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Tribeca 2017: 14 Must-See Films From This Year’s Festival

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 sixteenth year, New York City’s own Tribeca Film Festival kicks off every spring with a wide variety of programming on offer, from an ever-expanding VR installation to an enviable television lineup, but the bread and butter of the annual festival is still in its film slate. This year’s festival offers up plenty of returning favorites with new projects, alongside fresh faces itching to break out. From insightful documentaries to fanciful features, with a heavy dose of Gotham-centric films (hey, it is Tribeca after all), there’s plenty to dive into here, so we’ve culled the schedule for a few surefire hits.

This year’s Tribeca Film Festival takes place April 20 – 30. Check out some of our must-see picks below.

READ MORE: Why ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Is the Most Anticipated Screening of the Tribeca Film Festival

“A Gray State”

“A Gray State”

It might be the craziest story of a botched film production ever: Iraq war vet David Crowley came to prominence as a libertarian activist in 2010, when he began production on a dystopian film about the rise of a police state. Five years later, he was found dead alongside his wife and child in suburban Minnesota, an event that was ruled a murder-suicide but led his followers on the alt-right down a rabbit hole of conspiracy theories. Enter director Erik Nelson (who produced Werner Herzog’s “Grizzly Man”). Nelson reassembles Crowley’s unexpected rise and tragic fate through Crowley’s own recordings, investigating both his uneasy psychological state and the political climate that hoisted him up. Much like “Grizzly Man,” the movie is a fascinating deconstruction of a man driven to bizarre extremes and ostracized by the modern world. While Crowley’s death remains an open-ended drama, there’s no question that the subject of “A Gray State” has only grown more topical in today’s divisive political climate, and the movie helps to clarify the evolution of fringe politics at a time when they’re more visible than ever. -Eric Kohn

“The Sensitives”

Drew Xanthopoulos’ documentary feature debut follows a quartet of characters incapable of engaging directly with their environment for a range of chemical and electrical reasons: a pair of twin siblings must live within the confines of a sterile “plastic bubble,” while their mother suffers from a related disease, and an older man whose disease has separated him from the needs of his family. All of them are helped by the efforts of Susie Molloy, who has made it her mission to help sensitives cope with their everyday challenges. The movie promises an intimate look at a widely misunderstood situation — people forced to limit their relationship to the outside world — and a fascinating exploration of what it takes to confront the ailment head-on. -EK

“Abundant Acreage Available”

Angus MacLachlan is best known as the screenwriter of “Junebug,” but he launched his own directing career as a filmmaker with “Goodbye to All That,” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2014. Now he’s back with “Abundant Acreage Available,” the Martin Scorsese-produced drama about a pair of siblings (Terry Kinney and Amy Ryan) coping with their father’s death when a mysterious group of brothers set up shop on their family land, setting the stage for an intergenerational conflict none of them could have predicted. Judging by the delicate blend of lighthearted comedy and dark twists in “Goodbye to All That,” there are plenty of reasons to anticipate a complex tone lurking within this deceptively simple premise, and the Scorsese seal of approval doesn’t hurt — nor does Ryan, a great character actor who rarely gets enough credit for her subtle roles. Here’s hoping that “Abundant Acreage Available” changes that. -EK

“Get Me Roger Stone”

Roger Stone in GET ME ROGER STONE. Photo credit: Barbara Nitke/Netflix.

“Get Me Roger Stone”

A Netflix original documentary, “Get Me Roger Stone” follows the political consultant and noted eccentric Roger Stone, a fixture of Republican politics since the 1970s, when he became the youngest person called before the Watergate grand jury. A master in the dark art of politics and engineer of political scandals, Stone has been in President Donald Trump’s corner perhaps longer than anyone else, nudging Trump to enter the political arena back in the 1980s. Directed by Morgan Pehme, Daniel DiMauro, and Dylan Bank, “Get Me Roger Stone” chronicles Stone’s rise and lifelong status as a political outsider, all the way through his work in upending the political establishment and helping pull off one of the greatest election upsets in U.S. history. -Graham Winfrey

“The Clapper”

Idiosyncratic filmmaker Dito Montiel isn’t the first name most cinephiles would associate with dark comedies — the man behind such films as “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints” and “Man Down” sure knows darkness, but humor? that’s unexpected — but his latest offering sounds like the perfect combination of big laughs and bigger truths. Ed Helms stars as Eddie Krumble, the eponymous “clapper,” a regular Joe who gains unexpected notoriety when his gig as a paid audience member suddenly turns him into a meme. Adapted from Montiel’s own novel of the same name, the film addresses internet fame in a fresh way, bolstered by Helms’ everyman charm and a lovely supporting turn from Amanda Seyfried, who pops into Eddie’s life at perhaps the worst possible time. -Kate Erbland

“The Boy Downstairs”

The first indication that first-time writer-director Sophie Brooks’ “The Boy Downstairs” is putting a new twist on the ol’ rom-com genre comes care of the barest of details about its plot: namely, the the boy and girl at the center of the New York City-set comedy have already met, fallen in love and broken up before the film even begins. Zosia Mamet stars as Diana, a former New Yorker returning to the city after two years in London, and anxious to find the perfect apartment. When she lands a suitable place of residence, she’s gobsmacked to discover that her downstairs neighbor is, oops, the same dude whose heart she broke when she set off for England. Hellbent on staying in her new place, Diana must deal with the so-called boy downstairs, and all those weird emotions she thought she kicked so long ago. The film should offer Mamet a stellar romantic breakout, and goodness knows the genre is always ripe for a fresh spin. -KE

“The Lovers”

“The Lovers”

One of the great impediments to romance is being married. In this romantic comedy, writer-director Azazel Jacobs (“Terri”) cast three-time Oscar nominee Debra Winger (“Terms of Endearment”) and actor-playwright Tracy Letts (“Christine”) as a long-married couple who are both enjoying romantic affairs on the side. Suddenly, they reignite long-buried feelings and embrace a passionate romance. -Anne Thompson

“No Man’s Land”

Ranchers in this country are struggling and a great deal of the blame – at least according to many out West – rests on the federal government’s control over grazing land. This is the backstory behind an anti-federal government militia that, for 40 dramatic days, seized control of Oregon’s Mahleur National Wildlife Refuge, which became a national news story in early 2016. Director David Byars was embedded with the militia throughout their standoff with the FBI and the local police that ended in dramatic fashion. “No Man’s Land” is an authoritative look at this remarkable story, but it also gives tremendous insight to the anger of rural Americans and their desire for Washington to be turned upside down. -Chris O’Falt

“The Eyeslicer”

Right now, most of the filmmakers pushing boundaries and embracing the weird are working in short films, but Vanessa McDonnell and Dan Schoenbrun had the novel idea that this work could be brought together like a cool mixtape and separated into TV show like episodes. Acquiring cool shorts and commissioning their favorite filmmakers to create new works, McDonnell and Schoenbrun blend these trippy shorts with irreverent and sometimes serialized interludes to create what Tribeca programmers describe as a “weird, wild, uninterrupted whole.” The festival will premiere one of the ten-hour-long episodes titled “Facial Reconstruction” — featuring work by Lauren Wolkstein, Erin Vassilopoulos, Shaka King, Danny Madden and Leah Shore — after which the directors and show creators will discuss the project. -CO



Full Metal Mullet LLC

Seven years after releasing his debut feature, “Ceremony,” Max Winkler has returned to the director’s chair with “Flower,” a dark comedy that centers on a rebellious teen named Erica (Zoey Deutch). The 17-year-old has a habit of sexually scheming guys out of their money, but sets her sights even higher when her mother’s boyfriend and troubled fresh-out-of-rehab son move in with them. Co-starring Kathryn Hahn, Adam Scott and Tim Heidecker, the film was written by Winkler and “Ingrid Goes West” director Matt Spicer, who are also collaborating on the script for Disney’s “The Rocketeers,” a reboot sequel to Disney’s 1991 film, “The Rocketeer.” “Flower” is produced by Rough House Pictures’ David Gordon Green, Danny McBride and Jody Hill. -GW

“The Reagan Show”

Given our 24-hour twin drives for political satire and cable news, it’s interesting to imagine how previous presidential administrations would have fared under that kind of scrutiny. Of all the past presidents with their own TV archives, Ronald Reagan seems most appropriate to trace the peculiar marriage of broadcast media and national politics. Beyond the formal hook of presenting unadorned archival footage, this doc has one of the strongest co-director bona fides of any film in the program: Sierra Pettengill worked as an archivist on two major 2016 highlights (“Kate Plays Christine” and “20th Century Women”) and Pacho Velez is one of the two filmmakers behind the incomparably great “Manakamana.” Some of this Reagan footage screened at AFI FEST in 2015 — it will be fascinating to see how it plays through a much different prism two years later-Steve Greene


Behind-the-scenes competition docs like “Wordplay,” “Spellbound” and “Word Wars” always have a built-in appeal: watching people commit themselves so fully to a single game is the kind of devotion that often makes for the best subjects to profile. Whether that same innate fascination translates to artificial intelligence is a question that “AlphaGo” will look to answer, following machines designed for the specific purpose of “solving” Go, the timeless Chinese board game. As talk of the consequences of automation continues to grab headlines worldwide, this is another realm where the rise of AI could mean an irreversible shift in how we (and it) understand the possibilities of the future. -SG

READ MORE: Tribeca 2017 Lineup: New Films From Alex Gibney, Azazel Jacobs and Laurie Simmons Lead the Eclectic Mix

“Saturday Church”

A gender-bending teen just beginning to explore his sexual identity finds community on the piers of New York’s West Village while dealing with a domineering and disapproving aunt back home. Add music to this timely New York coming-of-age story, and “Maggie’s Plan” producer Damon Cardasis’ directorial debut could not have found a more perfect home than Tribeca. With a breakout performance from Broadway actor Luka Kain as the nylon-stealing Ulysses, and strong supporting roles for deserving TV actresses Regina Taylor and Margot Bingham (“Boardwalk Empire”), if “Saturday Church” has even a little “Dancer in the Dark” with a pinch of “Hedwig” thrown in for good measure, it’s a sure crowdpleaser. -Jude Dry

“The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson”

“The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson”

When 2015’s “Stonewall” completely re-wrote history to cast a white, gay, cisgender man as the instigator of the famous Stonewall riots, LGBTQ historians and activists were outraged at the whitewashing of the legendary Marsha P. Johnson — who actually threw the first brick. The legacy of the self-described “street-queen” will finally reach a wider audience when David France’s (“How to Survive a Plague”) documentary plays Tribeca. Johnson was a pioneer in the fight for transgender rights, founding Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R.) along with Sylvia Rivera, a trans activist group based in the heart of NYC’s Greenwich Village. Tragically, she was found floating in the Hudson river in 1992. The NYPD ruled her death a suicide at the time, a claim those who knew her have always firmly denied. France’s film is framed as a whodunit, following activist Victoria Cruz as she attempts to uncover the truth of Johnson’s death and life. The community will be out in full force for this one, and the opening is sure to be an emotional one with Johnson’s friends and disciples in attendance. -JD

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