2021 Tribeca Festival Recap

Hey y’all, please don’t kill me — I know I’m super late with this recap (and my AFI Docs one too 🤦🏽‍♀️) but I have some super exciting (for me at least LOL) news that I’ll share in a later post.

In the meantime, let’s talk Tribeca.

First of all, Tribeca is special to me because it is on the first film festivals that I ever attended (even though it was just to see one film) back before I started Musings, before I became a film critic/journalist — back when I was living in NYC. So it will forever hold a special place in my heart. And the fact that 2021’s festival was one of the first to transition back to an in-person festival (I only got press credentials for the online festival though). But I didn’t let my lack of in-person credentials stop me from taking the quick train ride up to the city to just be in the mix and atmosphere of the Festival. And on top of that, I had a friend (and fellow drama/theater nerd) from high school who was screening her new short (that also happened to have a fellow classmate of ours starring in it) so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to link up with an old friend while she was on the East Coast.

So enough about my personal experience — lets talk movies!

As usual, Tribeca had a great offering of films, both shorts and features. Overall, I screened 13 Features and 52 Shorts. But I must say that the shorts blew me away. I know (but don’t understand why) that shorts kinda get short shrift and people don’t talk enough about them — but I can honestly say that I probably enjoyed the shorts more than anything so here are the ones that stood out to me:

ALMOST A YEAR — United States, 14 Mins; Dir: Jamieson Baker

This is the work that kicked off my Tribeca experience and I must say that we started on a good foot. This narrative short took a look at our current pandemic life and the disparity between realities between those who are financially comfortable and privileged (and can easily stay at home and not have to risk their safety/health) vs those who are “essential workers” or can’t afford to stay at home and must continue on in a time of uncertainty. Its about kindred souls and unlikely friendships and how the pandemic and quarantine has led us (at least most of us) to take the time to slow down and really appreciate life and get to know the folks that we interact with on a daily basis but never really “see” or acknowledge. It also had a great use of camera shots to highlight the city and what the city was like during the pandemic.

ENOUGH — United States, 14 Mins; Dir: Caleb Slain

This one was hands down one of my favorite films of the festival. It’s so good that you can’t look away. The 14-minute musical journey tackles hate racism, police violence, and our lack of mutual respect and communication between the races, and how love and compassion, and understanding are the answer. Filled with lots of symbolism and moving and passionate lyrics by music artist Nathan Nzanga (who also stars in the short), ENOUGH is much more than just a simple extended music video — it challenges you, moves you, and inspires you. And the director and star are two really cool guys that I was lucky enough to interview before their Tribeca premiere. And I believe this one may be available on YouTube or their website so give it a watch!

LAST MEAL — Australia, 18 Mins; Dir: Daniel Principe & Marcus McKenzie

This was an interesting look at the last meals of famous — and not so famous — death row inmates. It was fascinating to see/hear the back story and last words of some of them. It was also interesting to see that the South is more generous with their last meals, but execute the most people — the religious reasoning was interesting. This short was thought-provoking and done in an intriguing manner.

GRACELAND — United States, 14 Mins; Dir: Bonnie-Kathleen Discepelo

GRACELAND was the short I was most excited to see since I had a personal connection to the filmmaker and one of the leads (“Go Blue Devils!”) — and I was not disappointed. It’s a short about gender expression and “normalcy” (what even is that?!), using art and creativity to fully express yourself and parents coming to terms with who their children are and being supportive no matter what — and all within that traditional “Southern Charm” environment. This one was well shot, had great production value and the cast was top-notch (including Anna Camp, a fellow Dreher High School alum). I love it when people I know are thriving and living their dreams! But if you get a chance, definitely check this one out, it’s worth the time!

ENJOY — United Kingdom, 18 Mins; Dir: Saul Abraham

This was another of my favorites from the Festival. ENJOY tackles mental health and depression as it manifests in men and within masculinity. It also reminds you that kids can be SAVAGE and at the same time shine a mirror on and be a reflection of your insecurities and issues. Starring Himesh Patel and a solid supporting cast, ENJOY is a thoughtful and thought-provoking short about mental health and masculinity and the masks we all wear. Oh, and I was fortunate enough to get the chance to talk to the director, Saul, who was a pretty fun guy to chat with.

THE QUEEN OF BASKETBALL — United States, 22 Mins; Dir: Ben Proudfoot

I love learning something new through the medium of film and this documentary short taught me a little sports/women’s/Black history that I didn’t know. THE QUEEN OF BASKETBALL briefly tells the story of Lusia “Lucy” Harris, one of the greatest living women’s basketball players — she has 3 national trophies, scored the first basket in women’s Olympic basketball at the ’76 Olympics AND was drafted to the NBA (not the WNBA). But most people have never heard of her — I know I hadn’t and I consider myself a sports fan. She has a fascinating back story and the current story with her tackling her mental health issues is also intriguing — and her laugh and personality are infectious! This mini “30-for-30” type doc was a joy to watch and I hope more people familiarize themselves with Lucy Harris.

NANDO— Brazil, 6 Mins; Dir: Alec Cutter

This is a heartbreaking documentary short about class and poverty issues told through the context of a poem in which a young boy in Rio de Janeiro dreams to see beyond the harsh realities that surround him. The short was vivid and really captured the essence of the slum. And I appreciated the fact that it ended on a hopeful note and showed that sports inspires, gives hope and connects us — no matter our background.

TWO JACKED — United States, 10 Mins; Dir: Jon Huertas

TWO JACKED was another of my favorites. The premise of this comedic short is what happens when the world’s worst carjacker meets the world’s most understanding victim — with a little unexpected twist. Grounded by solid writing by Kenny Stevenson, who also starred in the short opposite Currie Graham, and funny from start to finish, this film was fun to watch. It was like watching a cry for help turn into a therapy session in the middle of a carjacking at a remote gas station. And it was directed by THIS IS US actor Jon Huertas, who I also got the chance to chat with about this film…stay tuned for that going live.

GIRL WITH A THERMAL GUN — China, 12 Mins; Dir: Rongfei Guo

This is a short, pandemic drama romance set among the world of essential workers. It was like watching a short musical fantasy and it was quite enjoyable to watch. In terms of genre and style, it was quite different, but in a good way.

THE LAST MARRIAGE — Sweden, 16 Mins; Dir: Gustav Egerstedt & Johan Tappert

I love a good zombie flick — especially a comedy one. THE LAST MARRIAGE comedic-horror short tells the story of Marie and Janne who seem to be the last “alive” couple on Earth. But they aren’t so much worried about getting their brains eaten, instead, they’re worried about quarrels about housework and boring sex life. Can their marriage survive the apocalypse?! Well written, acted, and directed, this was relatable and fun to watch.

LEARNING TO DROWN — United States, 40 Mins; Dir: Ben Knight

Another sports-related documentary short, LEARNING TO DROWN was another of my favorites. This was brought to the forefront another badass female athlete that I had never heard of — snowboarder Jess Kimura. This one tells the story of how at the peak of her career she lost the love of her life and how she had to find herself after that tragic loss. There’s also lots of surfing footage — which is always amazing to watch — so visually, this short was mesmerizing. And the story and subject were moving, relatable, and inspiring. If you get a chance to view this one, please check it out!

CODED — United States, 28 Mins; Dir: Ryan White

Those who know me well, know that I love the Jazz Age/Roaring ’20s/anything F. Scott Fitzgerald so this documentary short was right up my alley. I was familiar with the illustrations of the advertisements and his Saturday Evening Post illustrations of that era (I’ve been trying to find some of those prints for my apartment), but I was unfamiliar with the illustrator behind most of them — J.C. Leyendecker. A mix of animation and live interviews, CODED tells the backstory of Leyendecker and how his legacy laid the foundation for today’s out-and-proud LGBTQ advertisements. His works were homoerotic but at first glance, you wouldn’t even catch it. But his removal from the history records even though he was the primary image-maker of his day is baffling to me. We are always trying to erase people from the history books who don’t fit the “traditional” American narrative and that sh*t is wack AF! This one is definitely worth the watch.

DEATH AND THE LADY — France, 7 Mins; Dir: Geoff Bailey

Another one of my favorites, the animated short DEATH AND THE LADY was kinda dark but it had a lot of heart. I loved the visual style of the animation…this one was exceptionally done.

NAVOZANDE, THE MUSICIAN — France, 15 Mins; Dir: Reza Riahi

Another favorite — this animated historical drama was like watching an old watercolor historical painting come to life. The animation was different and beautiful and dramatic and matched the heartbreaking yet heartwarming story that unfolded. It was a tapestry of a violent and tragic history of the Mongol period — but it also told the story of the power of love. There are no words — just the visuals and music — but its so powerful and moving that it grabs your attention and keeps you enraptured until the very end.

Some of the other shorts that stood out to me included:

  • DIRTY LITTLE SECRET — about the Greenwood race massacre. The black and white animation was like photos turned into charcoal paintings.
  • THE ANGLER — well done all around!
  • TRY TO FLY — this animated short was too cute. It’s all about life’s “what if…” At first it may seem like a story for children, but it’s more of a message for adults in my opinion. What if we change our mindset/perspective? We have to embrace the messy, complicated trying.
  • NO LONGER SUITABLE FOR LIFE — this one was also pretty good. It touched on immigration and terrorism and how our government sometimes uses people and it deceiving…but I digress.
  • HOW TO FIND LOVE IN A PANDEMIC — a documentary love story in the making…I just want to know how it ended!
  • VIRTUAL VOICE — kinda creepy to watch but also kinda spot on about privilege and influencer culture.
  • All of the shorts in Queen Latifah‘s “Queen Collective” were good. It’s all about challenging stereotypes and giving voice to the often voiceless or overlooked — the Black woman. I thought these were all really good and I hope they get the exposure that they need and deserve.
  • RISE UP — kids always give it to us straight — no chaser. This documentary short shows us the world’s issues through the eyes of children from around the world. These children are our future and they are so passionate. This short was beautifully done and leaves you with a sense of hope — and I really hope that these kids don’t get discouraged or disillusioned by the long road ahead.
  • NAMOO — this animated short was also very good and I loved the airy, whimsical score.
  • WAVES — was also very good…we need more authentic and accurate portrayals of the differently-abled and individuals with disabilities.

And now for the features…

Of the thirteen features I screened, they were kind hit-or-miss.

First up was SEE FOR ME…this one felt like something I had seen. I thought it was cool that it was almost like watching a film version of a first-person shooter game, but overall, it was just kinda meh.

POSER was vibrant in terms of visuals, but I felt like the storyline dragged and was kind of predictable. And the acting got a little wonky at the end. This one gave me real CRUEL SUMMER vibes.

I hate to say it, but I was highly disappointed by ITALIAN STUDIES I like Vanessa Kirby and I think that she’s a solid actress, but I think the material she was working with here was kinda lacking. I think the cinematography was pretty good if they were trying to make you feel trippy, uncertain, and rushed. It opens and you have no idea where it’s going. There were many moments when I was like “WTH is happening?!” Another critic said that it was “no plot, just vibes” and I think that pretty much sums it up.

AS OF YET was one of my favorite narrative features. It’s about dating and roommate issues during the pandemic and quarantine. It was so relatable and it just felt authentic and real. It’s mostly done through video diaries — and although a lot of filmmakers are using this technique now, this one did it well and didn’t feel forced or trite — and it did a great job of capturing the boredom and randomness of quarantining, especially if you were living alone. I loved the soundtrack in this one. The cute chemistry felt real…the writing was authentic…I felt like I was listening in with my friends. Although at its heart, it was a cute little romantic comedy, AS OF YET also tackled the differences between the different regions of the country and how they deal with the pandemic and also racial strife in America. There was also a great message about outgrowing friendships — a message that a lot of folks need to hear, myself included. Written, directed, and starring Taylor Garron — she’s definitely one to watch and I look forward to seeing what she does in the future.

Next up was THE NOVICE — another film with a sports theme, this time it was women’s collegiate rowing. This one had a beautiful aerial opening with chamber music. The dark beginning set the tone for the film going forward. It was interesting to see the young actress from ORPHAN (Isabelle Fuhrman) all grown up. This was also eye-opening because I was recruited out of high school to join my college’s rowing team…but when I went to orientation at the boathouse and they said that we practiced and had conditioning at 5AM I knew it wasn’t the sport for me LOL. And after watching this, I don’t think I would’ve made it anyway. This is a story of jealousy, overachieving students, and competition. The intense race scenes were great, the acting was top notch and the cinematography was on-point. Between the intensity, camera angles, use of blurring, and the score, this film was really good. I highly recommend this one.

SOCKS ON FIRE was a documentary that felt like a movie within a movie. But the seemingly over-exaggerated (even though I’m sure this was just their natural personalities) southernness was a little off-putting for me — the director’s (who was also a character in this story) narration was kind aggy and felt like a caricature (it reminded me a lot of Kevin Spacey‘s character in MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL. A mix of reenactments, home videos, and interviews, this family drama was a wild ride.

So there you have it — all the films that stood out to me at Tribeca this year. I look forward to hopefully catching some of the films I missed later this year and covering the festival again next year!