Arts & Style

Tribeca Film Festival 2018

What is the Tribeca Film Festival?

Every year since 2001, the Tribeca Film Festival returns to lower Manhattan, attempting to bring culture to the area. The festival was founded by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff and seeks to provide the newest in film technology as well as highlight diverse voices in filmmaking. Films come in the traditional structures of narratives and documentaries, features and shorts, but they also include immersive storytelling methods based out of virtual and augmented reality technology. Trying to open up the world of film to more diverse voices, Tribeca’s “Untold Stories” program, presented by AT&T Inc., awarded $1 million to Sasie Sealy and Angela Cheng to create a film that will premiere at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival.

The festival also featured retrospectives of films like Schindler’s List and Scarface, premieres for TV shows like Westworld and Genius: Picasso and online content like Cleaner Daze and Snugglr, the latter through the festival’s N.O.W. Showcase. The festival offered Tribeca Talks, where artists and creative personalities discussed previous works and answered audience questions. The festival took place from April 18-29, debuting 51 narratives and 45 documentary films.

Tribeca Immersive

Virtual reality is necessarily prohibitive for the casual user; due to the technology and cost involved, not everyone can try it. IMAX VR has become one option of consumer experience, but festival releases will likely not make their ways to the average person. Still, they offer potential to consider for future works as they become available to the general public.

VR and other such immersive films appeared in the festival in the form of traditional, goggle-based stories in open-floor settings, stories told with physical representations of the digital, 360-degree mobile content, Storyscapes and video games in a VR setting.

Firebird: The Unfinished is a beautiful, sweet and operatic VR experience that is more stationary than its interactive nature would seem to claim to be. LAMBCHILD SUPERSTAR: Making Music in the Menagerie of the Holy Cow was created by the band OK Go and is absolutely bizarre, but it is that perfect kind of strangeness that shows what VR can do. #WarGames offers an experience that resembles the storytelling nature of TellTale Games, interesting to consider, but absolutely dull to watch due to awkward acting. Fire Escape uses physical material to create a Rear Window-style story of voyeurism, but it involves a lot of standing around.

To Dust

Shmuel worries about how long his late wife will take to “dismantle.” He is a Hasidic Jew and that fact is rarely played off for laughs; laughs are not set up by his appearance differing from the expectations of so-to-speak normalcy. To Dust is an extremely dark comedy and the visuals of decomposition seen throughout the film are not for the faint of heart.

Shmuel, asked repeatedly if he has “talked to the Rebbe” to seek guidance from  is lost spiritually, and the community does not seem set up to help him cope. After 30 days of mourning, he is expected to find a new wife and move on. Instead, he finds himself haunted, and his connection to Matthew Broderick’s extremely un-Jewish Albert is thus born.

Using awkwardness, discomfort, pain and misunderstandings to evoke humor, To Dust’s sense of humor is all perfectly expressed in the quote, “If you brought me a pig like your wife — no offense — and buried it like a Jew — no offense — then we’d be cooking.” There is not much logic to Shmuel’s quest, but mourning does not come out in that way. To Dust is respectful in giving Shmuel the opportunity to find his own way, even as he struggles with how that gels with the religious world he inhabits.

NICO, 1988

Christa Päffgen, generally known as Nico, was part of Andy Warhol’s Velvet Underground, but in NICO, 1988, the titular singer does not want to focus on that fact.

Neither does the film. The 1960s-era band is mentioned early on and may be a reason for viewers to be intrigued about the singer’s story as portrayed in the film, but it is never explored, nor is its significance emphasized.

NICO, 1988 assumes that everybody watching knows who the singer is, coming to the story of her final touring due to interest for the real person or the band and nightlife Nico was a part of.

But for those who do not know the singer, watching the film mirrors the experience of coming into contact with a gatekeeper fan, cruelly questioning how it is possible for somebody to not know this artist.

Without the external impetus to seek the film out, it is a dull journey that never gives a reason to care. Nico is temperamental and strange, her music coming out in odd, harsh and somewhat beautiful bursts. The attempted tragedy is wholly dependent upon knowledge from outside the film, and for that reason, NICO, 1988 fails significantly.

You Shall Not Sleep

The title of You Shall Not Sleep refers to the story within the movie, and is in no way a guarantee for viewers. The horror film bases its narrative around the idea of method acting through sleep deprivation. The visions and hallucinations are expected to peel back the veneer of the world, bringing the actors into the honest roles of the people they are trying to inhabit.

To be sure, You Shall Not Sleep has a clear evocation of the idea of horror, starting from the title itself and moving on to the pervasive aesthetic whenever the characters enter the mental madhouse of being sleep deprived.

Hallucinations abound, but not often enough. The film is a muted story and it fails to maintain interest for an extended period of time.

The premise is interesting, but You Shall Not Sleep takes too long to get where it is trying to go, and when it arrives, the wait feels like a letdown. When the story detaches from the purpose of acting, it becomes even more uninteresting, anchoring an emotional arc on dull backstory. You Shall Not Sleep contains merely the idea of what horror must feel like, and it is not enough to appreciate.

All About Nina

Not all jokes are laughable, even if they are funny. Nina has experienced previous trauma and this comes out in bursts of sharp bits of comedy onstage, where she performs stand-up, speaking about the issues she has with men and casual relationships. All About Nina is aptly titled, as the comedian focuses on the effects that the issues have on her own life. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is excellent in the role, as is Common who plays Rafe, a man with whom she develops a complicated relationship. Common goofily singing in the film is one of the highlights.

All About Nina, centered as it is on comedy, is not always as funny as it seems to think it is. But the narrative of self-destructive tendencies in relationships is compelling and Winstead carries the film with her deeply flawed character’s attempts to live normally while holding the bad stuff in.

The concerns with honesty in all aspects of life are commendable and the conversation All About Nina has about people controlling their own narrative after traumatic moments feels especially relevant. Abuse is not a laughing matter, but the film is generally able to manage the balance between the heavy material and the humor throughout.

Lemonade

The sound design feels as unwelcoming as the characters. Mara is a 30-year-old Romanian immigrant dealing with immigration and hanging on the edge of a razor, as every element of her life precariously depends upon the success or failure of another.

The cars rush past, the wind whips forcefully by, a car’s alarm squeals loudly and when Mara puts cotton balls in her ears — a protection from wind, but also something of an antidote to the sound — she is questioned about her practice and asked to remove them.

Lemonade tells a story of xenophobia and power imbalance. It is the kind of tragedy that inspires pain instead of tears. It shows a flawed system from the inside, where a woman is taught that she and her son do not belong in the country she left her own to come to. It hurts to watch her be mistreated and probingly questioned while any emotional response from her is immediately met with judgment.

The intrusiveness of the film, starting with a plainly shot doctor’s appointment, is an effective evocation of the sensations Mara experiences.  Kindnesses are amplified by the overabundant cruelty. The cruelty is louder than humanity should allow.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Cameron Post is told that she is at an age where she is “especially susceptible to evil.” In her case, the evil is a love she shares with a fellow female high school student. As a result, she is sent away to a conversion therapy center where, with Christian guidance, she is supposed to go through the process of “getting better.”

Chloë Grace Moretz plays Cameron but she keeps her emotions pulled back. It is unclear whether or not she buys into the preaching of her facility, and it seems to be up to the viewer to determine for themselves. Moretz is a joy to watch when she opens up emotionally, but for most of the film, she is reserved and detached.

The story is driven by compelling characters with humor, even if the thread of the story itself does not always entertain. Sasha Lane plays a teenager named Jane Fonda and she, along with Forrest Goodluck’s character, Adam Red Eagle, brings heart to the story, offering the necessary emotions to fuel the film. While the film remains undecided about its opinion of sexuality, the method is fairly expressed in the tile as miseducation. Incompetent mentors are laughable, until the humanity in their victims is seen.

Tully

Screened as part of a Tribeca Talks program, Tully is a humorous and heartfelt story that can be watched more than once with completely different results. Charlize Theron leads the comedy that could exude laughs or tears, depending on how close it hits to home. She plays Marlo, the overworked mother of two, who has another baby and loses all sense of control. A montage of the mundanities and difficulties she faces is the most obvious expression of tragicomedy the film has to offer; it just keeps going, in the good kind of way.

Theron has great comedic timing, and she plays off Mackenzie Davis, as night nurse and savior Tully, with incredible warmth. During the talk afterward, Tully was described as “anthropologically exacting,” and the phrase feels just right. The details feel authentic, even from the perspective of non-parenting viewers.

Director Jason Reitman quoted his father, Ivan Reitman, as having told him, “Remember, it’s not your job to do comedy. It’s your job to tell truth.” Tully feels truthful and its moments of pain hit the perfect spots. As the director said, it fits into the “long line of great post-partum comedies,” and viewers can expect exactly that kind of dark comedy within.

Sunday’s Illness

Ramón Salazar’s Sunday’s Illness, a Netflix release, can be praised for its appearance. The film is gorgeous with its warm tones of opulence and visuals of the cold outdoors, but it takes too long to get where it is going. The story explores the estranged relationship of a mother and the daughter she abandoned, taking its time in showing the brief rekindling, which came by the daughter’s request.

There is no master plan, though it seems at every point as if there is some sort of overarching set of machinations in place by Chiara, as she lies to her mother Anabel or takes her to town, trying to make the latter feel bad for the abandonment. Instead, the film goes from moment to moment like a set of photos on a slide projector, unconnected, separated by loud, piercing clicks.

The biggest complaint about the contemplative Sunday’s Illness is its runtime. At nearly every turn, there is some pause, hesitation or extension of time that unnecessarily lengthens the proceedings. The film feels stretched to the edges, threatening boredom with its excessive waiting periods.

Even the catharsis feels muted, but there, the runtime is not the only factor. Salazar created something strange, possibly mythical.

Awards

Audience Choice (Best Narrative): To Dust

Audience Choice (Best Documentary): United Skates

Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature: Diane

Best Actress in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film: Alia Shawkat in Duck Butter

Best Actor in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film: Jeffrey Wright in O.G.

Best Cinematography in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film: Wyatt Garfield for Diane

Best Screenplay in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film: Diane, written by Kent Jones

Best International Narrative Feature: Smuggling Hendrix

Best Actress in an International Narrative Feature Film: Joy Rieger in Virgins

Best Actor in an International Narrative Feature Film: Rasmus Bruun in The Saint Bernard Syndicate

Best Cinematography in an International Narrative Feature Film: Albert Salas for Obey

Best Screenplay in an International Narrative Feature Film: The Saint Bernard Syndicate, written by Lærke Sanderhoff

Best Documentary Feature: Island of the Hungry Ghosts

Best Cinematography in a Documentary Film: Niels van Koevorden for Tanzania Transit

Best Editing in a Documentary Film: Frederick Shanahan, Jon Kasbe, Caitlyn Greene for When Lambs Become Lions

Best New Narrative Director: Shawn Snyder, director of To Dust

Albert Maysles New Documentary Director Award: Dava Whisenant for Bathtubs Over Broadway

Best Narrative Short: Phone Duty

Shorts Animation Award: Late Afternoon

Best Documentary Short: Notes from Dunblane: Lessons from a School Shooting

Student Visionary Award: The Life of Esteban

Storyscapes Award: Hero

The Nora Ephron Award: Nia DaCosta director of Little Woods

Tribeca X Award: For Every Kind of Dream series for Square

Benjamin Wallin

Benjamin Wallin

Benjamin Wallin is a film critic and a creative writer. His aim is to contextualize works in a way that makes them accessible to the newcomers and insightful for the experienced. His favorite film is The Grand Budapest Hotel and he would love to talk to you about yours.
Benjamin Wallin
May 3, 2018

About Author

Benjamin Wallin Benjamin Wallin is a film critic and a creative writer. His aim is to contextualize works in a way that makes them accessible to the newcomers and insightful for the experienced. His favorite film is The Grand Budapest Hotel and he would love to talk to you about yours.


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