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16 must-see films at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival

Cate Blanchett profiled during her various guises in Manifesto
Cate Blanchett pictured in her various guises during Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto

Born as a way of redeveloping New York’s Lower Manhattan in the wake of 9/11, Tribeca Film Festival 16 years later is an international film event held over 12 days, April 19-30.

Truth be told, most of the film screenings don’t happen in Tribeca anymore, but the can-do, all-inclusive spirit of the festival embodies New York at its best.

Neither as focused on emerging new filmmakers as Sundance nor Hollywood star vehicles as Toronto Film Festival, Tribeca is the premiere North American film event that offers a little something for everyone.

Among the 98 feature-length titles at this year’s festival can be found everything from the latest in experimental video to retrospective showings of classics, along with documentaries on music, the environment, food, health, sports, the media, the entertainment industry, war and politics, religion, women’s rights, youth and Latin, African American, Asian American and LGBTQ issues.

On the narrative side expect a full array of dramas, comedies, romance, action thrillers, horror, crime and coming-of-age stories.

With all that in mind, here’s a short list of 16 best bets for the 16th edition of Tribeca, culled from several touchstone feature-film categories — art, music, politics, “blurred reality” and star turns.

Tribeca 2017: Art

Over the years Tribeca has excelled in art documentaries as you might expect from a festival in the reigning capital of the modern and contemporary art world.

If there’s one film about art to see at Tribeca – or, just one film to see at the festival at large, it’s Manifesto, the one woman tour-de-force featuring Cate Blanchett.

As the title reveals, the film by German artist Julian Rosefeldt (best known for his video installations) is about various art manifestos of the 20th century.

Blanchett portrays all the characters in the film in various recurring vignettes, usually with tongue planted firmly in cheek as her monologues consist entirely of excerpts from dogmatic manifestos.

Manifesto is quintessential art house cinema. It’s the kind of auteur-driven, outré movie that reminds why there are film festivals in the first place.

Among the other art films worth considering are director Pappi Corsicato’s Julian Schnabel: A Private Portrait, the definitive biopic of the Nineties enfant terrible of the New York art scene, who went on to become a filmmaker (The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, Before Night Falls), and Blurred Lines: Inside the Art World, Barry Avrich’s in-depth dish on the machinations in the contemporary art world where commerce and aesthetics oftentimes make strange bedfellows.

Tribeca 2017: Music

In the pantheon of the most influential figures of modern music, record executive Clive Davis ranks near the top.

Chris Perkel’s bio-pic Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives – which opens the festival – documents the rise of the music impresario from humble beginnings to becoming the head of three of the most important labels – Columbia, Arista and RCA, not to mention Bad Boy Records that he co-founded with Sean Combs.

Along the way he introduced the world to Bruce Springsteen, Whitney Houston, Santana, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Aerosmith, Simon & Garfunkel, Janis Joplin, Chicago, Carly Simon, Blood Sweat & Tears, the Kinks, the Grateful Dead, Notorious B.I.G., Alicia Keys, Lou Reed, Usher and the Eurythmics, among many other best-selling artists. At 85 years old Davis continues to be a global musical tastemaker as the Chief Creative Officer of Sony Music Entertainment.

Speaking of Whitney Houston, the story of the most awarded female recording artist of all time (she had more number one hits than the Beatles) is told with never-before-seen footage by directors Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal in Whitney. ‘Can I be me’.

Since we’re already on the road to music nostalgia, let’s take the New Wave & Punk exit to Ellen Goldfarb’s Dare To Be Different, which documents the birth of the punk and new wave communities, featuring rare footage of Blondie, Duran Duran, Joan Jett, The Cure, Billy Idol, and Depeche Mode. In The Public Image Is Rotten, Tabbert Fiiller profiles Johnny Rotten, Eighties music provocateur, member of the Sex Pistols and the founder of post-punk outfit Public Image Ltd.

Tribeca 2017: Politics

The advent of the smart phone technology has created a new generation of citizen activists that would make Thomas Paine proud. Just last week two white police officers in Georgia were fired, hours after cell phone videos from passersby surfaced of them punching and kicking a black motorist in handcuffs.

The entire Black Lives movement is intertwined with the footage of cops misbehaving – too often with deadly results –provided by ordinary citizens.

Director Camilla Hall’s Copwatch documents the true story of an organization whose mission is to film police activity as a non-violent of protest and deterrence to police brutality.

This informal network of everyday folk takes up cameras to literally bear witness to police actions.

Hall profiles several of the motely crew – from a young California father who found his voice in this new kind of 21st century activism to Ramsey Orta, the man who shot the video of Eric Garner’s killing on Staten Island at the hands of police, and Kevin Moore, who filmed the arrest of Freddie Gray in Baltimore.

The film promises to be compelling and ripped-from-the-headlines topical.

Other political docs worth noting: ACORN and the Firestorm, Reuben Atlas’ and Sam Pollard’s profile of the liberal and influential community organizing group infiltrated by Tea Party activists and Gray State, Erik Nelson’s stranger-than-fiction investigation into the murder on Christmas Day 2014 of Iraq veteran and alt-right rising star David Crowley and his family, a brutal attack that created a cloud of conspiracy theories that continue today.

Tribeca 2017: Blurred Reality

Are we seeing the birth of a new genre at this year’s festival? Organizers have labeled the films Flames and Rock N Roll as “narrative features.”

That’s seems rather arbitrary since both films follow real-life couples, portraying themselves, in real-life stores of their lives … well, certainly, their lives but are the stories scripted or not?

Filmed over five years, Flames follows real-life couple Josephine Decker and Zefrey Throwell, a pair of artists intent on documenting their relationship’s every beat, from their adventurous sex life, to their performance art collaborations, to a spur-of-the-moment getaway to the Maldives.

When the film’s planned happy ending proves elusive as their relationship goes awry, they are left to decide what to do with their film-in-progress.

They decide to continue filming, deconstructing and then reconstructing their partnership as what was real and what was performed begins to blend.

 Guillaume Canet and Marion Cotillard in Rock N Roll
Guillaume Canet and Marion Cotillard in Rock N Roll

In Rock N Roll real-life couple Guillaume Canet and Marion Cotillard – yes, THE Marion Cotillard – play themselves in this satirical comedy dealing with aging in the age of celebrity.

In the film within a film, Guillaume (who directs the real film) is told by his young co-star that he’s yesterday’s definition of hip. It’s enough for him to embark on a campaign to recapture his cool.

Cotillard remains oblivious to his mid-life crisis as it spins out of control, threatening their carefully choreographed (or, is it rehearsed?) marriage.

Footnote: It was just six months ago the real-life entertainment media was all abuzz with rumours of Cotillard and Brad Pitt, co-stars in Allied, having an affair that contributed to the break-up of Pitt’s and Angelina Jolie’s marriage.

Cotillard denied the gossip. Blurred lines, indeed!

Tribeca 2017: Star Turns

What’s a festival without a few bona fide stars? This year’s Tribeca is loaded with Hollywood star turns but for our money, we’ll go with Adam Rifkin’s Dog Years.

Burt Reynolds, once one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood, plays Vic Edwards, who, um, was once of the most bankable stars in Hollywood.

Burt Reynolds in Dog Years
Burt Reynolds as Vic Edwards in Dog Years

With Vic’s (not Burt’s) career all in the rearview mirror, the now-octogenarian actor (both Vic and Burt) reassess his life with the death of his beloved – wait for it – dog, and the invitation to accept a lifetime achievement award.

Hollywood loves a comeback of one of its own, especially one that blurs lines between reality and fiction (think Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler or Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard). The canine twist makes the story the complete package.

Also, keep you eye on a trio of love lost stories: Russell Harbaugh’s Love After Love, with Andie McDowell, who tries to keep her family together after the death of the patriarch; Tracy Letts and Debra Winger as an estranged couple who decide to cheat on their lovers when their relationship reignites in Azazel Jacob’s The Lovers, and Eleanor Coppola’s Paris Can Wait with Diane Lane and Alec Baldwin, about a chance encounter that leads to a memorable road trip through the French countryside.

The 2017 Tribeca Film Festival runs from Wednesday, April 19, to Sunday, April 30.


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