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Tribeca Festival returns to its mission of revitalizing a city with hybrid lineup

Two men stand on either side of an open door.
Don Cheadle, left, and Benicio Del Toro in Steven Soderbergh’s “No Sudden Move,” which will have its world premiere as part of the 2021 Tribeca Festival.
(Claudette Barius / Tribeca Festival)

New York City’s Tribeca Festival began in the aftermath of 9/11 as an effort to reinvigorate a traumatized city. Now for its 20th anniversary the festival again finds itself tasked with revitalizing the city following the extreme events of the pandemic.

Beginning Wednesday, the festival runs for 12 days with events in all five of New York City’s boroughs, showcasing around 70 features. (That’s down from more than 100 in pre-pandemic 2019.) Tribeca, which went virtual last year, is the first major film festival in North America to launch after widespread vaccinations and is placing a renewed emphasis on in-person events. Still maintaining a virtual presence, the festival’s online hub will feature premieres as well as encore presentations of films that first screened as in-person events.

“This year is uniquely unique,” said Cara Cusumano, festival director and vice president of programming. “We actually found ourselves coming back to a lot of that founding mythology and the reason that the festival existed in the first place, which was in a post-9/11 moment using film and that communal experience of seeing a movie as a path for healing for New York, and that has become really relevant again. So even though it looks very, very different, I think it’s maybe more the same than it’s ever been.”

This year is uniquely unique.

Cara Cusumano, Tribeca Festival director and vice president of programming

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The festival opens with the official world premiere of Jon M. Chu’s adaptation of the musical “In the Heights” — which also recently had a special preview as part of the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival. As a centerpiece gala, the festival will hold the world premiere of Steven Soderbergh’s crime drama “No Sudden Move.”

A man looks through the reflection in a glass window.
Anthony Ramos stars in “In the Heights,” based on the hit Broadway musical.
(Warner Bros. Pictures)

Closing the festival is the world premiere of a still-untitled documentary about comedian Dave Chappelle. The screening will take place before a fully vaccinated audience at Radio City Music Hall, with the iconic venue opening its doors for the first time in more than a year.

“It was really important to us to have an in-person event,” said Cusumano. “We felt that virtual festivals are amazing and we wanted to have that be a part of what we did, but the thing that people were really missing was that in-person community. So that was really the priority.

“And we wanted that to look as much like being at a movie as possible,” she added. “So we had to kind of come up with this idea to turn the city itself into the theater, into the multiplex, with these open-air venues and these incredible LED screens that we have. And then for the virtual, we kind of thought about it the other way: How do we make this feel like a festival at home? How do we bring people that experience so it doesn’t feel like renting a movie, it feels like having something approaching the in-person festival experience.”

Due to its new dates this year, the festival will be running on June 19 for the first time, so there will be curated Juneteenth programming from across the African diaspora, including Sol Guy’s “The Death of My Two Fathers,” CJ Hunt’s “The Neutral Ground,” Giselle Bailey and Nneka Onuorah’s “The Legend of the Underground,” Sacha Jenkins’ “Bitchin’: The Sound and Fury of Rick James,” Jamila Wignot’s “Ailey” and Andre Gaines’ “The One and Only Dick Gregory.”

Where festivals such as Toronto, Sundance or South by Southwest have developed a recognizable identity in programming, from the prestige drama to dysfunctional family stories to out-there comedies, what makes for a Tribeca film has never been easy to pin down. For Cusumano that is partly the point.

“I think of us as being very creator-driven and very discovery-driven, and we don’t want to box ourselves in,” said Cusumano. “We want to be open to all of the creativity that the creators themselves are bringing into the space. I love it when someone writes me an email and says, ‘Hey, I made this thing. I don’t even know what it is. Does it make sense for the festival?’ And we’re like, ‘Yes, totally.’ Like, let’s figure it out. Let’s make an event for it. ’Cause this is exciting to us. And then something like that can grow into an entire new section.”

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The festival has even dropped “film” from its official name as a nod to other forms of storytelling, such as podcasting, television and virtual reality.

Among Tribeca’s lineup of talks this year will be Bradley Cooper and Guillermo del Toro, Amy Schumer and Emily Ratajkowski, Shira Haas and Ali Wentworth and Gina Prince-Bythewood and Sanaa Lathan.

The festival will include a number of anniversary screenings, including the 25th anniversary of “Fargo” with a conversation with Joel Coen, Frances McDormand and Steve Buscemi. A 20th-anniversary screening of “The Royal Tenenbaums” will include a talk with Wes Anderson, Alec Baldwin, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Anjelica Huston and Danny Glover.

A 30th-anniversary screening of “The Five Heartbeats” will feature Robert Townsend, John Terrell, Tico Wells, Leon Robinson, James Hawthorne, Harry Lennix and Michael Wright. There will also be a 100th-anniversary screening of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Kid.”

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Below are a few of the festival’s other highlights:

Benicio del Toro and Don Cheadle in Steven Soderbergh's "No Sudden Move."
Benicio del Toro, left, and Don Cheadle in Steven Soderbergh’s “No Sudden Move.”
(HBO Max)

‘No Sudden Move’

Directed by Steven Soderbergh from a screenplay by Ed Solomon, “No Sudden Move” looks to put the filmmaker back in the crime-story territory of some of his most popular movies, such as “Out of Sight” and the “Ocean’s” trilogy, this time with a period twist. The stacked cast includes Don Cheadle, Benicio del Toro, Jon Hamm, Amy Seimetz, Brendan Fraser, David Harbour, Julia Fox, Kieran Culkin, Noah Jupe, Ray Liotta and Bill Duke. The movie will be released July 1 on HBO Max.

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A man in a hoodie stands with his back to a small raised stage in a nighttime photo that has a red tinge.
Dave Chappelle in “Untitled: Dave Chappelle Documentary,” premiering on the closing night of the Tribeca Film Festival.
(Pilot Boy Productions / Tribeca Festival)

‘Untitled Dave Chappelle documentary’

During the pandemic, comedian Dave Chappelle put on a series of shows in his small Ohio hometown. This untitled documentary directed by Oscar winners (and fellow Ohio residents) Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar captures the spirit of those events, the national reckoning on racial justice following the murder of George Floyd, and their impact on one community. As the festival gets underway the film does not have distribution announced, but that likely won’t last long.

A woman stands on a street at night with lights behind her.
Vanessa Kirby stars in “Italian Studies,” written and directed by Adam Leon, premiering at the 2021 Tribeca Festival.
(Tribeca Festival)

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‘Italian Studies’

Fresh off her recent Oscar nomination, Vanessa Kirby stars in “Italian Studies” as a writer who finds herself wandering the streets of New York City after seeming to have lost her memory and falling in with a teenager and his friends. The film‘s writer-director Adam Leon is in a moodier mode than with his more playful “Gimme the Loot” and “Tramps” but again creates a vibrant portrait of city life. The film comes into the festival looking for distribution.

A man and a pregnant woman stand in a hallway.
Justin Theroux, left, and Ilana Glazer as a couple dealing with fertility issues in “False Positive.”
(Anna Kooris / Hulu)

‘False Positive’

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Starring “Broad City’s” Ilana Glazer, who co-wrote the script with director John Lee, “False Positive” is a psychological horror film about the anxieties of modern motherhood. After struggling to get pregnant, a woman (Glazer) gets in to see an exclusive fertility specialist (Pierce Brosnan) thanks to her doctor husband (Justin Theroux) and becomes increasingly suspicious of their true intentions. The film will be available on Hulu on June 25.

A Black man helps a little girl drink from a "Colored" drinking fountain in 1956.
Gordon Parks captures a family drinking at a segregated drinking fountain in 1956.
(Gordon Parks / The Gordon Parks Foundation / HBO)

‘A Choice of Weapons: Inspired by Gordon Parks’

Directed by John Maggio and executive produced by Alicia Keys, Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean and Jelani Cobb, “A Choice of Weapons” is a portrait of the life and work of groundbreaking photographer, novelist and filmmaker Gordon Parks and how he captured key transitional moments in Black American life. The film also chronicles his influence on contemporary artists, with interviews with Jamel Shabazz, Spike Lee, Ava DuVernay and Nelson George. The doc will air on HBO this fall.

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Anthony Bourdain eats with chopsticks sitting on a low stool.
Anthony Bourdain in Morgan Neville’s documentary “Roadrunner,” a Focus Features release.
(CNN / Focus Features)

‘Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain’

Oscar-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville directs this portrait of chef, author and TV star Anthony Bourdain, who died in 2018. Featuring interviews with friends, colleagues and collaborators, including restaurateurs David Chang and Eric Ripert, producer Tom Vitale and musician Alison Mosshart, the film is produced in partnership with CNN Films and HBO Max and will be released theatrically on July 16 by Focus Features.

Author Jackie Collins
Author Jackie Collins, subject of the documentary “Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story,” directed by Laura Fairrie.
(Tribeca Festival)

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‘Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story’

Drawing from the bestselling author’s extensive personal archives, “Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story” tells her story in intimate detail, framing Collins as the same kind of strong-willed survivor she frequently wrote about in her steamy novels, with recollections from her daughters, her colleagues and her sister, actress Joan Collins. Directed by Laura Fairrie, it will air on CNN on June 27.

A young woman holding a wireless device and wearing headphones.
Sylvie Mix in “Poser,” directed by Ori Segev and Noah Dixon and premiering at the 2021 Tribeca Festival.
(Tribeca Festival)

‘Poser’

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A portrait of a burgeoning city’s underground music scene as well as a tense psychological thriller, “Poser” stars Sylvie Mix as an aspiring podcaster in Columbus, Ohio trying to create a space for herself while becoming increasingly obsessed with a local musician named Bobbi Kitten. Directed by Ori Segev and Noah Dixon from a screenplay by Dixon, the film comes into the festival looking for distribution.

Two men face each other across a desk.
Luke Kirby, left, as Ted Bundy and Elijah Wood as FBI agent Bill Hagmaier in “No Man of God,” directed by Amber Sealy.
(Tribeca Festival)

‘No Man of God’

Directed by Amber Sealey, “No Man of God” looks to put a new spin on the serial-killer saga, starring Luke Kirby as the notorious Ted Bundy and Elijah Wood as FBI agent Bill Hagmaier. The two develop an increasingly complicated relationship as Bundy reveals the details of his crimes in the years from his sentencing to his execution. The film is scheduled to be released by RLJE Films in August.

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A woman holds up her hands in boxing gloves as she faces a sparring partner.
Kali Reis in “Catch the Fair One,” directed by Josef Kubota Wladyka.
(Tribeca Festival)

‘Catch the Fair One’

Starring real-life boxer Kali Reis in her acting debut, “Catch the Fair One” is the story of a Native American boxer (Reis) in search of her missing sister. Directed by Josef Kubota Wladyka, a previous Tribeca award winner, the film counts among its producers Mollye Asher, a recent Oscar winner with “Nomadland,” and Darren Aronofsky as executive producer and enters the festival as an acquisitions title.


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