One of the best things–perhaps the only best thing–about the Tribeca Film Festival is its documentary programming. Every year, the fest manages to line up a strong series of nonfiction films, filled with stinging political import (“Jesus Camp,” “The Devil Rides on Horseback,” or the more recent “The Revisionaries”) or poetic artistry (last year’s “Planet of Snail,” “Downeast” and “Wavumba.”)
With this year’s competition lineup announced, here’s a preview of some of the most provocative or potentially noteworthy docs:
· Alias Ruby Blade: A Story of Love and Revolution, directed by Alex Meillier, written by Tanya Ager Meillier and Meillier. (USA) – North American Premiere. Kirsty Sword Gusmão went to Timor-Leste to document injustice in an area closed to Western journalists. Over the next decade, she became the lynchpin that sustained the nation’s harrowing struggle for independence and met the man who would redefine the cause for which she was fighting. Using astonishing footage of the years-long resistance, director Alex Meillier presents a highly personal account of the courage needed to create a new democracy in modern times.
· Big Men, directed by Rachel Boynton, written by Rachel Boynton. (USA) – (formerly titled “African Deep”) World Premiere. For her latest industrial exposé, Rachel Boynton (Our Brand Is Crisis) gained unprecedented access to Africa’s oil companies. The result is a gripping account of the costly personal tolls levied when American corporate interests pursue oil in places like Ghana and the Niger River Delta. Executive produced by Steven Shainberg and Brad Pitt, Big Men investigates the caustic blend of ambition, corruption and greed that threatens to exacerbate Africa’s resource curse. In English, Other, Twi with subtitles.
· The Kill Team, directed by Dan Krauss, written by Lawrence Lerew, Linda Davis and Krauss. (USA) – World Premiere. In 2010, the media branded a platoon of U.S. Army infantry soldiers “The Kill Team” following reports of its killing for sport in Afghanistan. Now, one of the accused must fight the government he defended on the battlefield, while grappling with his own role in the alleged murders. Dan Krauss’s absorbing documentary examines the stories of four men implicated in heinous war crimes in a stark reminder that, in war, innocence may be relative to the insanity around you.
· Let the Fire Burn, directed by Jason Osder. (USA) – World Premiere. Jason Osder makes an impressive feature film debut through his unbiased and thorough account of the incidents leading up to and during the 1985 standoff between the extremist African-American organization MOVE and Philadelphia authorities. The dramatic clash claimed eleven lives and literally and figuratively devastated an entire community. Let the Fire Burn is a real-life Wild West story absent the luxury of identifying its heroes by the color of their hats.
· Oxyana, directed by Sean Dunne. (USA) – World Premiere. Oceana, West Virginia—known as “Oxyana” after its residents’ epidemic abuse of OxyContin—is a tragically real example of the insidious spread of drug dependency throughout the country. Set against an abandoned coal mining landscape to the melodies of Deer Tick’s haunting score, this unflinchingly intimate documentary probes the lives of Oceana’s afflicted and exposes the day-to-day experience of a town living in the harsh grip of addiction.
· Powerless (Katiyabaaz), directed by Fahad Mustafa, Deepti Kakkar, written by Mustafa. (India) – North American Premiere. Would you risk your life to flip a switch? In Kanpur, India, putting oneself in harm’s way to deliver electrical power is all too common. Powerless sheds light on the opposing corners of this political ring, from an electrical Robin Hood tapping wires for neighbors to the myopic utility company whose failure to understand economics forces it deeper into financial disarray. This vibrant exposé gives a whole new meaning to the words “power struggle.” In English, Hindi with subtitles
- Bridegroom, directed and written by Linda Bloodworth Thomason. (USA) – World Premiere, Documentary. Bridegroom gives an intensely personal edge to the ongoing debate over the legal rights of same-sex couples. Interviews, photos and video footage all testify to the uncommon connection that drew together Shane and Tom. For six years they remained united despite extreme challenges from both family and society, until a tragic accident tears apart their dreams. Now one must fight to be recognized as his soulmate’s legitimate counterpart.
- Dancing in Jaffa, directed by Hilla Medalia, written by Philip Shane and Medalia. (Israel, USA) – World Premiere, Documentary. Renowned ballroom dancer Pierre Dulain stars in this charming documentary that offers a unique perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Three diverse Jaffa-based schools host Dulain’s Dancing Classrooms program. Ballroom basics are taught to an ethnically mixed group of children, the most passionate members of which are trained for a citywide competition. What results is a sweet and incredibly moving tale filled with moments of truth, poignancy and hope. In Arabic, English, Hebrew with subtitles.