Tribeca’s 13th year wrapped this past month. The impressions left by the films remain. Here are a few capsules of some of the memorable films seen during the increasingly influential festival’s latest iteration.
Amanda F°°°ing Palmer on the Rocks
Critically acclaimed documentary filmmaker Ondi Timoner returns with an episode from her web channel about innovators in technology, A Total Disruption. Amanda F°°°ing Palmer on the Rocks takes us into the world of punk-cabaret musician Amanda Palmer, who has taken the notion of artistic DIY to exciting new heights. Palmer (formerly one-half of the duo The Dresden Dolls and still one-half of the duo Evelyn Evelyn) raised a record-breaking $1.2 million with a Kickstarter campaign, and embraces the world of social media as a means of crowd-sourcing funds, surprise performance spaces, and even lyrics. And for all of this, Palmer is both celebrated and crucified in the media. The short documentary shows her reacting to blogs and articles that attack her methods (as well as the huge backlash over her controversial poem for Boston Marathon bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev) , and also takes a brief but intimate look at her open marriage to novelist Neil Gaiman, which Palmer explains is also “very virtual.” One can’t help but fall for Palmer over the course of this 18-minute piece. She’s a rock star, she’s open, flawed, and her fans have a tremendous, undeniable connection with her—all of which we get to witness as she prepares for a new show at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. For artists still living under the impression that social media is for the kids, or for those still trying to navigate the Twittersphere, Amanda F°°°ing Palmer on the Rocks is a powerful, inspirational profile of one artist who knows how to embrace the chaos and work the beast. —Shannon Houston
The latest feature from award-winning director Mariana Rondón, Bad Hair is a powerful portrait of boyhood in Venezuela that deftly captures the intersection of homophobia and poverty for one family. Samuel Lange plays Junior, a nine-year-old boy with big dreams of straightening his dark, curly hair (just like a pop singer’s) for his school photo. His mother, Marta, is uncomfortable with his desires (and the way he dances, and his general demeanor) as she struggles to take care of Junior and his baby brother in a Caracas housing project. Marta is a vicious, villainous character (but written so well—and performed so perfectly by Samantha Castillo, that her own storyline becomes as compelling and heartbreaking as Junior’s. Rondón’s film represents one of the first to take on the question of homosexuality for pre-pubescent youth, but it’s ultimately the story of a parent who cannot see her own child and, therefore, cannot love him. Junior’s only ally is his friend, a little girl with her own wild dreams of becoming Miss Venezuela. Set against the backdrop of political turmoil and violence in the country, Bad Hair is an exceptional effort and a stunning visual experience from Rondón. —S.H.
Beneath the Harvest Sky
First-time feature film directors Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly team up for a somber coming-of-age story about two high school boys looking to ditch the small-town life. Emory Cohen (The Place Beyond the Pines) and Calla McAuliffe (The Great Gatsby) play Casper and Dominic, best friends with very different plans for getting together enough bread to relocate to Boston after high school graduation. While Dominic works on a potato farm, Casper enters the drug world via his father (Aidan Gillen), but the film highlights the bond between them in a way that makes the inevitable all the more heartbreaking. While Gaudet and Pullapilly deftly weave Casper and Dominic’s individual narratives in with the grander plot, parts of the story occasionally lag and some scenes could have been a bit tighter. Cohen and McAuliffe are capable actors, joined by the ever-impressive Carrie Preston (True Blood, The Good Wife) and Sarah Sutherland (Veep). Although some of the women characters feel a bit one-dimensional (there’s Dominic’s good girlfriend, headed for college, and Casper’s bad girl, drinking, partying, and being generally irresponsible), Beneath the Harvest Sky is ultimately a successful work. Gaudet and Pullapilly have created an honest portrayal of small-town desperation and drive, and a compelling story that at once exudes youth, romance and tragedy. —S.H.
Leah Tonic’s Hebrew-language film takes on feminist ideals and Jewish traditions with a story of two daughters in Israel who have chosen very different paths. Sheri lives a secular life and has been ostracized by her family, but finds herself on the phone with her younger sister one day, who is engaged to be married. The short film centers on Sheri—seemingly proud of her liberated ways and her life without religion —but Tonic also works to highlight the loneliness she experiences, having been ostracized from her family and community. Firstborn offers an intimate look at the effects any group of principles might have on an individual; quite a feat for Tonic’s debut short. —S.H.
Simon Chinn is a name you might not know, but you almost certainly know his work. All he did was originate and produce Man on Wire, probably the most heralded documentary of our time, and director James Marsh’s almost equally transcendent followup, Project Nim. Then in 2012 he produced two of the best docs of that or any other recent year, The Imposter and Oscar winner Searching for Sugar Man. He’s back with Ed Perkins’ debut Garnet’s Gold, a film about an elderly English man who found a mysterious walking stick while hiking in the Scottish Highlands decades ago. He’s since become convinced that it was left as a marker of hidden gold, and he’s determined to go back and find it. That’s about all you should know about this masterpiece before you see it, except perhaps that’s it’s beautifully shot, flawlessly edited, and altogether exceptional. The best documentary of the festival, and of the year so far. —Michael Dunaway
Writer/director Leigh Janiak claims Roman Polanski and The Goonies as influences, and her first feature fulfills whatever strange promise such a pairing implies. Honeymoon begins in the unsettling enough territory of ultra-adorable newlyweds Bea and Paul (Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway) being super awkward while they talk about how they met and married. When the couple arrives at a family cabin in a wooded area near a lake, Janiak deploys enough horror tropes (remote isolation, bearskin wall-hanging, strange people in nearby cabin) to convey fear, even if it’s not clear of what, exactly. Halfway through, Paul wakes up to an empty bed, runs outside to find Bea standing in the forest naked, pale, shivering and apparently asleep. The strength of Honeymoon lies in its refusal to reveal exactly what happened in the forest (beyond the fact it left Bea pregnant with … something). All in all, Honeymoon proves a better-than-average debut in the psychological horror category, one bolstered by particularly strong supporting performances from Hanna Brown and Ben Huber as the neighbors. —Aaron Belz
I’ll be honest; Intramural didn’t grab me at first. It was a bit too silly, a bit too much of an on-the-nose parody. But then one joke hit me. Then another. By fifteen minutes in, I was hooked. This comedy won’t change the world, but it will make you laugh, and probably give you some fun flashbacks to some classic ’80s sports films. —M.D.
Life Partners is movie about a pair of co-dependent 29-year-old best friends named Sasha (Leighton Meester), who is gay, and Paige (Gillian Jacobs), who is not. They are settled into a platonic near-marriage of perma-sleepovers, brunches, and heckling reality shows when Paige meets a new boyfriend (Adam Brody.) Both women struggle to redefine their relationship—and themselves—in this hilarious, genuine and rewarding film. Directed by Susanna Fogel and co-written with her best friend, Joni Lefkowitz, this movie rings true. It weaves masterful humor and spot-on jokes into a picture that’s definitely more emotionally mature than either of its main characters—and infinitely more moving than you’d expect from a film with dildo swordfights. —Laura Jayne Martin
At first glance, Mala Mala may feel like strictly a “niche” film—only interesting to those who are a part of or have a special affinity for the community it depicts. But Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles’ thoughtful documentary about transgendered individuals in Puerto Rico goes far beyond that target audience. It’s a provocative, and at times even profound, look at identity and authenticity, and its subjects’ struggles and triumphs mirror our own. Seeing it is an enlarging experience. —M.D.
The best film I saw at Tribeca this year. The perpetually underrated Matthew Lillard has never been better; he’s alternately inexcusable and irresistible. And Patrick Stewart turns in one of the finest performances of a fine career as well. It still feels a bit like a play on film at times, but if that doesn’t bother you (and why should it?), you’ll be rewarded with a great night. —M.D.
A gripping, violent, father-son tale set in the British prison system, director David Mackenzie’s name—if unfamiliar to some of us—will be unforgettable after experiencing Starred Up. Ben Mendelsohn (The Place Beyond the Pines, The Dark Knight Rises) and Jack O’Connell (Skins, 300: Rise of an Empire) deliver powerhouse performances as Neville and Eric, a father and son clashing with each other after being placed in the same prison. The story follows both inmates as they fight their way through a system that—like all prison systems—thrives on their failure to rehabilitate themselves. Rupert Friend (Homeland) plays a volunteer prison psychotherapist whose group therapy has great impact on all involved, particularly himself. Like any strong piece, the supporting cast of Starred Up—namely a group of black inmates in therapy (played by Anthony Welsh, David Ajala, and Gershwyn Eustache Jr.)—often steals the show. And even as they work to encourage Eric, he seems to be fighting a losing battle, as a product and victim of his environment, his emotions and his father. In one scene, he follows behind Neville after a fight, and the image of son stalking father (literally walking in his footsteps) is extraordinarily tragic (and yet, still beautiful); viewers will experience the strange and rare sensation that they are witnessing something great. Mackenzie and screenwriter Jonathan Asser deliver an unflinchingly heartbreaking and triumphant picture that refuses to be shaken off even after those haunting revolving doors in the final scene start spinning, and the credits roll. —S.H.
The 30 Year Old Bris
Michael Ratner’s Tribeca debut is a fun short loaded with faith-based humor and surprise cameos that add much of the humor. Nick Fondulis plays Brad, a 30-year-old who’s ready to prove his love to his Jewish girlfriend, Erica (played by Jaclyn Jonet), in a big way. Brad seems to have taken a few tips from Sex and the City‘s Charlotte York, and converts to Judiasm for love, but takes his commitment to more intense and hilarious heights when he starts looking into circumcision options at Erica’s request. For a ten-minute short, Ratner packs in a bit much at times, with the story playing a little too close to a Meet the Parents plot. But solid performances from Barry Rothbart, Donnell Rawlings, and the ever-amazing Chris Elliott (who plays a rabbi/taxi driver) make all the bizarre antics enjoyable, especially for those of us who never tire of circumcision humor. For anyone who remembers Rawlings as Ashy Larry from Chappelle’s Show, and can pick up on Hot 97 Peter Rosenberg’s voice under any circumstances, The 30 Year Old Bris is a real treat. Its slightly veiled critique of the strangeness in religious ceremony and traditional romance narratives is, perhaps, the more interesting layer in Ratner’s work, and gives good reason to look forward to his next project. —S.H.