The Best and Worst Documentaries of the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival

Falling as close as it does on the calendar to Sundance and SXSW, the Tribeca Film Festival — which ended yesterday — doesn’t always get the first picks and highest-profile of narrative movies. But for years now, those who attend and cover the fest have watched it quietly become one of the best showcases around for documentary film, and this year’s 14th annual installment was no exception. Your film editor took in 21 of the nonfiction entries, and there’s barely a dud in the bunch; here’s a brief overview of what to keep an eye out for.

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The Emperor’s New Clothes
“Everything you’re gonna hear in this film, you already know,” proclaims Russell Brand early in his freewheeling activist op-ed (sporting the unconventional “Made by Russell Brand and Michael Winterbottom” credit) about income inequality. And he’s right. His film doesn’t break news; it’s more in the style of Michael Moore’s work, an entertaining and rabble-rousing monologue, complete with lobby ambushes and street stunts. If that idea (or Brand himself, an oddly divisive figure) sounds off-putting, flee. But this viewer found it an entertaining and enlightening plea for protest and takedown of “free market fundamentalism.” It’s got its problems (the tone is a little condescending, especially with Winterbottom’s weird habit of slapping key words onscreen as Brand says them, as if we can’t hear), but it names names, points fingers, and posits solutions — and is funny too.

Requiem for the American Dream
From the very first shot — a big, full close-up of Noam Chomsky’s weathered, cynical face — the influence of Errol Morris is almost comically obvious; directors Peter D. Hutchison, Kelly Nyks, and Jared P. Scott replicate the filmmaker’s style and structure (specifically of his Oscar winner The Fog of War) to illustrate the theories of the esteemed commentator and linguist, via his “10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth and Power.” But if you’re gonna swipe a style, it may as well that one — and it’s a good fit for this cinematic Chomsky primer, which gets bigger and scarier and more upsetting the more he talks. It’s sharply edited and convincingly argued (though some of the animations are frustratingly literal), and while it doesn’t leave you with a lot of hope, it certainly manages to inspire rage and action.