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20 Movies We Can’t Wait to See at Tribeca Film Festival 2018

From Australian zombie thrillers to docs on everything from Ed Sheeran to Air Jordans – our picks for the downtown NYC film fest

20 Movies We Can't Wait to See at Tribeca Film Festival 2018

20 movies we can't wait to see at Tribeca Film Festival 2018 – from Australian zombie thrillers to docs on everything from Ed Sheeran to Air Jordans.

It started as way of getting downtown New York back on track after being hit with terrorist attacks – and Robert De Niro’s film festival, 16 years old and still going strong, has not only outlasted its original purpose as an economic motivator but established itself as a spring destination for movie addicts. The actor and partner Jane Rosenthal are have continued to bring folks a wide-ranging, eclectic-as-hell lineup of big-budget dramas nestled up against microbudget indies, big-name events (like this year’s Scarface reunion get-together) butting up against screenings of modest filmmaking debuts, panel talks and TV-show previews and documentaries on everything from Ed Sheeran to Air Jordans.

It’s actually a strong year for docs at the fest, especially if you like artist portraits and micro-to-macro pop culture histories – but there’s a little something for virtually everyone, including virtual reality (Tribeca, to its credit, has long been an early adapter when it comes to showcasing V.R. as both a sidebar attraction and an attention-must-be-paid mode of immersive storytelling). We’ve narrowed down 20 movies that we’re both looking forward to catching and that we highly recommend. 

‘Horses: Patti Smith and Her Band’

If you caught one of Patti Smith’s 2015 shows that celebrated the 40th anniversary of Horses – in which her seminal album was performed in its entirety – you can count yourself among the blessed. As for the rest of us, we’re lucky enough to have filmmaker Steven Sebring (the same gent who made the must-see Smith portrait Dream of Life) premiere his concert film on the tour’s final gig at the Wiltern Theater in L.A. Bonus: The singer and her band will perform (!) after the screening, so expect white shining silver studs with their nose in flames. DF

Courtesy of the Estate of Gilda

‘Love, Gilda’

The question is not “Why did someone make a documentary about Gilda Radner,” but rather: “What the fuck took people so long to do it?!?” This year’s opening-night selection takes on the comedian’s legacy, from her early days in the Second City improv scene and the National Lampoon troupe to her tenure as a first-gen Saturday Night Live cast member, her marriage to Gene Wilder and her passing from ovarian cancer at age 42. Documentarian Lisa D’Apolito also delves into the “darker side” of Radner’s personality, so prep for tears as well as belly laughs. DF

Marco Proserpio

‘The Man Who Stole Banksy’

It’s one thing to see a news report on street-art superstar Banksy’s antiauthoritarian murals scrawled on Israel’s West Bank wall; it’s a whole other thing to go on eBay and find out you could purchase one of them, concrete chunk and all. Italian filmmaker Marco Proserpio looks at both the art-world agent provocateur’s 2012 campaign to bring awareness to the plight of Palestinians via graffiti and the man known as “Walid the Beast,” a buffed-out taxi driver who engineered the “liberation” of one such piece and attempted to get rich off of it. It’s a social-issues doc, an international heist flick and a cracked local-eccentric-makes-good portrait all in one! DF

Christopher Saunders

‘Mapplethorpe’

He’s already had a stem-to-stern docu-dossier (check out the wonderful, thorough Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures if you haven’t yet); now one of the most important photographers of the 20th century and the man who made a name for himself by capturing beauty in the gay BDSM world gets the inevitable biopic. Former TARDIS-hopper turned The Crown‘s royal rascal Matt Smith plays Robert Mapplethorpe on the cusp of discovering his artistic voice; Imposters regular Marianne Rendón plays Patti Smith; and New York plays a sleazier, cooler, artistically freer version of itself. DF

‘McQueen’

From a chubby kid with a talent for old-school, Saville Row-style tailoring to the four-time British Designer of the Year who turned his runways into in-your-face horrorshows – Alexander McQueen was determined to make fashion statements that would “demolish the rules but … keep the tradition.” Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui’s portrait of an artist as kilt-wearing controversy magnet puts the late, great couture maverick in context, following his rise to the top one jaw-dropping collection at a time. (Trust us when we tell you that his notorious “Highland Rape” and 2001 Kubrick-meets-Joel-Peter-Witkin shows have not lost the power to shock.) It also charts his descent into drugs, alienation and depression, which would contribute to his suicide in 2010. Essential viewing. DF

ELLIS HAIZLIP, the Producer of the WNET/PBS weekly television show, "SOUL."

Chester Higgins

‘Mr. Soul!’

In 1968, you could see images of inner-city riots, protests and police attacking African-American citizens in the streets – but you couldn’t exactly flip on your television and hear those citizens talking about the issues of the day from their own perspective. Enter Ellis Haizlip, a theater producer who’d bring the world a public-TV program called Soul!: part variety-hour, part “the black Tonight Show” and 100-percent dedicated to bringing the black experience into New York living rooms. Documentarians Melissa Haizlip (Ellis’s niece) and Samuel Pollard trace the history of this vital, groundbreaking forum for actors, writers, politicians and musicians to talk openly about their lives and art, complete with incredible back-in-the-day performances of everyone from Al Green to writer Anna Horsford holding it down. The Last Poets footage alone is worth the price of admission. DF

‘Netizens’

Director Cynthia Lowen tackles the pervasiveness of online misogyny, harassment and cyberstalking through the experiences of three women: video-game activist Anita Sarkeesian; digital-abuse lawyer Carrie Goldberg; and “Tina,” whose ex-boyfriend’s online smear campaign sullied her reputation (and nearly deep-sixed her career). A forceful rebuke to legions of victim-shamers who use “it’s her fault” as a mantra, this doc shows how the trio are respectively reclaiming their lives in an atmosphere where one’s “right” to privacy is considered by many to be a privilege. JN 

‘Nico, 1988’

“I’ve been on the top, I’ve been on the bottom – both places are empty,” says Christa Päffgen, though you probably know her by her mono-monikered stage name: Nico. Italian filmmaker Susanna Nicchiarelli’s biopic picks up the former Velvet Underground-er/icy chanteuse as she’s closer to the second location, rasping her way through late-act concerts and trying to make sure her dope-addicted son can get cleaned up. Danish actress Trine Dyrholm plays the icon with a bone-deep world-weariness that’s both comic and unbearably tragic. (She also nails the singer’s signature monotone, plus her manic take on “My Heart Is Empty” is a showstopper.) We know how this story ends, but the movie makes Nico’s last days feel both a celebration of her work and a freshly reopened wound. DF 

Edd Lukas

‘The Party’s Just Beginning’

For Liusaidh (writer-director Karen Gillan), life in the Scottish city of Inverness is an endless loop of self-loathing sex, drinking, drugs and late-night chip binges. Distraction from her dead-end job and no-future prospects may have presented itself in the form of a hunky Englishman (Halt and Catch Fire‘s Lee Pace), but first, she’ll need to exorcise a few demons and deal with the specters of traumas past. Fans of the late, lamented show Selfie and Gillan’s run on Doctor Who will be happy to see that the actress-turned-filmmaker has not lost her sardonic edge or her bite. The rest of you will simply be ecstatic that she’s shed her Marvel-movie make-up and found an eloquent, darkly funny way to pen a poison-tinged, lager-stained Valentine to her home town. DF

‘The Rachel Divide’

Rachel Dolezal became a national talking point in 2015 when the former president of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP was revealed to be white. Suddenly, she went from everyday Pacific Northwesterner to a late-night punchline and a Rorschach test for how Americans view/discuss race. This stunning Netflix doc examines both the factors leading up to her resignation and her current living situation as an unemployed hairdresser raising two African-American boys. The nature of the film can’t help but humanize its subject’s situation to a degree – but director Laura Brownson doesn’t take sides, presenting viewers with Dolezal’s argument that she’s “trans-black” then allowing them to make up their own minds. One of the fest’s best. JN

Neo Sora

‘Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda’

Whether you know Ryuichi Sakamoto through his pioneering synthpop band Yellow Magic Orchestra, his role in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence beside David Bowie, his award-winning film scores (that Last Emperor soundtrack will still give you goosebumps) or his collaborations with folks ranging from Thomas Dolby to Youssou N’Dour, the fact that the man is a living freakin’ legend is undeniable. Stephen Nomura Schible’s movie also takes this as a given; it’s less interested in making a case for his greatness than following Sakamoto around as he protests the Fukishima nuclear disaster, deals with Stage-Three throat cancer and mines artistic inspiration out tragedy and illness. Five years in the making, Coda starts as a snapshot and ends as a meditation on mortality, why we make music, civic responsibility, following your creative urges and the search for that elusive transcendental chord. We can’t recommend it enough. DF

Murray Cummings

‘Songwriter’

Unlike Ed Sheeran’s 2015 concert film Jumpers for Goalposts, this concise documentary (directed by his cousin Murray Cummings) drills down on the singer-songwriter’s creative process. You’ll get to see the superstar, alongside his perpetually energetic producer/sidekick Benny Blanco, amicably working through songs like “Supermarket Flowers” and “Love Yourself” (the latter penned for Justin Bieber) as they go from loose concept to chart-topper. And while there’s a palpable lack of tension in watching them thrash out hits – imagine Some Kind of Monster if the monster was Gizmo from Gremlins – diehard fans will enjoy the look behind the curtain on one of the decade’s most successful musicians. JN

‘Unbanned: The Legend of AJ1’

In the early 1980s, Nikes were a consolation prize for not getting Adidas or Converse. Someone suggested the company recruit “the kid” – a third-draft pick for the Chicago Bulls named Michael Jordan – for a marketing campaign. They’d design a shoe for him. It would eventually by “banned” by the league and turn the player into an icon. Documentarian Dexton Deboree drops a host of ADD-afflicted pop-culture montages and enlists a Hall-of-Fame lineup of talking heads – everyone from Nike CEO Phil Knight to Lena Waithe, NBA commissioner David Stern to Black Panther‘s Michael B. Jordan (because symmetry!) – to demonstrate how Air Jordans were more than just footwear. These red-and-black high-tops also jumpstarted sneaker culture and became gamechangers for how we looked at style, pro-sports branding, celebrity, race, class, hip-hop, status symbols and turning rebellion into money. DF

Christopher Vanderwall

‘United Skates’

So you think “roller skating” was just one of those footloose and fancy-free fads/follies of the late Seventies that came and went without a cultural footprint? Dyana Winkler and Tina Brown’s engrossing documentary focuses on both the crucial role this pasttime played in hip-hop’s development and how it gave birth to a vibrant, mainly African-American subculture and dance-fueled art form. You get both region-specific rink acrobatics and a sobering look at the racial (and racist)
politics underlying the small, but dedicated, movement that, decades later, is still hell on wheels. JN

John Guleserian

‘Zoe’

Forget Tinder and Grindr, delete your Match.com account – soon, we will have developed the perfect algorithm for your romantic soulmate. Not only that, scientists are standing by to construct an android partner just right for you! How ironic, then, that two lab researchers (Ewan McGregor and Léa Seydoux) dedicated to making this tech advancement come true actually fall in love with each other. And because this is a science-fiction movie set in a progressive yet perversely stifling future, you know this is going to cause all sorts of problems. The last time the talented director Drake Doremus took on a dystopian story, he gave us the somewhat lacking Equals (2015). Word on the street is that this a big step up, and really, who wouldn’t watch the insanely photogenic Seydoux and McGregor make sci-fi goo-goo eyes at each other? DF

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