All Together Now for Tribeca Festival’s 20th Anniversary Edition


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In the middle of “In the Heights,” the opening night of the Tribeca Festival, many Washington Heights neighbors crowd around a courtyard during a heatwave. They lazy and grumble until a woman gets in to begin a Barrio Carnaval of song and dance. Finding solidarity in dire circumstances is a theme that runs through this year’s 20th anniversary festival, which starts on Wednesday and runs until June 20th.

As an antidote to more than a year of watching movies alone, Tribeca will primarily offer live programming, making it one of the first major film festivals to be held in person since the pandemic began. (Many films will be available online after being shown on the big screen. Films selected for last year’s event, which was postponed amid the pandemic, will also have box office premieres alongside this year’s line-up.) In the Heights “, that will roll off at the United Palace in Washington Heights and, like a city-wide drum roll, at outdoor locations in all five boroughs.

This year’s line-up is teeming with stories of group companionship, family reunification, and bonds forged in unusual locations. Such connection stories are apt when we envision a New York summer that will evolve from social distancing to social gathering. I’ve seen most of the Tribeca films at home, alone, except for my dog, but while I was doing that, In the Heights and others seemed to be screaming, “Take your friends!” Getting together! The films are back! “

Director Morgan Neville (“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”) Comes up with such a crowd puller. In Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, Neville tries to break the chef’s public figure by merging private scenes from home videos and never-aired television recordings with open testimonies from friends. The documentary reveals a man who became famous almost by accident and then had a strained love affair with the limelight for the rest of his life. Bourdain’s main quality, which only a small circle could see, was a raw, tingling energy. He was a seeker, always on the run, and never seemed to find what he was looking for.

The French narrative film “Roaring 20’s” is sunnier in the mood and zigzags through Paris in one uninterrupted take to introduce a series of independent storylines. The director, using the pseudonym Elisabeth Vogler – along with the film’s co-writers Joris Avodo, Noémie Schmidt and François Mark who appear in the film – tried to capture the reopening of Paris after the spring lockdown. Filmed with a nimble crew last summer, the film contains more than a dozen vignettes as it explores the city of love on a balmy evening.

Like a restless ghost, Vogler’s camera glides over her route and follows the characters for several minutes before she turns to a new muse. As a block, the actors we meet turn out to be pleasure. But their chatter often ceases when we are drawn to the golden cityscapes that surround them. “Roaring 20’s” may seem like a cinematic stunt, but it really is a divine travel experience, best for viewers who yearn to stroll down a canal on behalf of them, to speed on a Vespa, to pull cigarettes on cobblestones, tarot cards on one Reading park bench and listening to a bit too loud sex talk while riding the subway.

Not all films present their worlds with such romance. “Poser”, a contribution to the US narrative competition, follows a hungry newcomer who interferes in a scene. Lennon (Sylvie Mix) is a shy Columbus, Ohio music fan who ingratiates himself with the city’s indie rock nobility by starting a podcast about local bands. A sure-fire debut for directors Noah Dixon and Ori Segev, the movie darkens when Lennon becomes infatuated and then obsessed with one of their interviewees: the seductive electronic musician Bobbi Kitten (Bobbi Kitten).

But it’s not a punk-goth clone of “Persona”. Or I should say it’s not just. “Poser” is also a comical study of the scene with performances by real bands that Dixon and Segev met while making music videos. Some of these underground acts have real talent, but define themselves playfully – “queer death pop” and “if your really weird relative was a band” are among the genres they ironically use as identifiers.

In the Viewpoints section, another film revolves around a newcomer and an established clique. The bitter Puerto Rican comedy “Parfüm de Gardenias”, directed by Macha Colón, follows the aging Isabel (Luz María Rondón), who soon loses her husband. Mourning and lonely in her fussyly furnished house in Art Deco style, Isabel feels the attraction of a troop of gossip queens from the neighborhood. These mean girls are devout and community-minded, and often volunteer to organize luxurious funeral ceremonies for deceased locals. The ladies enjoy Isabel’s gaze – not to mention her lush garden full of ready-to-be-bouquet blooms – and jump to usher in their party planning package. It’s all fun, flowers, and funerals until Isabel discovers the crazy methodology behind her designs.

Among a number of worthy documentaries, two salient aspects examine aspects of blacks’ experiences in America. “All These Sons,” directed by Bing Liu (“Minding the Gap”) and Joshua Altman, is a patient and thoughtful profile of two Chicago community programs that seek to curb gun violence in the city by promoting the most vulnerable men. A more personal story comes alive in Sol Guy’s massive “The Death of My Two Fathers”. Based on James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time”, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me” and others, the project is epistolic: Guy designs the film as an address to his young children. In it he deals with the loss of his father to cancer two decades ago and makes a pilgrimage to Kansas City to visit the extended family he barely knew.

Of the many festival selections I’ve tried, my favorite was the compassionate Egyptian coming-of-age story “Souad”. The director Ayten Amin begins with Souad (Bassant Ahmed) riding a public bus, where she pampers the strangers around her with reports of her rigorous medical studies and her fiancé, who is in love, Ahmed, who is in the army. If only any of this were true. Instead, Souad lives with her family in a middle-class house, where she has problems at school and is busy with housework. The polite Ahmed (Hussein Ghanem) is not Souad’s fiancée, but a Facebook friend from nearby Alexandria; Her advertising on social media is a mirage that offers Souad an escape from her barren home.

Halfway through, we come to a surprising moment when a devastating tragedy devastates Souad’s family. Here Amin turns to Souad’s little sister, the youthful Rabab (Basmala Elghaiesh, an insightful heartbreaker), who copes with the agonizing consequences. This structural ingenuity serves a gentle tale of sisters trying (and usually failing) to balance their expectations with those in life. Only in rare, magical moments do these hopes merge, but sometimes the knowledge that you cannot fight demons alone is comforting.

The Tribeca Festival will take place June 9-20 in venues across the city and online. For more information on in-person screenings, please visit www.tribecafilm.com/festival. For virtual screenings, visit watch.tribecafilm.com



Robert Dunfee