The Tribeca Festival, né the Tribeca Film Festival, dropped film from its name this year as part of an effort to expand its brand and curatorial prowess across a broader range of storytelling media. Accordingly, the festival, which took place in person last week, added several new verticals to its purview: television (natch), virtual reality, video games — and, of course, podcasts, with about a dozen audio selections being announced for the debut run.
One of those selections was Vermont Ave., an audio short by James Kim and Brooke Iskra, which ended up winning the festival’s Best Fiction prize in the audio category and is well worth checking out.
Not much literally happens in Vermont Ave., which runs a brief 15 minutes and more or less plays out in real time. Largely produced as a technical experiment, the short functions as an interior portrait depicting a 30-something man going for a walk down the busy titular Los Angeles street to clear his head as he grapples with a big personal decision. Eventually, he bumps into a friend, and a brief, somewhat awkward catch-up ensues. The piece ends with the man returning to his apartment and builds to what amounts to the short’s climax.
But the technical experiment is potent. Using binaural headphones, a piece of recording tech meant to generate three-dimensional audio, Kim and Iskra focus on whittling away the wall between the protagonist and the listener. The end result isn’t quite a vicarious experience, but it does create a deeper connection, one that contains an enormous amount of creative potential to be explored in the future.
I’m unfamiliar with Iskra’s work, while Kim is perhaps best known as an audio producer for Moonface, his 2019 fiction podcast series, which I felt was one of the best from that year. The two projects have a lot in common: a focus on the protagonist’s interior emotional struggle, a naturalistic feel that nevertheless suggests some interest in magical realism, and an extremely Los Angeles vibe. Vermont Ave. digs harder into this nexus, eschewing narrative to make the most of its brief length.
Here’s another Tribeca pick you should keep on your radar.
Made by Frontline PBS, last seen in Podcast Land as the co-producer on the excellent I’m Not a Monster, Un(re)solved follows the reporter James Edwards as he explores what prompted the federal government to mount a formal effort reopening cold-case racial murders dating back to the civil-rights era — and whether that effort can truly equate to a sense of historical justice.
At the center of the inquiry is a list, assembled by the Department of Justice and the FBI, containing the names of over 150 Black Americans whose racially motivated killings went either unsolved or without punishment. Emmett Till is perhaps the most famous of these names, but as Edwards observes, the majority are individuals whose stories have largely gone unknown. “Famous or not, I can’t shake this one thought: They were all someone to somebody … They were loved,” he notes.
The federal initiative revisiting these cases was expanded by the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act, which was championed by the late John Lewis and signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008. The law opened up more funding for law-enforcement officials to pursue these cases, allowing for the possibility of more investigative momentum. But, as with many things related to justice and the government, the actual follow-through tends to be dicey.
Among other things, Un(re)solved offers a somber look at the maw of governmental structure, along with how difficult and complicated it can be to extract any approximate sense of justice from it. The first episode, “The List,” walks through the scope of effort it took to simply get the initiative acknowledged and off the ground. The second episode, “The Letters,” relocates the inquiry to a simple, frustrating question: How have these investigations actually played out? All the while, Edwards knocks on the door of an ever more essential query: Will unearthing the truth behind these cases, many long lost, equate to a sense of justice in any meaningful way?
On that last question, Edwards seems to gravitate towards an answer. “Truth doesn’t always deliver justice, and justice isn’t always delivered with the truth,” he notes. But you still have to keep digging.
• Timed to Pride Month, Call Your Girlfriend is running a special series over the next few weeks, led by executive producer Gina Delvac and producer Jordan Bailey, seeking to explore queer identities. Two episodes are out now: The first features an interview with queer sex therapist Casey Tanner about the aspects involved in exploring a queer identity for the first time, and the second features a talk with Torrey Peters about her breakout novel, Detransition, Baby.
And that’s a wrap for 1.5x Speed! Hope you enjoyed it. We’re back next week, but in the meantime: Send podcast recommendations, feedback, or just say hello at email@example.com.
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