23 Must-See Movies at Tribeca Film Festival

6:00 AM 4/18/2017

by Ashley Lee

THR rounds up the top offbeat dramedies and timely docs making their world premieres at the fest, running April 19-30.

The Tribeca Film Festival, which kicks off Wednesday with the premiere of Chris Perkel's documentary Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives, features a handful of standout narrative titles starring Al Pacino, Zoey Deutch, Ed Helms, Tracy Letts, Zachary Quinto, Rebecca Hall and more. And it also has a particularly strong documentary lineup, due in part to Donald Trump's presidential victory.

"With the election, our priorities changed," says programming director Cara Cusumano. "It became clear that there are very different worlds within this country, and nonfiction storytelling provides such a valuable mode for empathy and communication."

Films such as The Reagan Show, which charts Ronald Reagan's camera-friendly presidency, and ACORN and the Firestorm, about the controversial community organizing group, survey events that helped create today's political landscape; while such titles as Copwatch, about citizen activists who police the cops, and When God Sleeps, about an exiled Iranian musician, capture the current moment.

"That's in our DNA — this festival was founded as a response to what happened in our country after Sept. 11," says Jane Rosenthal, who co-founded the festival with Robert De Niro in 2002. "It reminded people of the importance of artists' voices and how movies can bring people together and give them hope."

The Tribeca Film Festival runs April 19-30. See below for The Hollywood Reporter's 23 must-see movies making their world premieres.

  • Flower

    The dark comedy tells the coming-of-age story of Zoey Deutch, a rebellious suburban teen searching for validation and acceptance in all the wrong places. Yet her life takes an unexpected turn when she meets the overweight, fresh-out-of-rehab son of her mother’s boyfriend. Kathryn Hahn and Adam Scott co-star in the bold film directed by Max Winkler.

  • Thumper

    The 100’s Eliza Taylor stars as a high schooler who crosses paths with the leader of the local drug ring, played by Pablo Schreiber. Jordan Ross directs the crime drama also featuring Lena Headey and Ben Feldman, with Cary Fukunaga serving as executive producer.

  • When God Sleeps

    The doc centers on exiled Iranian rapper Shahin Najafi, whose bold style and transgressive lyrics put him in the crosshairs of religious clerics in his native country. Till Schauder directs the story, which unfolds against the backdrop of the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks in the Bataclan concert venue and European right-wing backlash against Middle-Eastern refugees.

  • LA 92

    Directors Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin offer an unfiltered look at the Los Angeles riots that erupted 25 years ago in the wake of the acquittal of the four officers charged with beating Rodney King. Says Lindsay, "You are seeing things that may challenge your perception of right and wrong."

  • Aardvark

    Zachary Quinto plays an emotionally-challenged introvert who suffers from increasingly volatile hallucinations; Jon Hamm is his estranged brother, a famous actor; and Jenny Slate finds herself caught between them both. Brian Shoaf’s directorial debut explores the pros and cons of personal baggage with a touch of quirky humor.

  • Elian

    Executive-produced by Alex Gibney, the doc shares the remarkable story of Elian Gonzalez, the 5-year-old Cuban boy plucked from the Florida Straits on Thanksgiving Day in 1999. After his mother and others perished at sea, the custody battle between Gonzalez's Cuban father and Miami-based relatives sparked a flash point for simmering post-Cold War U.S. and Cuban tensions. Narrated by Raul Esparza, the doc – co-directed by Ross McDonnell and Tim Golden – is updated with the voice of the 23-year-old Gonzalez.

  • Sweet Virginia

    The gritty neo-Western stars Girls breakout Christopher Abbott as an unpredictable hitman who wreaks havoc on a small Alaskan town and befriends a former rodeo star, played by Jon Bernthal. "It's about resilience, about people who are struggling to escape their past," says Jamie M. Dagg, who directs from the China brothers' Black List script.

  • Hondros

    Executive produced by Jake Gyllenhaal and Riva Marker, the doc zooms in on award-winning war photographer Chris Hondros who served as a witness to conflict for over a decade before being killed in Libya in 2011. The intimate portrait is directed by Hondros’ childhood friend Greg Campbell. Jamie Lee Curtis serves as co-executive producer.

  • Wasted! The Story of Food Waste

    "Tackling food waste doesn't have to be depressing — it's delicious." Produced by Anthony Bourdain, the doc explores the major yet widely-unknown sources of food waste — from the farming and fishing industries to supermarket chains and school cafeterias — and applauds those implementing innovative solutions. Co-directed by Anna Chai and Nari Kye, the eco-minded doc includes appearances by Dan Barber, Mario Batali, Danny Bowien and Massimo Bottura, and is part of the fest's special Earth Day lineup.

  • Permission

    Rebecca Hall produces and stars in the dramedy opposite Dan Stevens as a couple who, though content with their long-term monogamy, tries out an open relationship. Brian Crano directs from his own script, which tackles the predicaments of eyeing marriage, starting a family and staying together amidst disruptions. Morgan Spector and Jason Sudeikis co-star.

  • The Reagan Show

    Pacho Velez and Sierra Pettengill's doc is constructed entirely through 1980s network news and videotapes created by the Reagan administration itself. What results is a portrait of Ronald Reagan as the first made-for-TV president — a man whose experience as a performer and public relations expert made him a unique match for an emerging modern political landscape, and for his chief rival: charismatic Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

  • A Suitable Girl

    Smriti Mundhra and Sarita Khurana's doc explores the Indian institution of arranged marriage by following the journeys of four young and modern women. As they aim to also juggle family, career and friends, some of these women are more averse than others to what's coming, and are given the opportunity to speak on the cultural custom. Says Mundhra, “The film examines the way gender biases become internalized and part of our culture, and while this isn't a new phenomenon by any measure, it is something I think a lot of people are looking at these issues more closely than ever.”

  • The Lovers

    In Azazel Jacobs’ honest and humorous portrait of a modern marriage, Tracy Letts and Debra Winger star as a long-married but dispassionate couple who are both seriously involved with other people. When their respective partners pressure them to fully commit, the two amicably resolve to call it quits – a move that ends up leading to their newfound affair in the A24 film.

  • A Gray State

    Executive produced by Werner Herzog, the doc probes into the deaths of filmmaker, veteran and charismatic up-and-coming voice of alt-right politics David Crowley and his family, who were killed in their suburban Minnesota home in 2014. Erik Nelson directs the film, which combs through Crowley’s photographs, videos and recordings.

  • The Clapper

    Dito Montiel’s satirical rom-com stars Ed Helms as a professional audience member of live studio tapings whose life changes when he goes viral. Tracy Morgan, Amanda Seyfried, Adam Levine and the late Alan Thicke are also among the cast.

  • Get Me Roger Stone

    Donald Trump makes an appearance in this new Netflix film — directed by Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro and Morgan Pehme — which looks at the career of his old friend, political trickster Roger Stone, who, says Pehme, is "happy to have this vile reputation."

  • ACORN and the Firestorm

    Reuben Atlas and Sam Pollard co-direct the doc about the controversial community organizing group which became a major player in the 2008 presidential election that resulted in Barack Obama’s victory. The political drama – in which conservatives fired accusations of voter fraud and government waste, and tried to expose their business practices via a hidden camera – spawned Breitbart Media and drove an even deeper wedge between Democrats and Republicans. "I could never have guessed that the ACORN story would very specifically foreshadow so much of our political present,” says Atlas.

  • Copwatch

    The doc shares a portrait of We Copwatch, an organization that films police activity as a non-violent form of protest and deterrent to police brutality. In her feature film debut, director Camilla Hall crafts a timely profile of citizen-journalist-activists — including Ramsey Orta who filmed Eric Garner’s fatal arrest — who seek to disrupt the ever-present challenge of police violence.

  • I Am Evidence

    Produced by Mariska Hargitay, the harrowing doc sheds light on the hundreds of thousands of rape kits left untested in police storage facilities – a symbol of how the criminal justice system has historically viewed sexual assault and its victims with various gender, racial and socioeconomic biases. The HBO doc is co-directed by Trish Adlesic and Geeta Gandbhir.

  • From the Ashes

    Michael Bonfiglio's doc captures Americans in communities across the country as they wrestle with the legacy of the coal industry and what its future should be under the Trump administration. From Appalachia to the West's Powder River Basin, the film goes beyond the rhetoric of the "war on coal" to present compelling and often heartbreaking stories about what is at stake for our economy, health and climate. National Geographic scooped up the movie, which arrives on the heels of President Trump's executive order to undo Clean Power Plan regulations.

  • Hell on Earth: The Fall of Syria and the Rise of ISIS

    Sebastian Junger and Nick Quested pair to direct the doc that outlines the Syrian war's political and social consequences, and, most importantly, its human toll. The National Geographic release includes footage of Kurdish fighters in Sinjar, Shia militias in Iraq and even al-Qaida-affiliated fighters in and around Aleppo and Raqqa.

  • Whitney: Can I Be Me

    The pop superstar’s discontent as detailed in the Showtime title forecasts the tragic fall that led to her death in 2012. Filmmaker Nick Broomfield (Kurt & Courtney, Biggie & Tupac) did not receive the blessing of the Houston estate for the project, and uses previously unseen footage (made by co-director Rudi Dolezal) about Houston’s 1999 tour.

  • Dabka

    Based on a true story, the offbeat adventure tale sees Evan Peters portraying inexperienced journalist Jay Bahadur as he embeds himself in Somalia to write a book. Barkhad Abdi, Al Pacino, Melanie Griffith and local non-actors are also among the cast. “The news only gives these snapshots of famine, piracy, terrorists, but the Somali people are so funny,” says director Bryan Buckley of showcasing the country’s lighter side.