David Cuevas concludes his Tribeca Festival 2021 coverage with a selection of hotly anticipated capsule reviews. 

After a tumultuous week-long endeavour of virtual screenings and outdoor neighbourhood film presentations, this year’s 20th Tribeca Festival has finally come to a close. With the official “film” label taken away from the festival title, for the general acceptance and programming move to welcome more multimedia projects, the programming shift in quality was slightly different this year. More new-name directors and debuts premiered at this year’s festival, with a larger focus on innovation and amplification of minority voices. Some projects were undeniably better than others, but for the most part, Tribeca more than achieved its mission in highlighting underrepresented creators. So, to celebrate the occasion, here is a summation of capsule reviews of all the films I watched during the festival, in Alphabetical order. 

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7 Days

As far as lockdown comedies go, 7 Days is a perfectly formidable romantic affair. Yet even with Karan Soni & Geraldine Viswanathan trying their best at delivering an empathetic portrayal of quarantine normalcy, most of the film surprisingly relies on insultive narrative plot beats that merely exploit the Covid-pandemic state. It may be charming at occasional points, but the end result is simply distasteful, when putting the current social and environmental factors in consideration with the rest of the film. 

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All My Friends Hate Me

There’s a reason why Ruben Östlund is the world renowned king of the cringe comedy. Many have tried and failed at replicating Östlund’s sardonic wit and satirical subtext; including but not limited to the Tribeca title All My Friends Hate Me. Attempting to capitalise on its social commentary on class privilege, Andrew Gaynord’s gaslighting dark-comedy refuses to elaborate and dissect the internal routes and motivations of its supporting cast. The end result is an archetype-driven nuisance; one that could have easily been saved with a sharper draft of rewrites.  

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All These Sons

Bing Liu’s followup to his Oscar-nominated documentary Minding the Gap is a shocking disappointment. All These Sons, while undeniably relevant in its dissection of gun violence and advocacy for reform, lacks the personal angle and detailed focus of Liu’s previous non-fiction endeavour. Where Minding The Gap managed to handle its themes of intergenerational trauma and abuse with great ease, All These Sons finds itself in a strange scattershot pool of engrossing interviews and a lack of a creative backbone to carry its empathetic B-rolls. 

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Ascension

Whilst structurally repetitive, Jessica Kingdom’s mesmerising feature debut works most effectively when it exclusively focuses on her working class subjects. Her bourgeoise counterparts frequently lack the same amount of empathy and intrigue, when contrasting the Ascension’s central thesis with scenes involving lavish individuals. Yet for what it’s worth, the film provides a dense document on China’s evolving capitalist market; accompanied by a soaring Dan Deacon score on top of a series of hypnotic images. 

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Brighton 4th

Levan Koguashvili’s Brighton 4th is a perfect example of a film that could have been easily economised into a short-film format. Frequently dragged by its needless filler and meandering subplots, the empathetic central theme regarding the immigrant experience is diminished by an annoying insistence to meet a certain runtime quota. 

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ClayDream

As an admirer of the history of Stop-motion animation and the legacy in which history carries alongside the renowned rise and fall of Will Vinton Studios, the central subject involved in the latest documentary ClayDream features an infinitely fascinating record of events. Substandard in its portrait documentary presentation, what ultimately carries the film is its introspective reflection on Will Vinton’s pioneering leadership in the animation industry, and the everlasting effects of his influence on contemporary studios such as Laika. 

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Do Not Hesitate

In terms of its militarism critique, Do Not Hesitate barely scratches the surface in regards to its core subtext and subject matter. With films such as Beau Travail, Full Metal Jacket, & Foxtrot demonstrating the barbarity and interlinked hyper-masculinity involved in modern-day warfare, Shariff Korver’s film doesn’t offer much outside of some occasionally impressive blocking and framing. It’s all in the perspective at the end of the day, where Do Not Hesitate ultimately fumbles in its slight presentation and recollection of events. 

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The Lost Leonardo

Tackling the legalities, the ingenuity, and economic prosperity of the underground art-world, The Lost Leonardo is an effective work of true-crime drama, told in three unique chapters. Revolving around The Salvator Mundi — a painting that many considered to be a long-lost Leonardo DaVinci piece — Andreas Koefoed’s thrilling nonfiction expose on the interlinked hypocrisy and economic developments behind the backed-painting is a formidable work of portrait-mode storytelling. 

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Poser

An effective thriller on the evolving underground music scene in Columbus, Ohio, Ori Segev and Noah Dixon’s Poser cleverly makes use of its confined environment to great genre-emulated effect. While its social commentary on creative ownership is slightly on the more underdeveloped side of its short runtime, the execution and strong direction is what ultimately strikes a chord in terms of its more nuanced moments of character-driven drama. 

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Roaring 20’s

Without a single doubt, Elizabeth Vogler’s Roaring 20’s is easily the best film from this year’s Tribeca Festival. A sublime introspective one-take fantasia all about interconnectivity and how the mutual ignorance of the general Parisian population is inherently connected with the lives and daily tribulations of the working class, Vogler’s impressively choreographed swan song is an immaculately crafted chef d’oeuvre. Roaring 20’s sticks out like a sore thumb in comparison with some of the other Tribeca titles, where the film’s attention to detail and social subtext excels in nearly every frame. Some of the featured conversations between characters are definitely stronger than some of the lesser moments involving the occasionally disposable archetype — yet the improvised and chaotic direction at the core of Vogler’s craft is simply stunning.  

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The Scars of Ali Boulala

When it comes to documentaries that focus on an infamous figure, a lot of times filmmakers find themselves struggling in encapsulating the legacy and life-long history of said subject. In the case of The Scars of Ali Boulala, the film’s greatest flaw is in its lack of focus. Where the film really should have just focused on the final two years of Boulala’s career and the downfall that led to the his fatal car accident, The Scars of Ali Boulala instead spends almost one hour in needless background context. It’s a shame too, since the latter half of the film is quite impressively crafted with its assembly of B-Rolls and patient usage of silence. 

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Wild Men

As a humorous Norwegian dark-comedy about a man abandoning his state in society, Wild Men provides enough gags and narrative weight to hold its simple premise together. Succumbed by rich landscapes and some impressive framing backed by cinematographer Jonatan Rolf Mose, the end product is a joyful although slightly forgettable piece of escapist comedy.

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Wolfgang

Outside of its impressive recreations of Puck’s childhood memories and the occasional savoury B-Roll, Wolfgang unfortunately falls for the same typical conventions of your standard culinary profile documentary. I would even argue that Wolfgang Puck’s rags to riches story deserved a better cinematic treatment, but at least David Gelb’s latest short-lived documentary (only 79 minutes) is one that is at the very least simple, inoffensive, and to the point. So basically, a Disney-certified flick.  

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The 20th Anniversary of this year’s Tribeca Festival ran from June 9th-20th

By David Cuevas

David Cuevas is a writer, reporter, and the official festivals editor (US/Canada) for FilmHounds Magazine. In his spare time, you can find him watching a bunch of movies while contemplating on his own existence.

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