Now in its eighteenth 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 wide-ranging conversation programs and reunion events tend to dominate the schedule, the festival also offers a robust selection of documentary and narrative features worth the trip downtown.
This year, the program has reached a new milestone: gender parity across its three competition sections. Fifty-two narratives and 51 documentaries will debut throughout the 12-day festival. The competition section features 12 documentaries, 10 U.S. narratives, and 10 international narratives. The event will also host 15 spotlight narratives, 16 spotlight documentaries, as well as five Midnight features, and 17 Viewpoints selections.
This year’s Tribeca Film Festival takes place April 24 – May 5. Check out some of our must-see picks below.
“Ophelia” screenwriter Semi Chellas takes on yet another “you think you know, but you have no idea” story about an iconic and woefully misunderstood woman in her feature directorial debut. This time around, Chellas tackles the story of kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst, offering up an “atmospheric drama” inspired by Hearst’s 1974 kidnapping as filtered through Susan Choi’s 2003 novel of the same name. Sarah Gadon stars as the film’s Patty substitute (she goes by “Pauline”), while “Downsizing” standout Hong Chau is cast as Jenny Shimada, standing in for real-life activist Wendy Yoshimura, who was a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army that kidnapped Hearst. —KE
Tribeca Film Festival
Roger Ross Williams, the director of the Oscar-winning short “Music By Prudence” and Emmy-winning “Life, Animated,” tackles the history of the famed Harlem music venue the Apollo Theater, where HBO’s “The Apollo” will open the festival on April 24. Williams combines rarely seen archival footage, interviews with Jamie Foxx, Pharrell Williams, Patti LaBelle, and Smokey Robinson, plus behind-the-scenes verité from Ta-Nehisi Coates’ stage adaptation of “Between the World and Me,” to explore the cultural context of the extraordinary performers at the Apollo. —AT
This somber and lyrical look at a troubled African-American community on the outskirts of New Orleans delivers a concise, devastating window into the clash of religious values and vice. The headline might be “Beasts of the Southern Wild” director Benh Zeitlin serving as an executive producer, but there’s an even more impressive hook for “Burning Cane”: Writer-director Phillip Youmans (who also shot and edited the film) is 19 years old, and made the movie before he finished high school. But this is hardly your typical student project. The great Wendell Pierce plays a stern, conflicted preacher tasked with advising a troubled older woman (Karen Kaia Livers) contending with her grown son (Dominique McClellan) as his alcoholism destroys his life. Youmans’ evocative storytelling has a near-mystical quality as it hovers in the confines of an insular world defined at once by haunting beauty and malaise. It’s the mature work of a singular filmmaking vision, and likely to rank among the major discoveries of this year’s festival. —EK
“Circus of Books”
The true story of a gay porn shop in the heart of West Hollywood, run by an older Jewish couple, as told through the eyes of their filmmaker daughter. What else do you need to know? —JD
“Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice”
Oscar-winning Bay area documentary veterans Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (“Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt”) look at the woman behind one of the most stunning voices to rock the music scene. Linda Ronstadt was in her early twenties when she broke out of ’60s folk rock, and went on to conquer the pop charts for the next three decades. The filmmakers interview Jackson Browne, Emmylou Harris, Don Henley, Aaron Neville, Dolly Parton, and Bonnie Raitt. After the Tribeca premiere, Sheryl Crow will sing in tribute to Ronstadt, who is battling Parkinson’s. —AT
Kevin McMullin’s Amblin-esque debut is one of the most exciting films that’s set to premiere in Tribeca’s narrative feature competition. Set on the Jersey Shore in the height of summer, “Low Tide” tells the story of some wide-eyed young vandals who spend most of their free time breaking into empty vacation homes and trying not to get caught. But their childhood antics suddenly take on some very adult stakes when the ocean waters recede and two of the boys discover a bag of gold coins buried in the sand. Rather than share these mysterious riches with their friends, brothers Alan (Keean Johnson) and Peter (Jaeden Martell) decide to horde the loot for themselves; this is what happens when teenagers aren’t shown “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” at an impressionable age. Also starring “Colony” actor Alex Neustaedter and up-and-comer Daniel Zolghadri (who might look familiar to “Eighth Grade” fans), “Low Tide” looks to be an evocative and unusually confident adventure story that relocates classic tropes to a modern context in order to show that some things about growing up never change. —DE
“Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound”
Sound designers are responsible for so much of what people love about their favorite movies, but these utterly indispensable craftspeople are often overlooked, even though cinematographers, costume designers, and other “below-the-line” talents have managed to become household names (at least in houses where one of the bookshelves is devoted to the Criterion Collection). Midge Costin’s “Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound” is determined to end several decades of deafening silence, and give sound designers the round of applause they so richly deserve. Not only does this documentary shine a light on the sound booth and illustrate exactly what someone like sound mixer Gary Rydstrom contributed to the likes of “Jurassic Park” (to pick one examples of many), the film also features interviews with everyone from David Lynch and Ryan Coogler to Ben Burtt and Barbra Streisand so that viewers can truly hear Costin’s message. You’ll never listen to a movie the same way again. —DE
“The Place of No Words”
What would you say if your three-your-old child asked where you go when you die — especially if you yourself were terminally ill? That question is at the heart of “The Place of No Words,” writer-director-star Mark Webber’s fantastical portrait of a father and son navigating the real world and the one they imagine together as one of them approaches the end of his life and the other is just beginning his. Webber, a veteran of Sundance (“The End of Love”) and SXSW (“Flesh and Blood”), has used his brand of “reality cinema” to craft a family affair co-starring his actual wife (Teresa Palmer) and their son (Bodhi Palmer). “The Place of No Words” might sound like a vanity project, but it also gives the impression of a passionate story suffused with feeling. —MN
“Bad Lieutenant” director Abel Ferrara has been a seminal New York filmmaker for decades, capturing the grime of the city streets in addition to its soul. For his first project set in the city since “Welcome to New York,” Ferrara brings his eccentric approach to non-fiction back home. “The Projectionist” marks a return to the documentary format that Ferrara last used in New York for his highly entertaining Chelsea Hotel salute “Chelsea on the Rocks” in 2008. This time, his subject is an embodiment of the filmmaker’s many passions: Nick Nicolau, a veteran of the New York exhibition scene who has run multiple independent theaters for decades. As Ferrara explores the city (as well as Nicolau’s old stomping ground in Cyprus), the filmmaker chronicles the wild history of film exhibition in New York, stretching back to the pornographic movie houses of the 1970s (where “Taxi Driver” famously paid a visit) as well as the challenges facing the profession today. Ferrara’s gritty narrative style takes a backseat in this earnest ode to the art of moviegoing, which carries a whiff of melancholy as it looks back on better days, even as Nicolau continues fighting for the theatrical experience. —EK
In a film that looks to be a mix of feminism and the cinema Brian De Palma, Haley Bennett stars as a pregnant woman whose “idyllic existence takes an alarming turn when she develops a compulsion to eat dangerous objects.” Inspired by first-time feature director Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ research into his own grandmother’s institutionalization at the hands of her husband, “Swallow” promises to be a bold and atmospheric cinematic study of the rituals a woman undertakes to gain control in a situation where she has little. Executive producer Joe Wright (director of “Atonement,” “Darkest Hour”) and the producers behind “The Rider” and “The Tale” are backing what could be one of the more exciting directorial debuts at this year’s festival. —CO
It’s like the Avengers of adorable UK storytellers, as beloved British director Danny Boyle and rom-com king Richard Curtis team up for a high-concept gamble with one hell of an original premise. Imagine this: You’re the only person who remembers the Beatles. What now? “Eastenders” star Himesh Patel toplines the film as Jack, a struggling singer and songwriter who is literally hit by a bus when the entire world plunges into a blackout. When he wakes up, he slowly discovers that he’s the one person with any memory of the world’s most famous rock band, and being of a musical bent, he also remembers their songs. Soon, Jack’s strumming away as a one-man John/Paul/George/Ringo hybrid, and success comes quickly, but what happens when the real masterminds show up? Plenty of summer movies hinge on their big ending reveals, but for our money, there’s no resolution we want to see more than whatever Curtis and Boyle have cooked up for what sounds like a smart, emotional musical gem. —KE
“You Don’t Nomi”
Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that “Showgirls” is a cultural force to be reckoned with. Paul Verhoeven’s beautiful hot mess is infinitely watchable, as hard to turn away from as a bloody pile-up on the freeway. A new batch of documentaries is set to explore the anatomy if this ultimate cult hit, a truly so-bad-it’s-good-or-maybe-