tribeca festival

11 Films You Should See at This Year’s Tribeca Festival

Photo: Focus Features

The Tribeca Festival has, in recent years, found itself inextricably intertwined with COVID-19 — its 2020 edition, scheduled for April of that year, was among the first film festivals canceled at the onset of the pandemic, while last summer’s fest, held in those heady, cautiously optimistic, newly vaccinated days of early June, stuck to primarily outdoor venues out of an abundance of caution. (Unspooling in the aftermath of the city’s trauma is nothing new for Tribeca, which positioned its inaugural entry as a “return to downtown” event in the wake of 9/11.)

This year, the fest resumes at close to pre-pandemic speed, with a busy schedule of music, talks, TV episodes, comedy shows, podcast tapings, and enough additional miscellanea to prompt its powers-that-be (including Robert De Niro and his longtime producing partner Jane Rosenthal) to drop the “film” from its original Tribeca Film Festival moniker last year. But it remains a showcase primarily for movies, with revival screenings, short-film programs, favorites from other festivals, and scores of world and domestic premieres. Here are a few worth watching out for.

The Integrity of Joseph Chambers

Robert Machoian’s The Killing of Two Lovers is one of the best pandemic-era movies you haven’t seen. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January of 2020, got picked up by Neon later that year and released quietly in May of 2021, to critical raves but little buzz. (It’s on Hulu — go watch it and thank me later.) A moody, dread-filled, atmospheric yet emotionally resonant domestic drama, it marked writer-director Machoian as a major talent, and provided star and co-producer Clayne Crawford with the best showcase to date for his wounded intensity and burning charisma. The duo re-team for this world premiere, with Crawford as a mild-mannered family man who decides, on a whim, to go on a solo deer-hunting expedition, much to the chagrin of his wife (Jordana Brewster). Their previous collaboration so perceptively explored wounded masculinity and familial roles; this one looks to go even deeper into that fertile soil.


Tribeca’s programmers love to showcase the work of actor-turned-directors — this year’s line-up also includes films by Ray Romano, Kyra Sedgwick, and Katie Holmes — but the most promising may be the debut feature from one-time The Office co-star B.J. Novak. Novak also directs and stars as a smarmy New York journalist and podcaster (is there any other kind?) who travels to West Texas for the funeral of a casual hook-up and ends up sticking around when he smells a story. It could shake out to be a vanity project, but the premise is compelling, and Novak has put together a splendid supporting cast, including J. Smith-Cameron, Issa Rae, Boyd Holbrook, Dove Cameron, and (in the trailer, at least) a surprisingly menacing Ashton Kutcher.

There There

Andrew Bujalski has enjoyed one of the most fascinatingly oddball careers of the so-called “mumblecore” movement, moving from quintessential no-budget efforts like Funny Ha Ha and Mutual Appreciation to the delightfully niche Computer Chess to the more recent Results and Support the Girls, which smuggle his quirky dialogue and peculiar characterizations into films whose slick style and name casts make them look like conventional comedies. After a brief, baffling Disney detour, he’s back in his wheelhouse, and though plot details of his new feature are vague (he constructs “a delirious mirror image of everyday life in a distinctly twisted and discordant world,” according to the festival), the ensemble cast includes indie stalwarts Lili Taylor and Jason Schwartzman, which is about all the information you need.


Letitia Wright has become a rather divisive figure as of late, through no one’s fault but her own — which is a shame, because she’s carving out a niche as a terrific actor who’s actually offsetting her Marvel work with artier, indier fare. She was fierce and phenomenal in her episode of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series, and she’s altogether different but equally affecting in this modest character drama from writer and director Frank Berry. She stars as the title character, a Nigerian immigrant and asylum seeker in Ireland, trapped for years by bureaucracy and red tape. It’s a quietly terrific performance, keenly capturing the everyday comings and goings of a woman doing her very best to be absolutely invisible.

Jerry and Marge Go Large / Corner Office

It says something about the considerable iconography and cultural impact of Walter White and Don Draper that Bryan Cranston and Jon Hamm have had so much trouble finding big-screen vehicles remotely as memorable as their TV breakthroughs. Strangely, both actors have new films at Tribeca that draw upon those roles and their considerable baggage. In Jerry and Marge, Cranston again stars as a middle-class everyman drawn into a life of crime — though this time it’s by discovering a legal loophole in the lottery system. Annette Bening, Rainn Wilson, Anna Camp, and Larry Wilmore co-star. Hamm’s Corner Office protagonist is a far cry from his slick, sexy Mad Men persona (he sports a terrible haircut, a worse mustache, and face-swallowing glasses), and he’s much lower on the totem pole at his place of employment. But he ultimately finds success by accessing a secret office with such a warm throwback aesthetic (vintage furniture, soft light, good albums on the hi-fi) that Don Draper would’ve been right at home.


Over the past few years, Tribeca has stood out from the pack for its distinctive documentary programming — some of the best nonfiction selections on the festival circuit, in fact. So it’s an ideal place for the world premiere of this documentary about documentaries. Directors Jennifer Tiexiera and Camilla Hall met at Tribeca ’17, where their films A Suitable Girl and Copwatch were playing; here, they catch up with the subjects of several noteworthy documentaries — including The Staircase, Hoop Dreams, Capturing the Friedmans, The Square, and The Wolfpack — to find out what that strange subset of fame did to their lives. But within that fascinating framework, they also delve into some of the knottier questions (responsibility, representation, reparations) of nonfiction filmmaking, resulting in a thoughtful interrogation of what documentary is, and where it’s going.

Turn Every Page: The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb

Few figures in the literary world have enjoyed a collaboration quite like writer Caro and editor Gottlieb, who first met when Caro was completing his classic The Power Broker and have continued to work together for five decades, up to and including Caro’s still-in-progress “volume five of a three-part biography” of Lyndon Johnson. There are real questions of mortality and legacy here, as these men (Caro pushing 90, Gottlieb past it) attempt to finish what has become their life’s work. But director Lizzie Gottlieb (the editor’s daughter, taking full and welcome advantage of familial access) mostly constructs the film as a celebration of that work, diving into their backgrounds, how those biographies informed their editorial dynamic, and their process of collaboration. All that, plus an entire section about semi-colons!

Chop & Steele

Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher’s “Found Footage Festival” is one of the true treasures of oddball comedy: two guys who appear in front of audiences and present uproariously lo-fi and wildly strange selections from their collection of forgotten videotapes. Ben Steinbauer and Berndt Mader direct this documentary account of how Pickett and Prueher found themselves on the receiving end of a lawsuit — not from any of the “stars” of their shows, but a television media company fuming over embarrassing prank appearances on local affiliates. It’s a clever way into a story about comedy in the online era, and how not everyone, it seems, can take a joke.

Lynch / Oz

Documentarian Alexandre O. Philippe’s previous films 78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene and Memory: The Origins of Alien were deep-dives into the methodology and legacy of two of the most iconic genre films ever made. His latest cinema-fueled essay film tackles his most potentially juicy subject to date: David Lynch’s career-long obsession with The Wizard of Oz, which appears throughout his films in various thematic, narrative, and physical forms. Lynch is famously reluctant to discuss these sorts of things, but Philippe has dug up plenty of folks who will, including filmmakers John Waters, David Lowery, Karyn Kusama, Rodney Ascher, and Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead.

Rudy! A Documusical

If we recall Tribeca’s humble beginnings in post-9/11 New York, we must also remember that, at the time of that first festival, newly exited NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani was one of the most venerated and admired figures in American life. Well, the mighty have indeed fallen, which makes Tribeca the perfect place for director Jed Rothstein (WEWORK or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn) to premiere his feature-length look at the rise and fall of “America’s Mayor,” via investigative revelations, archival footage, and … stylized musical numbers? Well, stranger things have happened to the man who emceed the Four Seasons Total Landscaping press conference.

The Tribeca Festival runs through Sunday, June 19th.

11 Films You Should See at This Year’s Tribeca Festival