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Tribeca 2018: 11 Must-See Films at This Year’s Festival, From Zombies to Tessa Thompson and the Rachel Dolezal Story

From returning favorites to a slew of fresh voices, this year's festival has plenty of exciting films on offer. Here are the ones you won't want to miss.

Now in its seventeenth year, New York City’s own Tribeca Film Festival kicks off every spring with a wide variety of programming, from an ever-expanding VR installation to an enviable television lineup, but the bulk of the annual festival’s programming is movies. This year’s festival offers up plenty of familiar faces with new projects alongside newcomers. While Tribeca’s documentaries tend to be its high point, there are plenty of narratives features worth checking out this year as well. We’ve culled this list from a program that consists of 96 titles.

This year’s Tribeca Film Festival takes place April 18 – 29. Check out some of our must-see picks below.

“Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda”

“Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda”

One of the most influential, prolific, and flat-out enjoyable composers of the last 30 years, Ryuichi Sakamoto exploded onto the scene by writing unforgettable scores for films like “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” and “The Last Emperor,” and his work has only grown increasingly instrumental (ha) to the movie world since. When Sakamoto was diagnosed with cancer in 2014, he decided to devote whatever time he had left to an album that could serve as his legacy. Lucky for us, he’s still alive and going strong. Luckier still, Stephen Nomura Schible was there to capture the recording process on camera, following Sakamoto as he muses about life, records ambient noise around the ruins of Fukushima, and reconsiders to the sounds that have reverberated through his life. The result is a portrait of an artist that’s nearly as powerful and necessary as the artist himself. -DE

“The Elephant and the Butterfly”

“The Elephant and the Butterfly”

At an enormous festival like Tribeca, a little pedigree can help a film to stand out from the crowd — or tower above it, in the case of Amélie van Elmbt’s “The Elephant and the Butterfly.” Produced by the Dardenne brothers and executive produced by Martin Scorsese, this Belgian drama tells the story of a man who returns to his hometown with hopes of reuniting with his ex-girlfriend, only to find himself stuck caring for a little girl who may or may not be his own daughter. We suspect the movie owes more to the anxious social realism of the Dardennes than it does the muscular grandiosity of Scorsese, but the latter has called it a “beautiful, sensitively made” follow-up to van Elmbt’s “Headfirst,” and that’s a pretty convincing endorsement from someone who only put his name on the project because he liked the finished product so much. -DE

“The Rachel Divide”

A film still from THE RACHEL DIVIDE. Courtesy of Netflix.

“The Rachel Divide”

Tribeca has often programmed timely documentaries that chronicle ripped-from-the-headlines events, often breeding engaging screenings and wild Q&A events. This year, Laura Brownson’s latest feature-length doc seems poised to be the talked-about film at the festival, providing an exclusive look at the current life of Rachel Dolezal, who made waves when she was revealed to be a white woman who had long posed (or pretended? or thought she actually was?) a black woman. Brownson was given unique access to Dolezal and her family, which sounds like a crazy companion piece to Ijeoma Oluo’s incendiary interview with Dolezal from 2017. Netflix will release the film on April 27, but it’s certain to turn some heads at Tribeca. -KE

“The Party’s Just Beginning”

“The Party’s Just Beginning”

Beloved superstar Karen Gillan — of such huge properties as “Doctor Who,” the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the reignited “Jumanji” franchise — makes the jump to directing with a personal story about her own Scottish hometown. Divided into three interlocking chapters, the film follows Liusaidh (Gillan) as she attempts to heal up from a terrible tragedy, mainly by making terrible decisions. As she skates through nights at the pub and dancing around her pain while living with her concerned parents, Liusaidh is forced to grapple with the messiness of life through some happy chances, including a romance with a new guy (Lee Pace) and a telephonic connection with a stranger. -KE

“Little Woods”

“Little Woods”

Tessa Thompson fever has taken over the country, and we are here for it. Whether she’s flirting with Janelle Monáe in her latest eye-popping music video, or embracing the Shimmer with an eerie tranquility in “Annihilation,” Thompson has established herself as one of the most exciting actresses working today. Four years after “Dear White People,” it’s high time she lead her own film again, and for that honor she has chosen “Little Woods.” Thompson plays Ollie, a 21st century Robin Hood who smuggles affordable medication from Canada to the low-income residents of Little Woods, North Dakota. Pocketing some profits on the side, Ollie plans to go legitimate once she’s caught and put on probation. When her mother dies, she’s pulled back into the life by her estranged sister, played by the always-enjoyable Lily James. The feature debut of writer-director Nia DaCosta, the film promises a timely take on the opioid crisis led by two dynamic rising talents. -JD

“Nico, 1988”

“Nico, 1988”

The year in the title of this biopic about Velvet Underground singer Nico gives a hint to its angle — 1988 happens to be the year she died. Not that anyone expected a sunny take on the musician and muse, who came to prominence as an Andy Warhol superstar and suffered from heroin addiction. Italian filmmaker Susanna Nicchiarelli sets her film during Nico’s last European tour, which her manager (John Gordon Sinclair) orchestrated in order to give her purpose. Using her given name, Christa Päffgen, the film portrays Nico as equal parts volatile, stubborn, and frenzied. Reviews out of its Venice Film Festival premiere praised Danish actress Trine Dyrholm’s powerhouse performance, who channels Nico’s onstage charisma with haunting authenticity. Velvet Underground and Nico fans will not want to miss “Nico, 1988.” -JD

“Night Eats the World”

The main premise of French director Dominique Rocher’s debut is that a guy wakes up to find the world overrun by zombies. But before you can say “28 Days Later,” Rocher’s minimalist take offers an alternative to the usual undead survival tale. Frantic protagonist Anders Danielsen Lie (the drug-addled star of “Oslo, August 31st”) barricades himself inside an apartment where he may or may lose his grip on reality. A delightful variation on the genre for fans eager for something different, the movie also promises a bit part for Denis Lavant as a zombie. What else did you need to know? -EK

“Sunday’s Illness”

“Sunday’s Illness”

One of the major discoveries of the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival — but woefully under-celebrated there — Spanish director Ramon Salazar Hoogers explores the life of a successful woman (Susi Sanchez) haunted by a dark secret: she had a child, ages ago, whom she abandoned. In the midst of a fancy dinner for friends, her daughter turns up among the catering staff, in an emotional showdown that sets up the bulk of the movie’s setting. The two women commit to spending 10 days together for parting ways for good. It’s the ideal setting for an emotional two-hander that should Hoogers’ stature as a major filmmaker. -EK

“O.G” and “It’s a Hard Truth Ain’t It”

“It’s a Hard Truth Ain’t It”

Madeleine Sackler has two films in the festival – “O.G.” in U.S. Narrative Competition and feature-length documentary “It’s a Hard Truth Ain’t It” – both of which are based on the time she spent with inmates at the Pendleton Correctional Facility, a maximum-security state prison in Indiana. The two films work as companion pieces with “Hard Truth” serving as a prequel of sorts to “O.G.,” as Sackler spent five years working with her subjects trying to bring to life the very human stories of the men living in dehumanizing conditions. -CO

“Nigerian Prince”

“Nigerian Prince”

When a Nigerian-American teenager is sent to Nigeria – by his mother and against his will – he teams up with his cousin to scam foreigners in an effort to raise money for return ticket back to the States. One year ago, director Faraday Okoro was the winner of the AT&T and Tribeca’s first Untold Stories pitch contest and was awarded $1 million to make his feature and the mandate he return to Tribeca the next year to premiere his film. It’s one of the boldest initiatives working toward the goal of increasing big screen diversity and it will be fascinating to see the results. -CO

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