Critics' Picks: 10 Highlights From SXSW and Tribeca Online

5:30 AM 5/6/2020

by THR Staff

Standouts include a doc about Johnny Cash’s first wife and another about gay conversion therapy, as well as a drama starring 'Unorthodox' breakout Shira Haas.

From left to right: 'Asia,' 'Shithouse' and 'Stray.'
From left to right: 'Asia,' 'Shithouse' and 'Stray.'
Tribeca Film Festival
  • 'Asia'

    Tribeca

    Courtesy of Film

    Israeli writer-director Ruthy Pribar makes an assured feature debut, balancing maturity with emotional intensity, about the circumstances that coax a single Jerusalem woman (Alena Yiv) and her ailing teen daughter (Shira Haas, star of Netflix’s Unorthodox) to forge the connection previously missing from their lives. The film won three prizes. — DAVID ROONEY

  • 'Freeland'

    SXSW

    Mario Furloni

    Krisha Fairchild is riveting as a long-thriving Humboldt County pot farmer left on the outside looking in as the cannabis industry booms around her. Within its brief running time, writer-directors Mario Furloni and Kate McLean infuse this story of a changing culture and economy with an anguished depiction of generational displacement. — SHERI LINDEN

  • 'Kubrick by Kubrick'

    Tribeca

    The Stanley Kubrick Archive

    For his lucid and perceptive look at Stanley Kubrick's body of work, Gregory Monro excerpts a number of archival clips of his collaborators: Jack Nicholson anoints him "quintessentially perfectionist," Marisa Berenson recalls the long hours of setting up natural candlelight for Barry Lyndon, and so on. They’re memorable, but it's the words of Kubrick himself (heard in interviews with French critic Michel Ciment), eloquent and precise, that give this doc its driving pulse. — S.L.

  • 'My Darling Vivian'

    SXSW

    Courtesy of the Estate of Vivian Distin

    In Matt Riddlehoover’s engaging and revelatory documentary, Johnny Cash’s four daughters set the record straight about their mother, Vivian Liberto, a spirited, resilient woman who has been all but written out of the Hollywood and Nashville versions of their famous father’s life story. — S.L.

  • 'Pray Away'

    Tribecca

    Courtesy of Multitude Films

    Four prominent defectors from the religious right’s gay “conversion” therapy programs speak out about the damage inflicted on themselves and countless LGBTQ youth in Kristine Stolakis’ powerful documentary, executive produced by Jason Blum. It’s a sobering account of Christian intervention rooted in toxic homophobia. — D.R.

  • 'P.S. Burn This Letter Please'

    Tribeca

    Alex Bohs/Courtesy of We Were There Inc.

    Michael Seligman and Jennifer Tiexiera’s brash and poignant documentary traces a collection of 60-year-old letters to some of their writers and subjects, key figures in midcentury New York's variously vilified and celebrated drag scene. It’s a delightful oral history, chronicling a singular chapter in the story of gay life in the United States. — S.L.

  • 'Shithouse'

    SXSW

    Courtesy of Rachel Klein

    The winner of SXSW’s narrative feature competition, first-time writer-director Cooper Raiff’s comedy centers on a college freshman (played by Raiff) who you’d assume was popular, but who silently longs to go home to his sister and mom. As the protagonist woos a classmate, the film becomes a refreshingly frank study of male vulnerability. — JOHN DEFORE

  • 'Shiva Baby'

    SXSW

    SXSW

    Following an NYU senior (Rachel Sennott, exuding a frazzled radiance) forced to juggle her lover, parents and ex-girlfriend at the same funeral, Emma Seligman’s debut showcases the sort of sex-positive Jewish heroine most often seen in series like Broad City and Transparent. The result is a squirmy, sweaty, deftly crafted comedy of discomfort. — JON FROSCH

  • 'Stray'

    Tribeca

    Elizabeth Lo

    This affecting debut documentary from Elizabeth Lo does for Istanbul’s dogs what 2017’s Kedi did for the Turkish city’s cats. The earlier film was generally soothing and hopeful — a cinematic valentine — while this one pierces, illuminating, through its central canines’ adventures, the economic and political divisions and cultural hierarchies that define our time. — S.L.

  • 'Through the Night'

    Tribeca

    Naiti Gamez

    Filmed over a two-year period, Loira Limbal's intimately observed documentary turns a much-needed spotlight on a home-based child care center in a New York suburb that proves to be a vital community hub. The film builds a quietly damning portrait of a merciless economy's effect on working-class mothers — particularly black women and Latinas, who often must take care of other people's children in order to feed their own. — S.L.

    A version of this story first appeared in the May 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.