In the 14 years since it was founded by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, and Craig Hatkoff, the Tribeca Film Festival has gone from a neighborhood favorite to one of the East Coast’s most expansive and impressive film festivals. Beginning with April 16’s premiere of the Nas documentary Time is Illmatic, Tribeca will take over several cinemas throughout the city to present an impressive slate of narrative and documentary films (the 2014 slate, culled from over 6,000 submissions, includes 87 features from 32 countries). Your film editor was lucky enough to get an early peek at a handful of this year’s movies, so here are a few that you’ll want to seek out. And if you happen to be an American Express® Card Member, lucky you — individual presale tickets for these films, and the rest of the Tribeca slate, are on sale today exclusively to Card Members! The rest of you cinephiles can score tix starting on Monday, April 14.
Co-writer/director Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff) brings her signature no-rush pacing and quietly observational style to this tale of three activists-turned-eco-terrorists (Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, and Peter Sarsgaard) planning and executing the bombing of an Oregon dam. Reichart doesn’t push and doesn’t reach for effects; she triangulates the three well-established characters and tells the story with meticulous detail. It’s tense, but not overbearing, and she doesn’t make any judgments about these people — she merely shows us how it happens, and then what happens after. Bracing, powerful, and unpredictable. Reserve your tix now.
Venus In Fur
An actress wanders into a theater, late for a rehearsal; the director is on the phone, complaining that all the actresses he’s seen are twits. At first, she seems the same, but after pushing and prodding her way into a reading, she reveals herself to be (of course) a masterful performer—and perhaps more. What begins as an audition becomes a reading/performance/discussion, elegantly pivoting between the text and their argument (and mirroring) of it. Director Roman Polanski, adapting David Ives’s play, puts several textual levels into the mix: the power plays between male and female, sensualist and intellectual, and most of all director and actor, delving deep into the seductive quality of the audition transaction. He even extends the meta-textual element to cast his wife Emmanuelle Seigner (excellent) as the actress, and allows Mathieu Amalric (also very good, as the director) to ape Polanski himself, in appearance, dress, and stature. It’s witty, thought-provoking, and baroquely kinky — Polanski’s best work in years. Reserve your tix now.
Bright Days Ahead
Fanny Ardant is a revelation in this very French comedy/drama, as a striking 60-year-old whose stint at retiree social club results in an affair with a much younger instructor. Writer/director Marion Vernoux’s style is tender, sexy, and sunnily evocative — of the initial thrill of illicit desire, the joy of a wine-soaked lunchtime flirtation, and the quiet tension of a marriage where the spouse knows what’s going on, but doesn’t want to. Ardant creates an indelible portrait of an unapologetic lover, savvy and wise, and her closely observed work gives focus to this lovely, light, likable picture. Reserve your tix now.
Chaimae Ben Acha is superb as Malika, lead singer of a punk band in Tangier desperate to hustle up some cash for a promising demo recording. She crosses paths with Samir (Mourade Zeguendi), a skeezy but persuasive drug dealer, who offers her a stack of cash to drive a heroin-filled car across the border — a seemingly easy mission, but one with dangerous repercussions that become frighteningly clear when it’s too late to turn back. Writer/director Sean Gullette (star of Darren Aronofky’s Pi) feeds off the band’s punk energy in the early passages, while taking an unexpected turn into stranger waters later on. The tension is genuine and the script is smart, given an invaluable assist by Acha’s considerable charisma and force. Reserve your tix now.
Beneath the Harvest Sky
Writer/directors Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly pack enough story for three movies into this moody coming-of-age drama, and some of the threads are familiar: two close friends, a good kid and a troublemaker; a sweet and tender seasonal romance; a teen pregnancy scare; absentee parents; even a drug-smuggling and wire-wearing subplot. But they’ve got a cast of terrific character actors at their disposal, as well as a finely tuned ear for dialogue and behavior. It’s an unhurried picture, evocatively capturing the specific, aimless desperation of small-town teens. Reserve your tix now.
In March of 1971, a group of antiwar protestors who dubbed themselves “The Citizen’s Commission to Investigate the FBI” broke into the FBI field office in Media, Pennsylvania, and stole every file in it. Among them were detailed descriptions of the agency’s surveillance and penetration into various “subversive” organizations; the most incendiary items were sent to media outlets, resulting in the first Congressional investigation of the FBI and a healthy shot of pre-Watergate government distrust among the populace. Director Johanna Hamilton adopts a Man on Wire approach to the material, framing it initially as a heist narrative (with well-made and carefully chosen reenactments) and then tracking the FBI’s ultimately unsuccessful investigation. It’s a gripping story, due for retelling in this post-Wikileaks, post-Snowden age, and the filmmaking is first-rate; it moves briskly while remaining detailed, thorough, and ruthlessly intelligent. Reserve your tix now.
Point and Shoot
Expert documentarian Marshall Curry (Street Fight, Racing Dreams) helms this gripping portrait of Matt Vandyke, an OCD adrenaline junkie, raised on action movies and “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. After embarking on a “crash course in manhood” by taking a motorcycle journey through the Middle East and filming everything that happens, Vandyke impulsively leaves his comfortable life in Baltimore to join the Libyan rebels’ fight against Gaddafi. He takes his video camera along again, but must decide whether he is an observer or participant first — “a filmmaker or a fighter,” in his words. Yet that duality is invaluable in creating this thoughtful portrait of the true nature of war, which Curry drafts as a first-person narrative, filled with remarkable images and introspective questions. Reserve your tix now.
Art and Craft
“Nothing’s original under the sun — everything goes back to something,” mutters Mark Landis in the opening sequence of this rich and fascinating documentary. He made a life of that principle; for decades, the soft-spoken, melancholy, schizophrenic art forger “donated” over 100 works of art to 46 museums in 20 states, sometimes disguised as a priest, occasionally in the name of his deceased mother or fictional sister. He was finally outed by the registrar of one of those museums, Matthew Leininger, and Art and Craft brilliantly situates them as opposite sides of the same coin, pursuing complimentary obsessions with a similar fervor. The picture’s got a crisp pace and a deadpan playfulness, telling a too-good-to-be-true story with humor and empathy, and its climactic sequence (where the key players come face to face at an exhibition of Landis’s work) is funny, sad, and satisfying, all at once. Reserve your tix now.
Jody Lee Lipes photographs and directs this profile of 25-year-old dancer/choreographer Justin Peck, shadowing him silently as he assembles the New York City Ballet’s “Pas de La Jolla.” Lipes works in a pure vérité style that doesn’t hold the viewer’s hand — no retrospective interviews, no voice-overs, and sparse expositional titles. The bulk of the film is up-close observation of process, and appreciation of the many moving parts: tireless rehearsal, costume dying, orchestra work, lighting discussions, hair and make-up, costume fittings, cue-to-cue technical rehearsals. Lipes likes the concentration and focus of the work, and the sound of shorthand and shop talk. Near the end, before the big premiere, there is a fleeting close-up of a dancer’s ravaged feet — a reminder of how taxing this work is, and an apt encapsulation of this absorbing and well-made documentary’s ethos. Reserve your tix now.
Dior and I
Similar in tone and style to Ballet 422, this fly-on-the-wall documentary follows Raf Simons, the unassuming new creative director for Christian Dior, as he prepares for the presentation of his first haute couture collection. It’s a bit of a push — he’s got eight weeks to do a job that usually allows four to six months — and both proving himself as a newcomer and wrestling with the implicit snobbery of his co-workers (who never miss an opportunity to mention his ready-to-wear background). Meanwhile, director Frédéric Tcheng cleverly deploys voice-over narration from Dior’s autobiography and archival footage of the House of Dior (where they still work) as expectant ghosts, an ever-present legacy. It’s a film about the weight of Dior’s shadow, and how history, pressure, and faith in one’s collaborators can result in inspired and inspiring work. Reserve your tix now.
For a schedule of all Tribeca Film Festival screenings and events, be sure to check out the online guide.