Halfway through “In the Heights,” the opening night of the Tribeca Festival, a crowd of Washington Heights neighbors stretches out in a courtyard during a heat wave. They stroll and growl, until a woman steps in to start a Carnival barrio of song and dance. Finding solidarity in unpleasant circumstances is a theme running through this year’s 20th anniversary festival, which begins Wednesday and ends June 20.
In an antidote to more than a year of solo film viewing, Tribeca will primarily offer live programming, making it one of the first major film festivals to take place in person since the start of the pandemic. (Many films will be available online after they hit the big screen. The films selected for last year’s event, which was postponed amid the pandemic, will receive theatrical premieres alongside the lineup of This year.) Kicking off is “In the Heights,” which will take place at the United Palace in Washington Heights and, like a city-wide drumbeat, at outdoor venues in all five boroughs.
This year’s lineup is filled with stories of group camaraderie, family union, and bonds forged in unlikely places. Such connection stories are appropriate as we fix our gaze on a New York summer that will move away from social distancing and toward social gatherings. I watched most of the Tribeca movies at home, solo, with the exception of my dog, but as I did, “In the Heights” and others seemed to be screaming, “Catch your friends! Gather around! The movies are back!
Director Morgan Neville (“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”) Arrives with one of them. In “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain,” Neville aims to cut through the patchwork chef’s public personality private scenes from the personal video and never-released TV footage with heartfelt testimonials from friends. The documentary unveils a man who rose to fame almost by accident, then nurtured a tense, intermittent love affair with the spotlight for the rest of his life. Bourdain’s main trait, but one that only a small circle saw intimately, was raw, tingling energy. He was a seeker, always on the run and never seeming to find what he was looking for.
Sunnier Mood is the French narrative feature “Roaring 20’s”, which zigzags around Paris in one continuous shot to introduce a series of independent scenarios. The director, who uses the pseudonym Elisabeth Vogler – alongside film co-writers Joris Avodo, Noémie Schmidt and François Mark, who appear in the film – has sought to capture the reopening of Paris after the spring lockdown. Shot last summer with an agile crew, the film features over a dozen vignettes as it explores the city of love on a balmy evening.
Like a restless ghost, Vogler’s camera glides along its path, haunting the characters for several minutes before moving on to a new set of muses. As a whole, the actors we meet are a pleasure. But often their chatter fades away when we’re drawn to the golden cityscapes that surround them. “Roaring 20’s” may sound like a cinematic stunt, but it truly is a divine travel experience, ideal for viewers who yearn to stroll vicariously along a canal, speed up on a Vespa, smoke cigarettes on cobblestones, reading tarot cards on a park bench and spying on over-the-top sexual discussions in the subway.
Not all movies present their world with such romance. “Poser,” an entry in the American storytelling competition, follows a hungry newcomer who makes her way through a scene. Lennon (Sylvie Mix) is a shy music fan in Columbus, Ohio who prides herself on the city’s indie gentry rock by launching a podcast on local bands. A guaranteed debut from directors Noah Dixon and Ori Segev, the film darkens as Lennon falls in love, and then obsesses, with one of his interviewees: the alluring electronic musician Bobbi Kitten (Bobbi Kitten).
But this is not a punk-goth clone of “Persona”. Or, should I say, it’s not just. “Poser” is also a comedic study of the stage, featuring performances by real groups Dixon and Segev got to know by making music videos. Some of these underground bands have real talent but are playful in the way they define themselves – “queer death pop” and “like, if your really weird parent was a band” are some of the genres they ironically use. as identifiers.
In the Viewpoints section, another film centers around a newcomer and an established clique. The tangy Puerto Rican comedy “Perfume de Gardenias”, directed by Macha Colón, follows aging Isabel (Luz María Rondón), who soon loses her husband. a squad of neighborhood gossip queens. These naughty girls are pious and community-oriented, often volunteering to organize luxury funeral ceremonies for locals who have passed away. The ladies savor Isabel’s eye – not to mention her lush garden teeming with bouquet-ready flowers – and jump in to stuff it into their party planning bag. It’s just fun, flowers and funerals until Isabel discovers the crazy methodology behind their creations.
Among a range of worthy documentary titles, two stars explore aspects of black 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 seeking to reduce gun violence in the city by supporting the most vulnerable men. A more personal story comes to life in the formidable “Death of my two fathers” by Sol Guy. Echoing “The Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin, “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates and others, the project is epistolary: Guy presents the film as an address to his young children. In it, he grapples with the loss of his father to cancer two decades ago and makes a pilgrimage to Kansas City to find the extended family he barely knew.
Of the many festival selections I sampled, my favorite was the compassionate Egyptian coming of age tale “Souad”. Director Ayten Amin opens up to Souad (Bassant Ahmed) on a public bus, where she feasts strangers around her with tales of her rigorous medical education and her beloved fiancé, Ahmed, who left for the military. . If only this were all true. Souad instead lives with her family in a middle-class house, where she struggles with school and keeps busy with household chores. The sweet Ahmed (Hussein Ghanem) is not Souad’s fiancé but rather a Facebook friend from nearby Alexandria; their courtship on social media is a mirage that offers Souad an escape from his arid life at home.
We come to a surprising moment halfway, when a cataclysmic tragedy devastates Souad’s family. Here, Amin pivots towards Souad’s little sister, teenage Rabab (Basmala Elghaiesh, a revealing heartbreaker), who sails in the anguish that follows. This structural ingenuity is at the service of a sweet story of sisters, who try (and generally fail) to reconcile what is expected of them with what they expect from life. It’s only in rare magical moments that these hopes sync, but sometimes just knowing that you’re not fighting demons alone is a comfort.
The Tribeca Festival runs June 9-20 at venues around the city and online. For more information on in-person screenings, visit tribecafilm.com/festival. For virtual screenings, go to watch.tribecafilm.com