The Best and Worst Documentaries of the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival

Our capsule reviews of 'Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland,' 'Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary,' 'Love Gilda,' and more.

BEST OF THE FEST (RUNNERS-UP)

Studio 54
Ace documentarian Matt Tyrauner (Valentino: The Last Emperor) tells the coke-dusted rise-and-fall tale of Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager’s tres chic discotheque, which ruled Manhattan’s night life for 33 months in the late 1970s before tumbling down in a spectacular wave of scandals and criminal convictions. Tyrauner digs deeper and pushes past the usual tsk-tsking and/or hagiography, leaving in the uncomfortable questions and awkward answers. But more importantly, he understands and conveys exactly why the club connected, at that particular moment – how it was fueled by the ying/yang, introvert/extrovert dynamic of its co-owners, and how its potent dance floor cocktail of personalities, classes, and sexualities offered up to its patrons escapism, inclusion, acceptance, and access. A bewitching story, briskly and wittily told.

No Greater Law
Tom Dumican’s riveting documentary details the battle between the Canyon County, Idaho sheriff’s department and the Followers of Christ church, which operates according to a strict doctrine of faith healing rather than medical intervention – a choice that has left dozens (if not hundreds) of their children dead of preventable illnesses over the years. But Idaho is one of six states with “religious exemption” laws (if it’s “merely neglect,” we’re told, rather than “criminal intent,” there’s nothing law enforcement can do), and the state legislature’s debate of that law provides a framework for the film. Dumican’s treatment of this incendiary material is admirably even-handed – he lets everyone talk, and listens intently. It’s still infuriating.

Charm City
Midway through Marilyn Ness’s observational documentary about the epidemic of crime and violence in Baltimore, she puts an astonishing statistic up on screen: by the early 2000s, 50% of the city’s young black men were in jail, in prison, on probation, or on parole. To tell the story of what it takes to tackle that problem, she adopts a multi-pronged, Wire-style approach, observing the work of cops, politicians, and community leaders (most of them people of color), with a keen understanding of the tensions that keep them from pursing their common goals. Intricately assembled and morally complex, Charm City is thoughtful enough to offer up small solutions – and realistic enough to know that they’re just not enough.