The Best Films from Tribeca 2016 [UPDATED]

The Tribeca Film Festival is a bit of anomaly in how we think about modern film festivals. It is held in the buzziest cultural center of North America, New York City, is the world premiere for more than 60 films, and is headed-up by Robert De Niro. Yet, most of the press centers not around the films themselves, but the hour-long discussions with filmmakers like J.J. Abrams, Chris Rock, Alfonso Cuaron, Martin Scorsese and Joss Whedon. That’s because Tribeca isn’t an established acquisition film festival. Many of the titles that premiere at the festival will pick up distribution at future festivals, or not at all, and the ones that premiere with distribution already (like Elvis & Nixon and Hologram for the King this year) generally open in theaters in other US cities during the same week. The festival itself concluded at the start of this week, and as of writing, ten films have been picked up for limited distribution, mostly documentaries, while the narrative festival award-winner, Dean, was secured for a wide release by CBS Films.

Why does Tribeca get the short shrift? There are two big factors. First is timing. By the end of April, Tribeca is in a hard spot following both the Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals (and to some extent SXSW, although SXSW is much more of a genre fest) and coming right before Cannes. All those festivals have built up prestige, particularly for acquiring distribution and filmmakers are more likely to submit exclusively to them, first. The second issue, in an idea floated by New York Magazine, is that the festival is in New York City, and because so many VOD and limited release titles focus their theatrical play in only Los Angeles and New York, some distributors are wary that the well-attended festival will count as its NYC showing (since most films here show three to four times), and therefore it’s already lost half off its potential to launch in limited release. Tribeca can’t really move, either, because post-Cannes, the fall film festival circuit is firmly established as the awards-hopeful train goes from Venice to Telluride to Toronto to New York and AFI. Because the New York Film Festival is planted in October there needs to be space between Tribeca and the city’s tentpole fest. As such, it’s hard for filmmakers to get acquired at Tribeca, despite strong buzz at the festival, but it is a great launching pad for filmmakers to take with them to future festivals, due to the number of festival scouts that attend Tribeca to look for films to fill their future programs.

Image via A24

So why should you care about what films Collider and Complex‘s Kristen Yoonsoo Kim enjoyed at the festival? Because Tribeca is positioned similar to how the Sundance Film Festival got its start: as a launching pad for future auteurs and indie mavericks. And because dammit these movies need the digital ink as they go for their next festival, trying to get distribution elsewhere. So below are were our six favorite films from the festival, three of which (Equals, Don’t Think TwiceDean) currently DO have distribution (Equals and Don’t Think Twice secured distribution prior to their Tribeca screenings, at TIFF and SXSW respectively).


Just reading about the projects that we loved you can get a sense of the verve and uniqueness of the films that grace Tribeca. So let’s pin Equals, Dean, and Don’t Think Twice to your anticipated films list, and put three other films here as a memo to distributors: please secure these ASAP so that others can experience them as they deserve.

All This Panic

If you’re a fan of coming-of-age films, remember this title. All This Panic is a movie that has the look and feel of The Virgin Suicides, minus, well, the suicides, and with much more real-life teen angst. Panic is a documentary, and its subjects are all teenage girls growing up in Brooklyn. But its attention to cinematography makes it stand out among other docs, adding a certain hazy nostalgia to your own teen memories. Director Jenny Gage and her cinematographer husband Tom Betterton followed around these girls for three years (think an unscripted Boyhood but with a bunch of girls, and over a shorter and emotional period of time), watching them grow up and discover themselves with the kind of intimate access that never feels grossly voyeuristic. Why we should care about a movie like this or these particular girls is a question that might initially come up, but it’s one that immediately dissipates once you find yourself immersed in their world and realize teenagers make for some of the most fascinating subjects. They can also be surprisingly wise and poignant and brave—it certainly takes a level of bravery to put all the feelings that come with being a teenage girl on display for an audience.

All This Panic will make you feel all the feels—excitement, confusion, sadness, anger, pining, and certainly all this panic—and heighten them to teen levels. ~ Kristen Yoonsoo Kim

All This Panic is currently available for distribution.

Always Shine

Women on the verge of a nervous breakdown is delicious film genre of its own, but most of these films—brilliant as they are—have come from the vantage point of a male director. Running mascara, quivering lips, a loss of sexual power and merging of sensibilities with another woman feature heavily in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, John Cassavettes’ Opening Night, Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, Alex Ross Perry’s Queen of Earth, etc. etc. etc.

Sophia Takal‘s Always Shine isn’t only unique because the male gaze has been removed, but I would like to mention her exciting framing of these women who are on the verge of a forested breakdown. Shine stars Mackenzie Davis (Halt and Catch Fire) and Caitlin FitzGerald (Masters of Sex) as actresses and best friends, whom we meet at that exact moment where jealousy of another’s success can blur the line between being a friend and being an enemy. FitzGerald is in the powerful position, starring in a few slasher movies, while Davis is still taking free work in short films. Davis is fierce and FitzGerald is more docile. Takal let’s us decide if FitzGerald’s Beth is more of a victim because she routinely plays victims, or if Davis’ Anna is that threatening. Most excitingly, Takal frames her stars in numerous audition closeups, whether they’re actually auditioning or just interacting with a stranger on the street, suggesting that professional women have to always be on, or they will receive notes/insults about how their performance is lacking in that moment.

This framing device also works well in sexual situations where we’re trained to anticipate nudity, but it is never shown. Neither is running mascara. There are tears in Always Shine, but the emotion is usually in private. These woman are always super composed around each other, always performing, and thus more skeptical of one another. Always Shine is similarly composed, it shows no cracks or vulnerabilities. The film is remarkably edited (by White Reindeer director Zach Clark), performed with firehouse ping-pong precision by Davis and FitzGerald and amounts to a searing second feature from Takal. In short, Always Shine always shines. ~ Brian Formo

Always Shine is currently available for distribution.

Dean

Winner of this year’s Narrative Feature Award at Tribeca, Dean is a triumphant debut feature from comedian Demetri Martin, who directed, wrote, and starred as the titular character. Martin portrays a man going through a late coming-of-age; he’s an artist who can’t land a solid job, he just broke up with his fiancée, and is generally feeling lost in life. He takes an impromptu trip to Los Angeles to “get away from it all,” which, yes, sounds like the premise for another dumb “finding yourself” movie where a tormented male meets a Manic Pixie Dream Girl whose sole purpose is to change his life for the better. Martin made sure he didn’t take that route, even enlisting his wife to help him create a three-dimensional female character. He gave this love interest role to Gillian Jacobs, a woman with a complicated backstory, who also finds Dean at a strange time in her life. The two cross paths in this hilarious, heartfelt picture that feels refreshingly original despite having an age-old synopsis.

Martin brings his sense of humor as well as his animations to give Dean life. A stellar cast fills out the supporting roles with Kevin Kline as Dean’s father, Mary Steenburgen, Rory Scovel, and Ginger Gonzaga~ Kristen Yoonsoo Kim 

Dean will be released by CBS Films but currently doesn’t have a release date.

Don't Think Twice

Don’t Think Twice is about a group of friends who all perform in an improv group and all have their sights on the Saturday Night Live-esque Weekend Live. When one of their friends makes it as a regular on the program, the remaining members of The Commune go through the motions of jealousy, what does it all mean? crisis moments, embarrassing brushes with desperation, and various modes of acceptance and friendly reliance. Mike Birbiglia (the director of Sleepwalk with You, and Brie Larson’s husband in Trainwreck) has made a realistic film about the comedy world, but his characters always remain approachable in a way that you could sub other jobs into the group and it’d still be touching and funny. Don’t Think Twice is refreshingly anti-Inside Baseball, and his cast—including Gillian Jacobs, Keegan-Michael Key, and Chris Gethard—are all game. Don’t Think Twice is funny, but also acutely aware of how hard it is to keep dreaming into your 30s. ~ Brian Formo

Don’t Think Twice will be released by Film Arcade on July 22, 2016.

Equals

Director Drake Doremus asked the audience of one thing before the Tribeca screening of his new movie, Equals: “Open your hearts.” As cheesy as that sounds, it makes perfect sense in terms of his intention. Sure, in a way, Equals is a sc-fi film and aesthetically, it’s starkly different from any of Doremus’ other films (the romances Like Crazy and Breathe In). Set in a clinical, dystopian future, the characters in Equals dress in plain white uniform, speak in monotone, and are forbidden from having feelings or personalities. Catch feelings and you’re sent to the doctor for immediate treatment, or catch too many feelings, and you’re basically sent to an asylum in hopes that you can return to your former, robot-like self.

Beneath the cold exterior lies a movie with so much heart, as it follows two people (Nicholas Hoult and Kristen Stewart) who start to have feelings for each other and get entangled in a forbidden love affair. Doremus uses his lens to linger up-close on his protagonists’ faces, letting them communicate through micro-expressions. Subtext is everything here, especially when so much is at stake. Doremus forces us to think about what it means to live, love, and be human. Strangely enough, a movie about a feelingless world gave me the most feels at Tribeca. ~ Kristen Yoonsoo Kim

Equals will be released by A24 on May 26.
Intrigued? Click here to read Adam Chitwood’s full review from the Toronto premiere.

LoveTrue

LoveTrue is a beautiful, slippery film that defies easy characterization. It could best be summed up as a triptych poem about the nature of love. The combination of that synopsis, and art-project enthusiast Shia LaBeouf‘s name as executive producer, might give some hesitation to take the plunge, but Alma Har’el‘s documentary is not only worth the deep dive, it’ll swim around in your brain long after it’s finished. Har’el follows three subjects: an Alaskan stripper who is ready to fall in love for the first time, a Hawaiian surfer caught in the undertow of a familial crisis, and a New Yorker who is struggling to process her parent’s impending separation. LoveTrue uses real footage, dramatic reenactments, subtitled line readings, and Flying Lotus‘ swirling orchestrations not to try and pinpoint what love is, but how love is fluid. We see it in various stages, equal in elation, grief, and idle familiarity.

LoveTrue is akin to a Chris Marker documentary with more of a narrative and musically-inclined thrust. Har’el’s camera always feels invited and friendly with her subjects, and her visual arrangements are incredibly sound. LoveTrue has stretches that are stronger than others, but so does love. The magical moments where Har’el can pinpoint feelings unsaid matched to kaleidoscopic images are truly transcendent. LoveTrue understands that love is risky, but the rewards—even when they dissolve—are truly worth the risk. ~ Brian Formo

LoveTrue currently lacks distribution.

UPDATE

NOTE: This article was updated for the most current number of titles that have reached a distribution deal. You can find the information here. Tribeca would also like to note that last year 80% of the films that showed at the festival ended up securing some form of distribution either at Tribeca or at future festivals. If you look at last year, the number of titles that received distribution via the Tribeca Film Festival was 10 in total. So many of the films that received distribution were from future film showings, after their important premiere at Tribeca.

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