges of a refugee’s life, as they are herded into regimented housing and kept under the observation of authorities watching for any infraction that could mean deportation. Aided by Wright’s impeccably restrained performance, the film provides a dramatic call for moral justice in response to an at-times immoral world. In-person screenings June 11, 12, 18. Ticket info.
“Turn Every Page: The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb” (World Premiere)
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Caro has devoted decades to writing the life story of Senator and President Lyndon B. Johnson, in a series of books considered the epitome of political biographies. And it is true devotion, not just between Caro and his subject, but also between Caro and his perpetual editor, Robert Gottlieb, who first worked together on Caro’s “The Power Broker,” about Robert Moses. They share a reverence for storytelling about larger-than-life historical figures, and of wrangling those stories into print, as well as a willingness to slash and burn when a manuscript is longer than it needs to be (or, actually, longer than is technically possible to bind between two covers).
Filmed by Gottlieb’s daughter, Lizzie Gottlieb, the movie is a love letter for a parent, and for an esteemed writer-reporter who is wrapping up his fifth and final Johnson book — what will likely be the last collaboration of Caro (age 86) and Gottlieb (age 91). It’s a fitting testament to the shoe-leather research and painstaking editorial decisions that are required for books of this depth and quality, and captures their personalities and interests — city boy Caro’s affection for the Texas Hill Country, bookworm Gottlieb’s love for ballet — with warmth and humor. (And, parenthetically, not every documentary will include a discussion about the use — or misuse — of a semi-colon versus a dash; well, none actually!) In-person screenings June 12, 15, 18, 19. Ticket info.
“Lift” (World Premiere)
Ballet star Steven Melendez got his start in an unlikely place: living in a Bronx, N.Y. homeless shelter at age 7, he joined a program from the New York Theatre Ballet, Project Lift, that offered dance to homeless, home-insecure and at-risk children. Now, Melendez is mentoring young people from the very same homeless shelter, who likewise look at the arts as a means to a more promising life.
Filmed over 10 years, “Lift” follows Melendez as he guides a cohort of young dancers, some of whose discipline may be variable, but who evoke dreams beyond their desperate circumstances. It also evokes Melendez’s dream to fulfill his own promise as a choreographer, using the young people to tell stories of homelessness, community and connections. An inspiring and touching work, directed by David Petersen. In-person screenings June 12, 15, 18, 19. At-home screenings (New York State only) begin June 14. Ticket info.
With its rebranding as the Tribeca Festival, the event’s ancillary sections devoted to non-film subjects —immersive virtual reality, games, music and audio storytelling — are brought further to the forefront.
An exhibition of works by VR and extended reality artists at the festival’s home base in Tribeca, dubbed the Museum of Other Realities, is also accessible at home.
For more info: