The Best and Worst Documentaries of the Tribeca Film Festival

Capsule reviews of 24 non-fiction films from the fest, including "The Reagan Show," "Whitney: Can I Be Me," and "Gilbert."

The Tribeca Film Festival (which wrapped up its 16th edition yesterday) is a young festival – at least compared to such mainstays as Sundance, Toronto, and its crosstown cousin, the New York Film Festival – and as such, its narrative has been one of a struggle for identity, particularly since its position on the calendar can make its fiction films feel like leftovers and pass-overs from Sundance. But over the past few years, Tribeca has quietly emerged as one of the festival circuit’s foremost showcases of nonfiction film, a scene so bursting with great films these days, there’s more than enough to go around. I took in 24 non-fiction films over the course of the fest, and found plenty to recommend.


THE DONALD TRUMP FILM FESTIVAL

With such a divisive figure in the White House, you can expect plenty of documentary examinations of the rise of President Trump, the socio-political circumstances that hastened it, and (eventually) the wreckage he will leave. So it’s probably not a surprise that Trump was all but the star of the festival, dominating the documentary discourse (and even making cameo appearances in docs about New York in the ‘80s).

Get Me Roger Stone

Jeffrey Toobin calls Roger Stone “the sinister Forrest Gump of American politics,” and he’s right: this guy was, in some way or another, involved in Watergate, the rise of the Moral Majority, the election of Ronald Reagan, the 2000 Florida recount, RatherGate, the birther movement, and the political career of Donald Trump. In fact, it’s easy to trace back to him everything that’s wrong with American politics: PACs, lobbyist influence, anti-intellectualism, and the political career of Donald Trump. Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro, and Morgan Pehme’s documentary does best when it focuses on that rich and horrifying history, connecting the dots with lucidity and precision (with the help of some tight, funny editing), and the framework of their subject’s “Stone’s Rules” – cynical, immoral, and seemingly effective – is a smart one. But it fumbles badly in the back third, turning into a blow-by-blow of the Trump campaign, which is still pretty fresh (raw, some might even say!) in our minds; maybe it’ll play better down the road a bit. That said, this is still an engrossing portrait of a real bag of garbage, whose accumulation of power tells us much about how we’ve ended up where we are.

No Man’s Land

Director/cinematographer David Garrett Byars, a braver soul than I, embedded himself at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon to capture this inside look at its 41-day occupation by an armed group led by Amman Bundy. Byars looks this story in the eye and tells it straight, allowing all parties to have their say, providing clear context for the movement and its “anti-federal fury,” allowing that it gave its members a kind of safety-in-numbers camaraderie. But Byars’s fly-on-the-wall approach also lays bare the macho posturing at play here, and how it ratcheted up the tension in an already heightened situation. The stand-off’s conclusion was a cluster-fuck – but No Man’s Land wisely goes farther than that, and manages to place this episode within a much bigger picture with chilling clarity.