Back in Tribeca for the festival


This is a getaway column; we’re heading to New York for the Tribeca Film Festival this weekend.

We haven’t been for a few years – the 2020 festival was canceled and we weren’t ready to travel in 2021 when the festival was held largely outdoors and in the fall. This year, its organizers are attempting a return to normal, with most of the festival moving indoors.

This will be the second plane trip we’ve taken since everything shut down in March 2020. We used to fly three or four times a year; covid-19 has been hard on our frequent flyer status.

Tribeca is my favorite film festival, for reasons that have nothing to do with the movies there. I love New York and I’m excited to visit a few favorite restaurants and walk these streets again. We’ve changed hotels this year — we’ll be closer to the Lower East Side where many press screenings will be held — after spending a few years in a quirky Russian-run spot near Houston and Broadway.

Once we stayed at the famous Chelsea Hotel – the subject of one of this year’s festival documentaries. Before that, we stayed in Tribeca itself – in a hotel a few blocks from the ruins of the World Trade Center.

Film producers Jane Rosenthal and Robert De Niro launched the festival in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001; they saw it as a way to revitalize their battered neighborhood.

We didn’t do the first one, but we’ve done it at almost every festival since. They always treated us well – we never had to plead for access to an event or be turned away by an unofficial volunteer like at some other festivals we could name. Tribeca has always been well run and accommodating to our ilk; they never hesitated to provide us with as many references as we needed.

(Our Philadelphia-based reviewer Piers Marchant often covers Tribeca, too; this year he’s covering it virtually, but we often got together in town for a coffee or a slice and to talk about movies. His festival preview is elsewhere in this section, and Karen Martin’s insight is the subject of her column in the Perspective section on Sunday.)

Unlike Sundance or Toronto, which are mostly showcases for feature films, my experience with Tribeca is that its non-fiction films are more interesting. That makes sense, considering Rosenthal, who is now CEO of Tribeca Enterprises, said Tribeca has always been an activist festival that never shy away from politics. There’s a top award for environmental impact and a series of talks focused on storytelling by people of color.

Among the films that caught my attention in this year’s programming:

“Rudy!: A Documusical” by Jed Rothstein, a political documentary that combines traditional interviews and archival footage with stylized theatrical scenes from a Rudy Giuliani musical to explore “one man’s psyche and circumstances free fall”.

“Battleground” by Cynthia Lowen, about various groups of women working to overthrow Roe V. Wade.

“Endangered,” which follows journalists working under duress in Brazil, Mexico City and the United States (executive produced by Ronan Farrow and directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, the team that gave us “Jesus Camp” and “ I Carry You with Me”).

“The YouTube Effect,” which promises a “timely and engrossing journey into the cloistered world of YouTube and parent Google,” directed by Alex Winter who, despite being best known for playing the slacker Bill in “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” in 1989 and its sequels “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey” (1991) and “Bill & Ted Face the Music” (2020), has an interesting track record as a director, including the technology documentaries “Downloaded” (2013 ) and “Deep Web” (2015).

This year’s festival also appears to be loaded with music documentaries – Netflix’s Jennifer Lopez documentary “Halftime” had its world premiere as the festival’s opening night film, and Taylor Swift will present her 2021 film “All Too Well: The Short Film” uptown at the Beacon Theater (where a few years ago we saw a Patti Smith concert in which she was joined on stage by Bruce Springsteen and Michael Stipe).

I don’t think we’ll get that far into the city center on this trip, but we always leave room for incidental exploration, so there’s always a chance.

If you’ve been following this section for a while, you probably understand that we don’t pay much attention to film distribution and presentation activities. We give you the weekly box office numbers, but other than that, don’t spend a lot of time wondering which movie won the weekend or whether any given movie met or exceeded or fell short of expectations. of its investors.

It’s not because that stuff isn’t important – don’t let anyone tell you money isn’t important – it’s just that we prefer to focus on the aesthetic and philosophical qualities of films. We want to try to make sense of them, to understand how and why they might be important to our particular constituency, which we imagine to be a group of informed moviegoers.

Also, we are not well placed to cover the film industry from our aerial vantage point.

Still, I was talking to an industry friend the other day, who indicated that while daily box office activity is still below 2019 levels, potential blockbusters like “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” and “Top Gun: Maverick” significantly outperformed industry drafts.

He expects “Jurassic World: Dominion” to gross over $200 million this weekend. And that Baz Luhrman’s “Elvis,” which hits theaters June 24, will likely be the biggest opening movie of the summer.

What seems clear is that even though streaming services, covid-19, and perhaps general unrest have dented box office receipts, people are still ready to go to the big show. There’s likely pent-up demand for these oversized productions, and the spacing between films on tent poles this summer has worked to mutual benefit. Nothing will challenge “Elvis” later this month, just like nothing will challenge “Doctor Strange” or “Top Gun: Maverick.”

More and more, I think we’ll see mid-major dramas and comedies migrate to streaming services, leaving the big bangers to fight in the theatrical arena. Or, like this summer, not to fight.


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