Preview: Tribeca Film Festival 2021

The 2021 Tribeca Film Festival is upon us, running June 9th through June 20th. This year’s line-up, a combination of both in-person and virtual, features a number of exciting film projects that have caught my attention. Over the course of the next week and a half, I will be covering the festival and sharing my thoughts on what I have seen through reviews, interviews, and other features.

To start, here are the films that I am most looking forward to in no particular order.

Note: All information, including pictures, has been provided by Tribeca Film Festival unless otherwise noted.


Features

The Perfect David (Argentina, Uruguay)

Drama, Sports

Synopsis: David (Mauricio di Yorio) is not like your ordinary teenager. He obsessively works on his body—day and night—to reach the idealized self of a bodybuilder. His mother Juana (Umbra Colombo), a well-known artist, controls David’s every move and behavior, overseeing all aspects of her son’s regimen and his daily weightlifting training. As David dedicates himself to further developing his physique, his social life begins to call out to him. His clique of male friends, who relish making lewd and inappropriate jokes whenever they hang out, begins to beckon David to be more outgoing—while attractive classmate Mica sets her eyes on David and works to win him over. As social commitments start to intrude on his commitment to his unrelenting physical training, a disoriented David begins to pursue other methods to reach and fulfill physical perfection.

Why I’m Interested: Body dysmorphia and the pressures of society are important topics that are rarely, if ever, discussed in film. This sounds like a fascinating exploration that seems to be leaning into darker storytelling.

Lorelei (United States)

Drama

Synopsis: Wayland (Pablo Schreiber) has been in prison for 15 years for armed robbery. Upon his release, he returns to his blue-collar hometown and inadvertently reconnects with his high school girlfriend Dolores (Jena Malone), now a single mother struggling to support her three kids, who are all named after different shades of blue. Soon after their reunion, Wayland moves in with the chaotic family and becomes a reluctant yet much-needed father figure. Struggling to pay the bills, Wayland finds himself drawn back to his old ways as Dolores yearns for her pre-motherhood dream of living in Los Angeles.

Why I’m Interested: I was sold at knowing that the producers of The Florida Project are behind the film, but add in Jena Malone and reportedly great performances from the children of the film… you have me hooked. Family dramas are impactful and some of the best films that can be made for how relatable they can be.

The God Committee (United States)

Drama

Synopsis: Dr. Boxer (Kelsey Grammar), Dr. Gilroy (Janeanne Garofalo), and Dr. Taylor (Julia Stiles) play God as accomplished doctors who serve on a heart transplant committee at a New York City hospital. They meet routinely to debate the merits of transplant applicants while also considering the funding needs of the hospital, disagreeing over which factors should have precedence over their decisions. Six years after they decide the fate of three diverse patients in desperate need of a new heart, the committee members face the dramatic repercussions of their fateful decision.

Why I’m Interested: An intriguing premise featuring performances from the likes of Kelsey Grammar and Julia Stiles, not to mention Janeanne Garofalo (it’s been a while!).

Not Going Quietly (United States)

Documentary, Politics

Synopsis: Since his high school debate team days, Ady Barkan has been articulate and passionate about social issues—a passion which eventually lands him an organizing job in California. Happily married and a loving father, life can’t be better. But at age 32 he is diagnosed with ALS, and, fearing rising healthcare costs in light of the proposed 2018 tax reform, Barkan heads for Washington as part of a group voicing their concerns. Frustrated after a conversation with Republican Senator Jeff Flake on the return flight goes nowhere, he embarks on the “Summer of Heroes Tour” where, as part of an equally dedicated team, he speaks at rallies, heads demonstrations at local offices of elected officials, and inspires both the public and team members in the name of healthcare reform, all the while coping with his declining physical abilities and yearning to be with his family.

Why I’m Interested: Ady Barkan’s story is just absolutely heartbreaking, but an important one to tell. Healthcare is an insane business in this country and needs more attention. Barkan’s background and ability to unite is sure to be the foundation for what I expect will be an impactful film.

We Need To Do Something (United States)

Horror, LGBTQIA

Synopsis: For teenager Melissa, family dysfunction is the norm. When a freak tornado traps Melissa inside the family home’s bathroom with her parents and younger brother, those rifts are exacerbated. And as their confinement within the increasingly-more-claustrophobic-by-the-hour lavatory stretches to multiple days, the situation grows extremely volatile. But there’s more than just hard feelings threatening the family. Something evil is beyond the walls, toying with them. Is this the family’s reckoning at the hands of a higher power? Or was it unintentionally triggered by Melissa and her girlfriend, Amy? Whatever the cause is, one thing’s for certain: All hell is about to break loose.

Why I’m Interested: Described as “unpredictable, unhinged and laced with offbeat humor, it’s a confident and singular descent into domestic nihilism that’s as wildly fun as it is deeply disturbing.” Sold.

Werewolves Within (United States)

Horror, Comedy, Mystery

Synopsis: Forest ranger Finn Wheeler (Veep’s Sam Richardson) is jazzed about his latest assignment: temporarily living inside The Beaverfield Inn, a cozy, woods-bound nook run by nice folks and frequented by Beaverfield’s colorful array of residents, for the duration of a new pipeline construction project. Little does he realize, his timing couldn’t be worse. For one, a major snowstorm is set to rid him and the inn’s occupants of communication with the outside world. And two, something is on the loose and brutally murdering Beaverfield’s denizens—perhaps something lycanthropic. As the body count rises, it’s up to Finn to play the reluctant hero and figure what, or who, is shrinking Beaverfield’s population.

Why I’m Interested: Sam Richardson is playing a hero in a werewolf film. Need I say more?

Enemies of the State (United States)

Documentary, Thriller

Synopsis: From the outside, the DeHart’s were an All-American family. Parents Paul and Leann were U.S. Military members, and son Matt was obsessed with computers from an early age. As a military family, they moved around during Matt’s adolescence, and Matt really grew up online. When Matt’s work with the hacker collective Anonymous rouses the suspicions of the U.S. government, the family is drawn into a bizarre web of secrets and espionage.

Why I’m Interested: This has been on my radar for a bit. Anything that has to do with cyber espionage and the conflicting interests of individuals and government is prime for a fascinating story.

Photo from IndieWire

The Neutral Ground (United States)

Comedy, Documentary, Politics

Synopsis: In December 2015, the New Orleans City Council voted to remove four Confederate monuments from public grounds. A forceful group of critics protested the decision, and fearing retaliation, no crew would agree to remove the statues. To comedian and writer CJ Hunt, these protestors’ fanatical loyalty to the losing side of a 160 year-old war seemed like ideal material for a short, satirical internet video. But as he filmed the conflict surrounding the monuments, a bigger story began to reveal itself.

Why I’m Interested: Another documentary on the list that dives into relevant issues present in society today, this one is particularly interesting to me given the ongoing battle over the symbolism of these statues, by desire to want to understand both sides better, and the fact that CJ Hunt is a comedian and field producer for The Daily Show.

The Price of Freedom (United States)

Documentary, Politics

Synopsis: The United States is a nation deeply entrenched in gun culture where, for many, guns represent a distinctly American way of life built on individualism, self-reliance and personal freedom. At the same time, people in the U.S. are 25 times more likely to die by gun violence than any other developed nation in the world. Over the past four decades, the NRA has become an increasing force of uncompromising political influence, often equating gun ownership with patriotism and challenging gun control legislation as a direct attack on personal liberty. What can be done to stand up against a behemoth gun lobby whose response to tragic shootings has been to double down on its pro-gun rhetoric? 

Why I’m Interested: One of the most divisive topics in American politics with an equally divisive organization at the center, a documentary focused on the topic is incredibly relevant and important.

Fathom (United States)

Documentary

Synopsis: “I’m trying to start a conversation,” proclaims Dr. Michelle Fournet, an American researcher studying the communication of humpback whales. As she enlists a team to aid her study in Alaska, we follow Dr. Ellen Garland, a Scottish researcher in French Polynesia scrutinizing how such patterns evolve, even across oceans and continents. For these women, this is an ambitious opportunity for rich discoveries—but it also provides them the environment that they feel the most at ease in, by connecting with a creature that has mystified humanity for generations.

Why I’m Interested: Look, I love whales. I don’t know why, but the majestic creature is my favorite animal on this planet. Add in the fact that their habitat is the ocean, largely unexplored, and coupled with the intelligence they possess, Fathom has always been one of my most-anticipated documentary films.

No Man of God (United States)

Drama, Thriller

Synopsis: It was a radical new approach to criminal investigations: “profiling.” Through one-on-one discussions with serial offenders, FBI researchers could go much more in-depth. FBI analyst Bill Hagmaier (Elijah Wood), emboldened by this new philosophy, sat down with famed serial killer Ted Bundy (Luke Kirby) for several interviews from 1984-1989 inside Florida State Prison, in hopes of figuring out why Bundy murdered more than 20 victims. What started out as a straightforward informational assignment gradually turned personal for Hagmaier, whose feelings about his charismatic subject grew more complicated with each conversation. Is it possible to empathize with evil?

Why I’m Interested: Described as a “two-character study” and “psychologically intricate,” this film piques my true crime interest, especially when it comes to a man like Ted Bundy.

P.S. Burn This Letter Please (United States)

Documentary

Synopsis: A box found in an abandoned Los Angeles storage unit unearths a time capsule of correspondences from a forgotten era: the underground drag scene in 50s New York City. The letters reveal a hidden world in a time when being openly gay was taboo and performing in drag was a potentially dangerous avocation. Told through firsthand accounts of those involved combined with newly discovered footage, the film casts a long-overdue spotlight on the unsung pioneers of drag, and illuminates their personal experiences—both inspiring and tragic.

Why I’m Interested: Drag is a wildly expressive and personal art form that I quite enjoy. Long a staple of the LGBTQ+ community, this film’s exploration of the underground scene of the 50s, from firsthand accounts, is sure to be revealing.

Accepted (United States)

Documentary

Synopsis: Tribeca alum Dan Chen returns to the festival with Accepted, an intriguing look at the high stakes quest for college admissions. In rural Louisiana, the TM Landry Prep School boasted a remarkable 100 percent college acceptance rate for its ambitious, underprivileged high school graduates. Adherence to the strict discipline and unconventional teaching program created by its charismatic founder Mike Landry all but guaranteed admission into the country’s most elite colleges, but did the means justify the ends? When the New York Times reported on the school’s secret to success, their exposé blew the lid off of Landry’s controversial methods, and the school buckles under the scrutiny, leaving the students’ fates hanging in the balance.

Why I’m Interested: As an education professional, the TM Landry story is a prime example of the business of college admissions. I hope to see this film take a personal approach to putting faces on those impacted.

See for Me (Canada)

Thriller

Synopsis: When blind former skier Sophie (Skyler Davenport) cat-sits in a secluded mansion, three thieves invade for the hidden safe. Sophie’s only defense is army veteran Kelly (Jessica Parker Kennedy) who plays first-person shooters online. Becoming her eyes through the See For Me phone app, Kelly helps Sophie defend herself against the invaders and survive, while playing out her ultimate fantasy like a real-life video game.

Why I’m Interested: I love a good home invasion thriller and the use of a phone app to tell this story, one in which the film plays out like a video game, is incredibly appealing/unique.

All My Friends Hate Me (UK)

Horror, Comedy, Thriller

Synopsis: Genuine but increasingly insecure Pete is cautiously excited about reuniting with his college crew for a birthday weekend at a magnificent country manor. It’s been years since the raucous bunch spent time together and he apprehensively prepares himself for a reintroduction into good-natured ribbing, heavy intoxication and hilarious, not at all awkward strolls down memory lane. With his girlfriend joining the festivities midway through—whom none of his friends have yet to meet—Pete sets his sight on proposing before the weekend’s out. Best laid plans, dear audience.

Why I’m Interested: Pete is me, it seems. Described as a black comedy with “scene after scene of cringe-worthy moments,” this film has me excited.

False Positive (United States)

Thriller

Synopsis: After difficult struggles with fertility, loving couple Lucy (Ilana Glazer) and Adrian (Justin Theroux) seem to have finally found their potential savior in the charming and world-renowned reproductive specialist Dr. Hindle (Pierce Brosnan). But as their dreams begin to come true and hope transforms to happiness, cracks start to appear in the façade of normalcy, sending the now-expectant mother into a spiral of suspicion that threatens her grasp on reality.

Why I’m Interested: This film gives me Get Out vibes. Co-written by Illana Glazer and featuring a solid cast, False Positive is one of those films that could be a standout.

Asking For It (United States)

Women, Drama, Thriller

Synopsis: After small town waitress Joey (Kiersey Clemons) is sexually assaulted after a date with her old friend Mike (Casey Cott), she befriends mysterious stranger Regina (Alexandra Shipp). Regina introducers her to The Cherry Bombers, an all femme gang including Beatrice (Vanessa Hudgens), Lily (Leslie Stratton), Sal (Radha Mitchell), Jett (Leyna Bloom), Angie (Lisa Yaro), Fala (Casey Camp-Horinek), and Rudy (Gabourey Sidibe). All suffering from past traumas, together they fight a misogynistic society by targeting violent frat boys, a corrupt police force of human traffickers led by Sheriff Morel (David Patrick Kelly), and the dangerous alt-right group MFM (Men’s First Movement) headed by Mark Vanderhill (Ezra Miller). As Joey is drawn further into their chaotic world, Sal’s old flame, Logan County Sheriff Vernon (Luke Hemsworth), investigates MFM, leading to a thrilling showdown.

Why I’m Interested: A stacked cast and a wildly unique story that promises to touch on the sexism that runs rampant throughout society has me equal parts excited and intrigued.

No Future (United States)

Drama

Synopsis: When an estranged friend shows up on his porch one night, Will (Charlie Heaton) doesn’t know what to say. As a recovering addict trying to get his life back on track between meetings, he shows clear signs of continued abuse. Will’s uncomfortable old wounds are quickly made worse when news arrives the next morning of a fatal overdose. Overcome by grief, Will returns home to find a community still holding on to memories of the damage left in his wake, and his friend’s grieving mother Claire (Catherine Keener) struggles to come to terms with her son’s death. Reconnecting with Claire after years apart, the two’s relationship soon transforms into an affair that comes to both comfort and distort their complicated feelings of guilt and grief. 

Why I’m Interested: No Future promises to be a deeply emotional story that already has me nervous for watching. I am looking forward to seeing what Charlie Heaton can deliver here.

Being Bebe (United States, Cameroon)

New York, Comedy, Dance, Documentary, LGBTQIA, Music, Biography, Fashion

Synopsis: In 2009, BeBe Zahara Benet went from performing at Minneapolis Pride to being crowned the triumphant winner of season one of RuPaul’s Drag Race. When you’ve always found yourself the biggest personality in every room you enter, being thrust into the spotlight of the public stage should feel like a natural fit. But as a Cameroonian-American immigrant, BeBe—aka Marshall Ngwa—felt the pressure of conflicting cultural expectations. How does one embrace a career as a proud LGBTQ performer in the US, while anticipating the disapproval of conservative Cameroon, where being gay is an imprisonable offense? And how do you live up to being one of West Africa’s biggest success stories, while simultaneously being underestimated and discriminated against in the American entertainment industry? With all eyes on him, Marshall does what only he can, navigating the complexities of race, gender and sexuality with poise, persistence and purpose. Sharing 15 years of unfettered access to Marshall’s story, filmmaker Emily Branham presents his unique love affair with performance alongside his unstoppable pursuit of Queer Black Excellence, offering an unprecedented portrait of an artist who chooses to live a creative life against all odds.

Why I’m Interested: RuPaul’s Drag Race has become mainstream over the past few years, but that wasn’t always the case. Bebe Zahara Benet brings a unique style to the stage and her own struggles, straddling the expectations of two cultures while claiming the first crown on the reality show in 2009. I am excited to see such an intricate look into the Queen.

Italian Studies (United States)

Women, Drama

Synopsis: New York City-based auteur Adam Leon (Gimme The Loot, Tramps) skillfully drops the audience into this neorealist wonder of a film that finds a mysterious woman (Academy Award® nominee Vanessa Kirby) wandering the streets of Manhattan in confusion, seemingly unsure of who she is or where she’s meant to be. Finding herself inexplicably drawn to a charismatic teenager, she embarks on an adventure with him through the cityscape and into the unknown. As the night progresses, she approaches something intangible on the journey back to herself. 

Why I’m Interested: Vanessa Kirby should have won the Oscar this year. I will watch anything with her in it.

Do Not Hesitate (Greece, Netherlands)

Drama, Thriller

Synopsis: Somewhere in a Middle Eastern desert, a truck carrying a Dutch military convoy breaks down. A small group of soldiers is ordered to stay with the wreck. As they wait for a repair team, they mistake a goat for an adversary and shoot it dead in the bushes. The repair team doesn’t arrive, but a 14-year-old boy, the goat’s owner (Omar Alwan), does. He latches onto the band of soldiers, demanding proper compensation for his goat. After losing contact with their base, the group is forced to split up, leaving three young soldiers—Erik (Joes Brauers), Roy (Spencer Bogaert), and Thomas (Tobias Kersloot)—behind with the truck and their unwanted companion.

Why I’m Interested: This sounds incredibly tense and deeply introspective as a tale of clashing cultures and human understanding.

LFG (United States)

Women, Documentary, Sports, Politics

Synopsis: Three months before the 2019 World Cup, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation. At the center of this no-holds-barred account are the players themselves–Megan Rapinoe, Jessica McDonald, Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’Hara and others–who share their stories of courage and resiliency as they take on the biggest fight for women’s rights since Title IX. 

Why I’m Interested: The fact that this continues to be an issue should bother everyone in the United States. Hearing from the players themselves and diving into the case is what I am most looking forward to.


Shorts

Nando (Brazil, United States, Chile)

Experimental, Documentary, Drama, Sports

Synopsis: Told through the context of a poem, a young boy in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil dreams to see beyond the harsh realities that surround him.

Why I’m Interested: The tagline itself is profoundly moving and promises to view a culture through a young boy’s eyes.

Liza Anonymous (United States)

New York, Women, Comedy

Synopsis: A lonely millennial (Danielle Beckmann) addicted to support groups disguises herself in different personas while trying to fit in, leading her on a theatrical journey.

Why I’m Interested: I laughed so much while watching this trailer. Beckmann has a unique comedic style and, while this is a cringeworthy approach to finding your place, it promises to be quite the journey.

Graceland (United States)

Women, Comedy, LGBTQIA, Music

Synopsis: A southern mom’s (Anna Camp) life is all shook up when her ten-year-old daughter (Katie Beth West) claims to be a reincarnation of the king of rock and roll.

Why I’m Interested: A comedic take on exploring gender norms and identity that features the wonderful Anna Camp. I’m in.

Coded (United States)

New York, Documentary, LGBTQIA, Art, Biography

Synopsis: Coded tells the story of illustrator J.C. Leyendecker, whose legacy laid the foundation for today’s out-and-proud LGBTQ+ advertisements.

Why I’m Interested: Being a part of LGBTQ+ history that I am not familiar with, I am always excited to learn more about those who have paved the way before us.

Blush (United States)

Animation, Drama, Romance, Science Fiction

Synopsis: Blush follows an astronaut’s journey after he crashes on a desolate planet. When a visitor arrives, the traveler discovers a new life and realizes the universe has delivered astonishing salvation.

Why I’m Interested: Animated shorts often feature some of the best storytelling, so this is a no-brainer for the list.

The Last Marriage (Sweden)

Horror, Comedy

Synopsis: A comedy about how meager, everyday life continues even after the zombie apocalypse.

Why I’m Interested: Zombies. Duh.

Try to Fly (Canada)

Animation, Comedy, Drama

Synopsis: When a baby owl is pushed from her nest, her anxiety and self-doubt triggers an existential crisis as her hypothetical future life flashes before her eyes.

Why I’m Interested: The description alone promises that the baby owl is likely to be the most relatable character from this year’s festival.

Learn more about everything showing at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival here.

What Do You Think?

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