What to See at Tribeca 2021
Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | June 7th, 2021
In 2018 and 2019, I attended the Tribeca Film Festival, writing coverage for this site. In 2020, as with so many other festivals caught flat-footed by the global pandemic, Tribeca didn’t quite happen as planned, though some critics (like me) were able to watch a limited number of films and the festival still gave out awards. The five I did see and reviewed (for Hammer to Nail, where I am lead film critic) were the following: Jacinta, Kubrick by Kubrick, My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To, Picture a Scientist and Socks on Fire. All the films that would have played last year have now been invited back for a special program at this year’s festival, giving them the live screenings they were denied before (of the five I reviewed, only Picture a Scientist will not play in that showcase). They join a slate (according to the official press release) of “66 films from 81 filmmakers from across 23 different countries. The line-up includes 56 world premieres, 1 international premiere, 4 North American premieres, 1 U.S. premiere, and 4 New York premieres. This year’s program includes 15 directors returning to Tribeca with their latest projects, and over 60% of the feature films are directed by female, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ filmmakers.” Sounds like a great program.
The 2021 festival (the 20th!) will run June 9-20, and include short films, as well, along with speakers, special events and more. Sadly, neither I nor my Film Festival Today colleague Adam Vaughn are able to visit New York City to see any of this year’s selections and presentations in person, though we are both accredited as press and thereby have access to the press and industry screenings that take place after each premiere. We have also each already received some advance screeners. What follows are 10 films – 5 from each of us – that we either recommend (because we have seen) or anticipate. Check out the list to see if there is anything that catches your eye! All titles are hyperlinked to their page on the festival website.
CHRIS REED’s choices (in alphabetical order):
A-ha the Movie (Thomas Robsahm)
What can I say? As a child of the 1980s (as in, I was a teenager then), how can I resist? Synth-pop all the way! I can’t even claim to know anything about this Norwegian group other than their one big hit “Take on Me” (which I am listening to as I type these words). But hey, that song has always filled me with ridiculous joy, the same way The Go-Go’s, Rick Astley and Wham! do (don’t worry, I like a great more variety of music than that). And what a great music video they had (quite innovative for its time, as I remember). So sign me up for this documentary portrait of band members Magne Furuholmen, Morten Harket and Paul Waaktaar-Savoy. I’ll be sure to show up early.
All These Sons (Joshua Altman/Bing Liu)
In All These Sons, directors Joshua Altman and Bing Liu (editor and director, respectively, on the Oscar-nominated Minding the Gap) examine the ways two parallel non-profit organizations, one on Chicago’s West Side and the other on the South Side, work to decrease gang-related violence and other issues resulting from those areas’ endemic poverty. Following the leaders and members of IMAN, Green ReEntry and MAAFA Redemption Project, Altman and Liu create intimate portraits of individuals committed to solving seemingly intractable problems. They all deserve our attention and admiration.
Last Film Show (Pan Nalin)
More than an Indian Cinema Paradiso (though it is a bit of that, too), director Pan Nalin’s Last Film Show frames the innocence of childhood through a cinematic lens of nostalgia. 9-year-old protagonist Samay grows up in a mostly rural part of Gujarat, his father, though a member of the respected Brahmin class, but a tea-seller at the local train station. Deeply devout, the family never goes to the theater, except for just this one time to watch a religious film. Unfortunately, that is all Samay needs to get hooked on the medium, after which he manages to talk his way into an unofficial position as assistant to the projectionist. Obsessed with learning about how light and motion pictures work, Samay convinces his friends to steal film prints so they can set up their own makeshift projection hall. Adventures and misadventures both delight in this charming coming-of-age tale that celebrates the magic of movies.
Mark, Mary & Some Other People (Hannah Marks)
From actress and filmmaker Hannah Marks (Banana Split) comes Mark, Mary & Some Other People, a movie about a twentysomething married couple that decides to open their relationship to (mostly) ethical non-monogamy (ENM). Ben Rosenfield (Mickey and the Bear), as Mark, and Hayley Law (Echo Boomers), as Mary, bring just the right note to complement Marks’ off-kilter sense of humor, assisted by a talented supporting cast. Even when things take a turn for the less-than-ideal, the director keeps the proceedings rolling along with a cinematic effervescence that belies the occasionally fraught material. You may or may not want to try ENM for yourself, but the vicarious pleasures of watching it play out, for better or for worse, are great, indeed.
Tigre Gente (Elizabeth Unger)
I have seen just about one too many documentaries about the end of the world and/or the demise of an endangered species to have much stomach for yet another, even as I acknowledge their importance. And yet Tigre Gente, directed by Elizabeth Unger, proves wholly engaging even to those who would rather avert their eyes. Beautifully photographed, the film highlights the grave danger faced by the jaguars in Bolivia’s Madidi National Park. As with a distressingly large number of threatened species, parts of the jaguar’s body (in this case, the teeth) are coveted by adherents of traditional Chinese medicine. Unger follows Bolivian park director Marcos and Chinese journalist Laurel as they each, from their respective locations, track down those who would hunt the animals to extinction. It’s a complicated and complex story, well worth watching.
ADAM VAUGHN (in order or preference):
Werewolves Within (Josh Ruben)
Without a doubt, Werewolves Within tops my top-five anticipated list, holding down the horror/comedy genre by itself this year at Tribeca. It follows a newly assigned forest ranger in a quaint Vermont town just as a snowstorm traps him and the local townspeople in the local inn. As they all bundle in to stay warm, they realize that bloodthirsty creatures lurk in the shadows! Given my love of “creature features,” Werewolves Within holds an even more important place in my interest as a new spin on the werewolf mythos. On top of that, I look forward to seeing an addition to the ever-growing horror/comedy genre, as its popularity continues to rise in today’s cinema.
Father of the Cyborgs (David Burke)
Despite being a full-fledged documentary, Father of the Cyborgs sounds like something out of a neo-sci-fi narrative! The film follows Dr. Phil Kennedy, a brilliant neurologist whose “single-minded and relentless quest to unlock the mystery of speech for locked-in patients” sends him on a spiraling path of danger as he experiments on himself with brain-altering procedures. The combination of suspense-filled events and scientific endeavors makes this film a must-see, and I look forward to learning about the science of neurology and the various real-life achievements (and horrors) it can lead to.
No Straight Lines: The Rise of Queer Comics (Vivian Kleiman)
I love following the evolution of superhero stories, be it on the big screen or in their original comic book form. No Straight Lines tells the story of five LGBTQ+ comic-book writers who go from underground artists to the cover of Time Magazine and reach international acclaim. As a reviewer often greatly moved by the stories told by members of the LGBQT+ community, I am very intrigued to witness the role these five have played in the comic-book world, and to see their stories told and recognized.
Stockholm Syndrome (The Architects)
I personally have seen a tremendous amount of news and buzz circling around the controversial lockup of musician/rapper A$AP Rocky in Stockholm, Sweden. The film follows Rocky as he is “placed in solitary confinement amidst the rising tensions of the case becoming a global media storm reaching the highest levels of government.” As an avid fan and someone who appreciates the way rap and hip-hop have always pushed the socio-political climate forward, I am extremely curious to see the events of Rocky’s arrest and imprisonment brought to light in this in-depth documentary.
With/In, Vol I and Vol II (Bill Camp/Chris Cooper/Griffin Dunne/Bart Freundlich/Gina Gershon/Sebastian Gutierrez/Arliss Howard/Sanaa Lathan/Julianne Nicholson/Sam Nivola/ Rosie Perez/Morgan Spector/Maya Singer/Mickey Sumner)
Of course, Tribeca 2021 wouldn’t be complete without the anticipation of several coronavirus-themed films, and the ways creativity and collaboration come to play for each. I have always loved the narrative structure of anthology films, and how several intertwined stories come together to form one cohesive narrative. With With/In, I look forward to seeing what performances from actors such as Julianne Moore and Don Cheadle bring to the table, and hope that there will be something refreshing about seeing iPhone-shot stories filmed during the pandemic, and how they resonate to a film-festival audience.