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."

PERSONAL POLITICS

And then there are these stories, positioned at the intersection of the world around us and the soul that compels us.

A Gray State

On Christmas Day in 2014, an independent filmmaker named David Crowley killed his wife, his five-year-old daughter, and himself. But because of cryptic clues he left behind, and the fact that he was making a Libertarian fringe thriller for the Alex Jones set, this horrible tragedy became fodder for conspiracy theorists, who believe he was silenced for his anti-government leanings. Erik Nelson’s sad and often chilling documentary argues that it was far less dramatic, or extraordinary, than that – theirs was the sad story of a couple succumbing to despair, and to the same kind of paranoia that infused his work. It’s a hard movie to watch, as his private audio and video recordings serve as journals of a descent into madness, but this is a harrowing portrait how easily our own darkness can take us over, if we let it.

True Conviction

This Independent Lens production has a hell of a story to tell, about the “Growing fraternity” of exonerated men in Dallas County, Texas, and the trio of them – Chris Scott, Johnnie Lindsey, and Steven Phillips – who’ve formed an investigative team to clear more falsely imprisoned men. And it has its moments, some indelible (the potent combo of joy and pain during a fellow inmate’s first day out), some poignant (the cycle of crime in his family that Scott’s absence perpetuated). But it never quite clicks; some of the photography and conversations seem strangely staged, and one of the investigations, one of only two big threads, is oddly left hanging. It’s an inspiring yet imperfect film – but the fictionalized version would make a helluva TV procedural.