The 2014 Tribeca Film Festival launches this Wednesday with the world premiere of the Nas documentary “Time is Illmatic,” directed by multimedia artist One9. To get you primed for the big event, Indiewire weeded through the massive lineup of films to bring you the 10 to watch out for at this year’s fest. They’re listed below in alphabetical order.
Director Louie Psihoyos won an Academy Award for Best Documentary his first film, “The Cove” in 2010. “The Cove” was as gripping as a thriller. Now with “6,” which is premiering at Tribeca as a work-in-progress, Psihoyos returns with many of his fellow activists/collaborators from “The Cove,” to tackle issues of endangered species and mass extinction. Using guerilla-style tactics, as they did in “The Cove,” Psihoyos and his team also manage to capture the beauty of the natural world — as they simultaneously warn us of the danger we are in of losing it.
Cinematographer and documentarian Jody Lee Lipes previously directed the startling post-modern take on Jerome Robbins’ choreography “New York Export: Opus Jazz,” which portrayed dances at New York landmarks around the city. Receding from that surreal approach, Lipes shows his versatility with this intimate look at the experience of 25-year-old Justin Peck, a low-ranking dancer in the New York City Ballet who receives the rare opportunity to choreograph his own piece. In the grand tradition of Frederick Wiseman, Lipes captures every nuance of the rehearsal procedure, to the point where Peck’s process takes on the dimensions of an exact science that only he can fully understand. Lipes trusts his audience to engage with the greater context—the extreme demand on the dancers with questionable payoff, the whiffs of reverse agism from Peck’s peers—resulting in a compelling exposé of the craft from every angle.
“A Brony Tale”
Were you aware that there is a thriving community of folks that have come together through their shared passion for… “My Little Pony”? And more over, that this community is made up of adult, most straight and male fans of the children’s cartoon? If you weren’t before, you will be with Brent Hodge’s Tribeca documentary “A Brony Tale,” which takes on the surprising subculture of the “brony” phenomenon. At its center is one of show’s voice actors, Ashleigh Ball, as she makes her first trip to the annual BronyCon to meet her unanticipated fanbase.
“Compared To What: The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank”
The first openly gay Congressman in the United States (and arguably the most influential gay politician the country has ever seen), the pioneering Barney Frank looks back on his four decades in office in Sheila Canavan and Michael Chandler’s intimate and incredibly charming documentary. Quick-witted and lionhearted, the film’s candid conversations with Frank feel like something you could keep watching for hours without ever getting bored, and sheds light on how his own homosexuality informed the social justice campaigns he has pursued in office. The icing: After the movie, Frank will speak in conversation with none other than Alec Baldwin, which should prove as entertaining as the film itself (which is compliment to all parties).
“Dior and I”
Most fashion documentaries focus on the glitz and glamour of the runway and “behind-the-scenes” generally means footage of models getting primped, but “Dior and I” transcends those tropes. Providing a true behind-the-scenes look at the team of workers responsible for creating a couture collection, Frédéric Tcheng’s solo directorial debut, which makes its world premiere in the documentary competition at Tribeca, is a tribute to the unsung heroes of fashion. Though the film chronicles a newcomer’s entree into the famed fashion house — designer Raf Simon’s first haute couture collection as Dior’s new artistic director — the real stars are the seamstresses who lovingly bring Simon’s creative vision to life.
Writer-director Keith Miller follows up his debut feature “Welcome to Pine Hill” with another insightful documentary-fiction hybrid, this one centered on the perils of inner city gangs. Miller casts real-life former gang members in this tense story about disgruntled teen John (John Diaz), whose father was murdered under mysterious circumstances at the time of his birth, and tough-minded family man Primo (James “Primo” Grant), who continues to run illegal dealings on the side even as he frets about his children’s future. While Primo attempts to take John under wing, the tension between the two men is palpable. Set in the Brooklyn housing projects, “Five Star” explores the challenge of striving to get ahead while being trapped by the dangerous options that hold the most promise. Even as the drama erupts in intensity, it never loses the jittery sense of realism in every scene. If John Cassavetes directed an episode of “The Wire,” it might look something like this.
Though “Gabriel” is writer-director Lou Howe’s first feature film, he has studied with Hal Hartley, worked alongside Christine Vachon and cited Mike Leigh as an inspiration — all promising indications of a budding talent. In “Gabriel,” the AFI graduate creates an indelible portrait of Gabriel (Rory Culkin”), a troubled young man struggling with mental illness and obsessed with an ex-girlfriend. Unlike other quirky portrayals of mental illness on screen, “Gabriel” looks to be the real deal — a film that chronicles the desperate agony of a troubled soul with nuance and intensity.
“In Your Eyes”
Joss Whedon and his wife Kai Cole launched their micro-budget studio Bellwether Pictures last year with the wildly amusing “Much Ado About Nothing.” They’re back with the studio’s sophomore feature “In Your Eyes,” a high-concept romance penned by Whedon, that star Zoe Kazan describes in the Tribeca press notes as “Joss Whedon does Nicholas Sparks.” The film centers on an East Coast housewife (Kazan), and her metaphysical connection to a charismatic ex-con (Michael Stahl-David), who lives in New Mexico. Sounds daffy, but in Whedon we trust.
Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini’s doc “Mala Mala” celebrates the trans community in Puerto Rico and the divide between their internal and external selves, exploring self-discovery and activism through 9 amazing subjects including LGBTQ activists, business owners, sex workers, and a boisterous group of drag performers. It’s a powerful — and gorgeously shot — tribute to the incredible perseverance of a group of folks who have experienced remarkable extremes of human experience, both high and low.
“Summer of Blood”
Writer-director Onur Tukel’s wacky New York satire centers on self-involved Brooklynite Eric (Tukel), who finds a new sense of hedonistic purpose after he’s bitten by a vampire. No longer worried about his deadbeat job, looming rent deadlines, or pining for his ex-girlfriends, Eric throws himself into a wild, erotic nightlife, running his mouth with bawdy one-liners at every turn. Envisioned by the director as a mixture as “Larry Fessenden meets Woody Allen,”Tukel’s savage assault on frantic urban living does the description justice. Synthesizing the neuroses on display in his previous feature, “Richard’s Wedding,” with the traditional outline of a post-modern vampire drama, “Summer of Blood” is hilarious both because of its absurd plot and because, in spite of each ridiculous twist, much of it rings true.
[Paula Bernstein, Peter Knegt, Eric Kohn, and Nigel M. Smith contributed to this article.]