This year’s Tribeca Film Festival was, as they say, an embarrassment of riches. Incorporating films and TV series from across the world, and spanning many genres and formats, it ultimately underscored the resilience of filmmaking even during times of turmoil.
From a soul-altering pregnancy experience to the origin story of techno music and a young girl’s spiritual odyssey told through animation, these narratives were the highlights at the festival.
“Liquor Store Dreams”
Those alive amid the 1992 Los Angeles uprising might recall seeing myriad images of Korean proprietors, some who were armed, standing on the roofs of their buildings as businesses around them burst into flames. It’s a narrative that, still to this day, isn’t treated with nearly the amount of nuance as it deserves. But documentarian So Yun Um takes a humanistic approach to detailing the complicated, and at times tragic, stories of the Korean liquor store owners and their first-generation children — like herself — struggling to be seen. And while doing so, Um takes on the difficult task of exploring the fraught evolution of Black-Korean relations in LA.
There’s definitely no shortage of horror screen narratives that hinge on the terror of motherhood, from “Rosemary’s Baby” to this year’s “The Baby.” But writer-director Michelle Garza Cevera, with co-writer Abia Castillo, explores the well-worn concept with an entirely original Mexican film that is ultimately about a pregnant woman (Natalia Solián) who discovers her path to motherhood comes at grave costs. Most terrifying is her sense of self.
“My Love Affair With Marriage”
With the success of last year’s “Flee,” which shattered all expectations of both animation and documentary, filmmakers seem to be taking even more chances that are paying off in dividends. With “My Love Affair with Marriage,” Latvian filmmaker Signe Baumane explores the effects of human condition in this remarkable coming-of-age story that tests the bounds of fiction as it traces a girl’s 23-year journey to achieve love and romantic partnership. Throughout the process, the film asks its protagonist, and to some extent the audience, to understand the intricacies of why she’s on this quest in the first place — for herself or to satisfy certain expectations of her.
A routine meal at the dinner table throws one family into tense discussions about deciding one’s own mortality when a father (Johan Leysen) with no known health issues announces to his adult children that his next birthday will be his last in this surprisingly earnest Dutch film. Director Floor van der Meulen, with screenwriter Bastiaan Kroeger, delicately balances drama with pitch dark comedy in a story that ponders the notion of self-determined fate and the lives, chiefly daughter Iris (a fantastic Julia Akkermans), that it impacts.
Neither Penélope Cruz nor Antonio Banderas are strangers to starring in quirky films like “Vanilla Sky” or “I’m So Excited.” But directors Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat, with co-writer Andrés Duprat, challenge the pair in a whole new way in a film essentially about the narcissistic nature of filmmaking. Cruz is an off-the-wall director who pushes her actors, played by Banderas and Oscar Martínez, to go deep into the narrative by any means (sometimes even by sacrificing their own prized possessions). Hilarity ensues.
Especially after “Fresh” earlier this year, horror fans might anticipate, and maybe even be eager for, a film that engages in the many complexities of carnal pleasure. But trust, you will not expect what happens in Austrian filmmaker Peter Hengl’s “Family Dinner,” which takes a sweet premise like a girl (Nina Katlein) visiting her aunt (Pia Hierzegger), whom she looks up to, and her new family unit and turns it into a mounting nightmare.
“Butterfly in the Sky”
If you’re an elder millennial, chances are you grew up on a healthy diet of “Reading Rainbow” with host LeVar Burton. In fact, just the mere mention of the title of this PBS educational series, which ran from 1983 to 2006, probably stirs memories of its iconic theme song. Directors Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb engage with that nostalgia in this documentary that chronicles why the series was a success and made Burton an icon of scholarship, the racial and social barriers it broke, and why it was a tragedy when it lost its funding.
“God Said Give ’Em Drum Machines”
Even if you’re not part of the techno fandom, you’ll get something out of this documentary, directed by Kristian R. Hill, that puts credit for the music genre back into the hands of Black DJs and musicians in Detroit. This story doesn’t so much ask whether or why it was co-opted by white recording artists, though it does give that question the thought it deserves. Rather, how these young Black men created the music and found each other as well as a largely queer Black club community in the process.
“The Right to Offend: The Black Comedy Revolution”
We’re living during a time when it seems like every day a stand-up comedian is getting canceled or assaulted, whether that is verbally or physically, for the words they speak. So it seems like an interesting time to reflect on the ways particularly Black comics throughout history have never backed down from statements considered controversial to the public — from Moms Mabley and Dick Gregory to Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle. Directors Jessica Sherif and Mario Diaz trace the complexity of the punchline in this timely docuseries.
“A League of Their Own”
Admittedly, the mere idea of yet another TV series adapted from a classic film in this saturated climate is eye-roll-worthy. But showrunner Will Graham’s thoughtful exploration of the beloved female baseball players at the center of this story incorporates multiple queer characters and characters of color that help ground the humanity of both the time period, the narrative and the sport. It doesn’t take away from the original 1992 film, but it’s a nice companion piece.
“Menudo: Forever Young”
From the title alone, you might want to file this under another docuseries reflecting on one of your favorite nostalgic bands. But “Menudo: Forever Young” goes farther than that as directors Angel Manuel Soto and Kristofer Ríos grapple with the iconic boy band’s impact on their Puerto Rican community, the exploitative nature of their industry and the horrible debt they paid.