The Tribeca Film Festival shows up on the calendar each year to give New York plenty of red carpet action in the weeks leading up to Cannes, but that’s not the whole story. While it follows Austin’s SXSW Film Festival by a whole month, in recent years Tribeca has become a draw for both smaller narrative films seeking broader exposure and high quality documentary discoveries. Heading into its 15th year, the festival kicks off April 13 with “The First Monday in May,” a documentary about the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Met Gala. However, the lineup announced so far also contains a number of promising titles that might only stand out to discerning eyes familiar with the enterprising talent that regularly surfaces on the festival circuit. Here are a few of those potential gems.
While some filmmakers jump into the big leagues after their first or second features, directors Mike Ott and Nathan Silver have been quietly churning out perspective character studies over the last few years. Ott’s “Antelope Film Trilogy” — “Littlerock,” “Pearlblossom Hwy” and “Lake Los Angeles” — provide a series of lyrical looks at life in Sun Valley that illustrate the consistency of his vision. Silver’s sharply observed portraits of alienated characters range from a look at a home for young pregnant women (“Uncertain Terms”) to another involving drug addicts (“Stinking Heaven”). The combination of their two measured styles in “Actor Martinez” offers an ambition meta-premise in which the pair follow an aspiring actor and eventually challenge their own creative intentions. An under-the-radar premiere in Rotterdam last month, “Actor Martinez” promises another compelling look at the boundaries between fiction and documentary from two of America’s most intriguing explorers of naturalism on film.
Five years have passed since Sophia Takal made her directorial debut at SXSW with the effective psychological thriller “Green,” but she’s certainly stayed busy. With partner and fellow director Lawrence Michael Levine, Takal has surfaced in countless sleeper hits, including Tribeca premiere “Supporting Characters” opposite Alex Karpovsky and Joe Swanberg’s “All the Light in the Sky.” But Takal’s own filmmaking ambitions haven’t waned: Just as “Green” found a pair of intimately connected characters growing exasperated in a restricted setting, “Always Shine” focuses on two actresses who venture to Big Sur and wind up confronting their mutual resentment for each other. It’s a simple premise with the a lot of potential — an actor’s showcase in which bitterness drives the narrative forward.
Few American documentarians have done so much with the form in recent years as brothers Bill and Turner Ross, whose “45365” and “Tchoupotoulas” presented extraordinary visions of distinct locales. Their Sundance-premiering “Western” was a more traditional portrait, but they’re back into experimental territory with “Contemporary Color,” a kind-of concert film based around David Byrne’s 2015 “color guard” performance at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Like the show itself, “Contemporary Color” promises to be a serious trip.
“Folk Hero & Funny Guy”
Actor and comedian Jeff Grace has landed a number of amusing parts for himself over the years, including the post-apocalyptic comedy “It’s a Disaster,” which his company also produced. But “Folk Hero & Funny Guy,” which stars Wyatt Russell and Alex Karpovsky, marks Grace’s directorial debut. The story involves the titular duo on the road together — yes, you’ve heard that cliché before — as they try to regain their confidence. Notwithstanding its formulaic backdrop, “Folk Hero & Funny Guy” features a hilarious cast known for expert comedic timing and a director who has achieved just as much in front of the camera himself. Plus, plenty of music. While road trip comedies come and go, this is the rare occasion to expect something different.
The opening selection of Tribeca’s world premiere section is the debut feature from filmmaker Justin Tipping, but it’s also produced by Animal Kingdom, the team behind festival breakout fare ranging from “Short Term 12” and “It Follows.” Set to a classic hip hop soundtrack, the story finds an urban child who goes on a journey to recover his missing shoes. Think…Ozu by way of “Wild Style,” perhaps? One of the most enticing possible discoveries from this year’s lineup.
Alma Har’el’s “Bombay Beach” was a lush, poetic non-fiction tribute to a variety of colorful characters, but while she’s remained active as a music video director — her 2012 video for Sigur Rós’ “Fjögur píanó” featured Shia LaBeouf — she hasn’t made a feature in five years. Now comes “LoveTrue,” which promises another far-flung collage of sights and sounds, this time ranging from an Alaskan strip club to locations in Hawaii and New York, all collected under the overarching theme of love. With a score by Flying Lotus, “LoveTrue” is the already among this year’s most exciting possibilities: The dramatically unconventional return of a filmmaker whose sophomore effort is long overdue.