Nestled in between Sundance and Cannes, the Tribeca Film Festival isn’t exactly known for instigating a lot of fancy dealmaking, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of options. With 103 features screening between April 24 – May 5, the New York gathering contains its fair share of world premieres, many of which arrive sans distribution. Some of them also end the festival that way, too. Here are some of the highlights from Tribeca 2019 that still need homes. Buyers, take note!
“Blow the Man Down”
Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy’s intriguing feature directorial debut lays out plenty of familiar beats in the guise of a Coen brothers-esque crime comedy, from a bloody murder to a bag of cash, all enlivened by some wonderfully distinct accents, but the pair also find their way to a unique new story that signals their arrival as a filmmaking duo to watch. Primarily led by a female cast, the small town-set film is generous with its large assortment of characters, allowing supporting star Margo Martindale to shine alongside rising talents like Morgan Saylor and and Sophie Lowe, who play sisters caught up in some seriously strange criminal enterprises after the death of their mother. On occasion, a Greek chorus-like cadre of local fishermen arrive to sing some local sea shanties, a risky proposition that Savage Cole and Krudy pull off: It’s weirdly funny and specific in all the right ways. With two rising filmmakers at the helm and a boatload of stars of all sorts rounding out the cast, a distributor could have a hell of a time promoting the film, not just as a girl-powered crime comedy with lots of timely bite, but as the arrival of the indie world’s next big filmmaking pair. —KE
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The top winner in Tribeca’s U.S. Narrative Competition is a compelling 78-minute snapshot of Southern poverty and grief, and would be a notable debut even if it didn’t have the added hook of a 19-year-old director. Nevertheless, Phillip Youmans’ youth is notable in light of the staggering maturity on display with this subtle drama, which hovers in textures more than plot. The movie veers from newly widowed Reverend Tillman (Wendell Pierce) to lonely mother Helen (Karen Kaia Livers), who worries about her aging dog and alcoholic son Daniel (Dominique McClellan) as it cycles through lyrical exchanges and a wondrous window into its remote African-American community. This trim cinematic tone poem has just enough polish to be a major calling card, and any distributor who gets behind it will be investing a filmmaker with a lot of potential on the horizon. —EK
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A Depression-era coming-of-age story that’s told with all the born-to-run romance of a Bruce Springsteen anthem, Miles Joris-Peyrafitte’s “Dreamland” is a film as mythic and familiar as the Dust Bowl itself. The story of a teenage boy (Finn Cole) and the bank robber who steals his heart (Margot Robbie), this is an arresting fable that’s fueled by the restlessness that American kids have always regarded as a birthright, a penniless runaway of a movie that — much like its characters, and the lives they imagine for themselves — is almost too beautiful to care that it’s racing towards a dead end. You’ve seen this story a thousand times before, but, Joris-Peyrafitte’s expressive direction and Robbie’s sheer force of will are enough to endow the movie’s best moments with the same hope-and-a-prayer immediacy that its heroes take with them as they speed towards the southern border. Gorgeous cinematography from “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” DP Lyle Vincent and a brilliant, tornado-like score from Patrick Higgins are more than enough to help this coming-of-age story overcome its clichés. A long second life for this movie is guaranteed on streaming, but it’s beautiful and expansive enough to sustain a healthy theatrical run. —DE
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Sasha Joseph Neulinger’s heroic and devastating autobiographical documentary, most of which is comprised of the fuzzy tape that his father compulsively shot on a camcorder throughout the ‘90s, is more than just an urgent and essential memoir of abuse. It’s also an indelible illustration as to how the very process of investigating your own past can be a trauma unto itself. In fascinating and unfathomable ways, the film weighs that pain against the (potentially even greater) trauma of repressing the most awful truths, holding the hurt in, and using your body as a vessel to preserve the kind of darkness that should never be projected onto anyone else. By revisiting the raw footage of his own childhood, and interrogating his parents about what they remember of that time, Neulinger creates a wrenching self-portrait of inherited abuse that joins “The Tale” and “Leaving Neverland” on a growing list of essential and unfathomably brave films about the internalization of sexual trauma, and the film demands a significant release so that Neulinger can share his hard-won insights. —DE
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Sticking a knife into the hard underbelly of the American Dream, Sonejuhi Sinha’s “Stray Dolls” is a taut and stylish thriller that manages to draw fresh blood from some very familiar territory. Sinha may not pioneer any new ground with this story of an Indian immigrant who comes to America in search of a fresh start (only to immediately find herself retreating into the kind of criminal activity she wanted to leave behind), but the specificity with which she tells it often renders the film with rare urgency. Unfolding like a Dardennes brothers movie that dreams of becoming “Spring Breakers,” the story exists in a purgatorial gray area that invites us — against our better natures — to root for Sinha’s heroine no matter what that might entail. Cynthia Nixon is a highlight as the ruthless but low-key heartbreaking owner of the motel where the movie takes place, as she delivers the kind of tortured supporting performance that might inspire even her most ardent political supporters to be glad that she won’t be cooped up in Albany for the next four years. A smart distributor would do well to recognize the value in such a vibrant and seductive take on some of our most important social issue. —DE
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There’s something fitting about the fact that Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ “Swallow” — a provocative and frequently brilliant thriller about the patriarchal control over female bodies — is set in a purgatorial stretch of upstate New York that’s roughly equidistant from both Jeanne Dielman’s home at 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels, and the arid San Fernando Valley that almost suffocates Carol White to death in “Safe.” While he might not possess Chantal Akerman’s visionary patience, or exhibit Todd Haynes’ singular talent for mining horror from metaphor, Mirabella-Davis has crafted a sharp and surprising modern fable around a woman whose environment has been weaponized against her since birth.
Tribeca Film Festival
The never-better Haley Bennett stars as Hunter, the submissive but subtly demented housewife of a standard-issue Patrick Bateman wannabe. After learning that she’s pregnant, and coming to grips with the fact that her body is literally no longer her own, Hunter finds an unusual means to restore a measure of her personal agency: Swallowing the small items she finds around the house and placing them back once they come out the other side. If her closely policed body isn’t permitted to pass through the world, then at least she can pass shards of the world through her body. From there, she gives birth to a shrewd and bracing look at the oppressiveness of gender roles. It may feel a bit familiar for most of its running time, but the film’s breathless final passage suggests that the 21st century might offer bold new endings for such regrettably timeless stories. “Swallow” is the kind of movie that people can’t stop talking about — the ending alone is a guaranteed lightning rod — and a careful roll-out could turn this into a word-of-mouth hit. —DE
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