Tribeca Film Festival 2017 Preview Beacon Theater

What to See at This Year’s Tribeca Film Festival

Images: Tribeca Film Festival 

Tribeca Film Festival is a bonafide rite of spring in New York City. Its perennial promise to spotlight dynamic storytelling blooms brighter, year after year.

Now celebrating its 16th iteration, the festival—founded by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff in the aftermath of 9/11—continues this year with a lineup of films and one-of-a-kind storytelling events culled from around from around the globe. It opens tonight and runs through April 30, offering U.S. and world premieres, talks and retrospective screenings, TV series premieres, and next level interactive and virtual reality programming.

Born in the wake of tragedy, Tribeca has always championed storytelling’s inherent unifying beauty. In the current, tumultuous times, amid the shit show that has become our current political and cultural reality, TFF 2017 remains true to its mission. It has curated a worthy response to the onslaught of breaking news: a 12-day line-up of shared humanity.

But if wading through the colossus of more than 100 fiction and documentary films, shorts, events and more sounds way too daunting, don’t trip. We got you. MASS APPEAL has scoured Tribeca’s full slate to bring you our rundown of gems and best bets.

Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives

Opening night kicks off by going beyond the screen in celebrating the man with the golden ears, Clive Davis. Tribeca will open with the world premiere of Chris Perkel’s feature-length documentary Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives at Radio City Music Hall. The screening will be dovetailed by a star-studded tribute performance featuring Aretha Franklin, Jennifer Hudson, and Earth, Wind & Fire, among others.

Next up, Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: The Bad Boy Story. That’s right, Diddy is giving us a raw, behind the scenes glimpse into the beginnings, legacy and influence of Bad Boy Entertainment. Cameras also follow him as he tries to wrangle the Bad Boy Family — including Lil’ Kim, Faith Evans, Mase and 112 — for the two sold out anniversary shows that went down at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center last May in honor of what would have been Biggie’s 44th birthday.

The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson

In The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, another documentary standout, a trans pioneer and activists finally gets her due. The film exalts the self-described street queen’s lasting political legacy while also seeking answers to the mystery surrounding her unexplained death.

Go see Copwatch and know your rights. Directed by Camilla Hall, the doc tells the true story of WeCopwatch, a national organization that films police activity as a non-violent form of protest and deterrent to police brutality. Among those the film profiles is Ramsey Orta, the friend who filmed Eric Garner during his fatal Staten Island arrest.

Jamie Meltzer’s righteous valentine, True Convictionwill premiere at Tribeca thanks to its 505 Kickstarter backers. In it this documentary, three exonerated men, with decades in prison served between them, open Dallas, Texas’ newest detective agency. It chronicles the men’s journey as they work to free others who have been wrongly accused, aim to fix the criminal justice system and overcome barriers to reentry.

I Am Evidence

I Am Evidence is a punch to the gut. This must-see documentary produced by Mariska Hargitay exposes the reality that we are a nation of neglect. There are thousands upon thousands of rape kits left untested in this country. Through survivors’ accounts, the film gives human form to the disturbing statistics and lays plain the inequality of the American justice system for people of color.

Erik Nelson’s A Gray State is one of those  truth is absolutely stranger than fiction documentaries. As described in Tribeca’s Festival Guide: “Christmas, 2014: filmmaker, veteran and charismatic up-and-coming voice of alt-right politics David Crowley and his family are killed in their suburban Minnesota home. Their shocking deaths quickly become a cause célèbre for conspiracy theorists. Executive produced by Werner Herzog, A Gray State combs through Crowley’s photographs, videos and recordings to investigate what happens when an ideology becomes an all-consuming obsession.” It is a haunting chronicling of a mind unraveling.


Jumping to the realm of fiction, Thumper is a standout on the Spotlight Narrative slate. On the desperation, danger and dark secrets tip, it’s a crime drama centered on a group of teens lured into working for a local drug dealer. True Detective’s Cary Fukunaga is credited as an executive producer.

NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminsim

Tribeca continues to push the boundaries of cutting edge storytelling through technology. This year’s Tribeca Immersive Virtual Arcade and Storyscapes program boasts 29 virtual reality and innovative projects. Visitors to the exhibition on view at the Tribeca Festival Hub, located at 50 Varick Street, will have the chance to be transported into new dimensions in storytelling. The gamut of experiences range from animated epics to post-apocalyptic landscapes. The People’s House, created by Paul Raphaël and Félix Lajeunesse, will momentarily satiate that painful longing to see the Obamas back in the White House. In the 20-minute VR experience, Michelle and Barack take you on a intimate tour of the West Wing, as well as the executive and private residences. Hallelujah drops you in a mind-blowing virtual reality music performance that reimagines Leonard Cohen’s most well-known song. In the transmedia exploration of otherworldly feminist awesomeness that is NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminsim, discover the neurocosmetology lab, a beauty salon for the Black queens of the future. But instead of getting your hair did, folks will be “fitted with transcranial electrodes that allow access to a surreal alternate world.” Whaaaaaat?

If you’re down for nuanced conversation regarding mass incarceration as the New Jim Crow, snag a seat for Common in conversation with Nelson George on Sunday, April 23. The chat will be bookended by with a screening of a never-before-seen extended version of the video for Chicago rapper’s “Letter to the Free”, written for 13th, plus a live performance by Common.

On the inspirational sports tip, Kobe Bryant and visionary animator Glen Keane sit down with Michael Strahan to talk about their recent collaboration on the animated short film, Dear Basketball, based on Bryants poem about what it is like to say goodbye to something you love.

Skull + Bone

Limited only by their runtime, Tribeca’s lineup of short films carries a wallop of originality and verve. The roster of 57 shorts are grouped into 10 sections and are all in competition for the festival’s short film awards. For Flint keeps the human side of the Michigan water crisis front and center. White Riot: London and Skull + Bone reveal different fights of their own. The former shares the high-octane story of London in 1977, when the words and graphics of a punk rock fanzine were the frontline of defense against the neo-Nazi National Front. Skull + Bone is an under-the-spell-of-Mardi-Gras gem that follows the Northside Skull and Bone Gang of New Orleans as they warn against street violence.

The Godfather

And, holy shit, if all that isn’t enough, Tribeca 2017 will close with a marathon screening of Francis Ford Coppola’s mob masterpiece The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, along with a reunion that includes the director, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton and festival founder, Robert De Niro. Don’t want to shell out the loot for a seat at Radio City? Stream the entire panel online.

And the festival has also totally got you covered should you be far from New York City. Tribeca N.O.W. (New Online Work) curates the online opportunity to view the latest projects from ten independent filmmakers. Plus, the fest is bringing a bevy of live sessions to the internet, totally for free, via its Facebook page, including Bryant’s convo, a chat with Lena Dunham and Michael Moore on the 15th anniversary screening of Bowling For Columbine, among a dozen others.

The 16th Annual Tribeca Film Festival runs April 19th through the 30th. Additional info regarding scheduling and tickets are available here and here.

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