The best kept secret of the Tribeca Film Festival, year in and year out, is the documentary selection. Sure, there are plenty of exciting narrative premieres with star-studded indie casts to fill up the red carpet (see a broader fest preview on our sister site, Film School Rejects), but the nonfiction work tends to make a better impression. This year looks no different. Here are 10 of the most exciting films in the lineup, including the mysterious return of two Oscar-winning directors and an international slate of feature debuts.
“Five years ago, Louie Psihoyos launched a movement and won an Oscar with The Cove, his heist-like expose of dolphin hunting in Japan. His new project has a much broader scope, purporting to address the issue of endangered species in general. Screening as a work-in-progress, 6 promises to be a thrilling and bold work of cinematic activism.” (Reprinted from FSR’s Tribeca ’14 preview)
Art and Craft
The elevator pitch for Art and Craft is almost too crazy to believe. Mark Landis is an art forger with hundreds of pieces in museums all over the United States, yet he has never been pursued by law enforcement. This is because he’s never taken money for these fake Picassos and Matisses, instead donating them in accordance with the wills of relatives who don’t actually exist. The subject is the art con as psychology, a topic somewhere between F for Fake and Errol Morris. [Read our exclusive piece on the origins of the film, via director Sam Cullman and Jennifer Grausman here.]
Jody Lee Lipes is probably best known as a cinematographer, having shot such indie hits as Martha Marcy May Marlene and Tiny Furniture. He’s also worked on the HBO series Girls, directing as well as shooting a number of episodes. Ballet 422 is his first feature, a profile of young choreographer Justin Peck focused on the development of a new work for the New York City Ballet. Rarely does a documentary spotlight an artist so early in his career, making this film something of a unique opportunity to see the creative process in infancy.
Compared to What: The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank
Barney Frank retired from the U.S. House of Representatives last year, and it’s pretty easy to see why a documentary was inevitable. That it has come so soon is a testament to his importance, not only as the first openly gay congressman but as a leader in financial policy during the Great Recession. He’s also a riot. His penchant for saying whatever is on his mind, no matter how stinging, promises a film both politically charged and entertaining. Watch the trailer here.
Mala Mala is a portrait of the drag and transgender communities of Puerto Rico, an all-inclusive one at that. Directors Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini are looking to build a community portrait that allows as many voices as possible, with a crucially nonjudgmental eye. They also look to incorporate a political angle, placing Mala Mala somewhere between Paris Is Burning and the many international LGBT human rights docs of the last couple years.
Next Goal Wins
The American Samoa national soccer team is, mathematically speaking, among the very worst in the world. In 2001 they lost to Australia 31–0 and were sent right to the bottom of the FIFA rankings. Now they’ve got a new coach and are trying to recover, making at least an effort to qualify for the World Cup. It looks like the strangest and most culturally enlightening of underdog stories. Watch the trailer here.
Point and Shoot
“Documentarian Marshall Curry has a knack for making nonconventional political films. Street Fight and If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front are both the stories of political outsiders, one on the ascent and the other doomed to collapse. Yet never before has he tackled something as remote and unlikely as the terrible ordeal of Matthew VanDyke, an American who joined the Libyan Revolution and wound up a prisoner of war. Point and Shoot looks to be a remarkable, if harrowing, next step for the director.” (Reprinted from FSR’s Tribeca ’14 preview)
The Search for General Tso
“There’s a particularly funny moment in the trailer for The Search for General Tso in which the filmmakers wander a city in China with a photograph of General Tso’s Chicken. No one they meet has any idea what it is, of course. The famous dish is uniquely New World, an immensely popular recipe with vague origins that can be found all over the U.S. in tens of thousands of Chinese restaurants. And so, in a way, Ian Cheney’s search for General Tso is inevitably a search for America itself.” (Reprinted from FSR’s Tribeca ’14 preview)
Untitled James Brown Documentary
Some day they will figure out what superhuman protein or enzyme allows Alex Gibney to make so many movies with such alarming speed. Until then, we’ll just have to content ourselves with watching them. This next project marks something of a turn away from last year’s twinned films about mendacious provocateurs, The Armstrong Lie and We Steal Secrets. It promises to be a “definitive” documentary on the musical titan.
Orlando von Einsiedel’s debut feature documentary promises to be both gorgeous and harrowing. Virunga is the oldest national park in Africa, a UNESCO world heritage site and a hot spot in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s ongoing civil war. It is also the last natural habitat of the mountain gorilla. Any film made in this place is bound to be simultaneously political and natural, brimming with breathtaking footage both pristine and disturbing. Watch the trailer here.