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Tribeca Film Festival 2021 Wrap-Up: The Novice, The First Step, 7 Days, and more

The 2021 Tribeca Festival wrapped up over the weekend in a festival that was certainly like nothing in the fest’s 20-year history. For one, it dropped the “film” from the name, having all sorts of events not associated with film, with the “Tribeca Festival” becoming more of an all-purpose cultural festival with a film component, like South by Southwest. 

The other twist was that it existed in a hybrid format, consisting mostly of the virtual screenings that have taken up most film festivals for the last year, punctuated with outdoor, in-person events. 

We have been publishing reviews throughout the festival, which can be read here; here are some briefer impressions of ten more films from Tribeca 2021: 

The Novice movie 2021
Image: XYZ Films

The Novice 

This wildly intense directorial debut from Lauren Hadaway cleaned up the festival’s awards, and it’s not hard to see why: It’s an expertly assembled thriller that does wildly inventive things with visuals, sound, and music. Isabelle Fuhrman- the little girl from Orphan! – plays Alex, a college freshman who joins the crew team and becomes obsessed with success. 

This is a special film, that’s going to make an impression once people can see it; there’s no word on distribution or a release date. 

The First Step 2021 Documentary
Image: Meridian Hill Pictures / Magic Labs Media

The First Step 

This fascinating documentary looks at the work of CNN commentator Van Jones and his push to pass a criminal justice reform bill. This move had him working directly with the Trump Administration is a matter of much consternation to some allies to his left. Especially ironic is that Jones had, a decade earlier, been pushed out of the Obama Administration following a Glenn Beck-led smear campaign. 

It’s a rare documentary that shows the step-by-step shepherding of a piece of legislation, while also providing an even rarer opportunity to put audiences in a position to sincerely root for Jared Kushner. There’s no word on a release date. 

Image: Ten to the Six Pictures

7 Days 

Director  Roshan Sethi’s film is the first in what I expect to become a full-fledged movie genre, a romantic comedy set during the COVID-19 lockdown. Karan Soni and Geraldine Viswanathan star as a pair of young Indian-Americans set up for a first date as part of an arranged courtship, who end up stuck in a house together when COVID hits. 

I find Viswanathan an immensely appealing performer, who I’ve enjoyed in everything from Blockers to Bad Education, and the arranged-courtship stuff has strong potential for satire. But the film has two big things going against it: It’s hard to imagine a more poisonous premise right now than going back inside COVID lockdowns, and Soni’s character is the whiniest, most annoying movie protagonist in quite some time. I don’t know that I’ve ever rooted harder against a character’s romantic success. 

There’s no word on a release date. 

Glob Lessons 2021 movie
Image: Tribeca Film Festival

Glob Lessons 

Here’s the sort of fine under-the-radar film that sneaks up on you at festivals. Director Nicole Rodenburg and Colin Froeber, who co-wrote the script, star in Glob Lessons as a couple of misfit actors who a low-rent company hires to perform “Peter Pan,” “A Christmas Carol,” and other theatrical works at public libraries across the Midwest. 

The two eventually bond over their awful circumstances, lead up to a scene – in which the characters get naked for surprising reasons – that shouldn’t work but absolutely does. Sure, the title is terrible and looks like a typo, but don’t hold that against it.

There’s nothing planned in regards to a release, but this one deserves a chance. 

Larry Flynt For President
Courtesy of Don Ray

Larry Flynt For President 

Here’s a rollicking documentary depicting the time Larry Flynt ran for president in 1984. Assembled from footage of a documentary begun in 1983 and then abandoned, we see Flynt going toe to toe with the then-emergent religious right in the United States. 

Nadia Szold’s film, among other things, show that free speech activists aren’t what they used to be. 

There’s no word on a release date. 

Building a Bridge
Image: Tribeca Film Festival

Building a Bridge 

This documentary, directed by Evan Mascagni and Shannon Post, follows Father James Martin, a Jesuit Catholic priest who made it his mission, following the Pulse nightclub massacre, to build stronger relations between the Catholic Church and the LGBTQ community. Martin proves a compelling subject in the film, listing another Martin- Scorsese- as an executive producer. 

It’s an intriguing mission, one that even got Father Martin a meeting with Pope Francis, but it also ran into quite a bit of resistance. This is led by “Church Militant” Michael Voris, and if you thought the bilious, gay-hating “ex-gays” of the Tribeca film Pray Away were loathsome, that was nothing. Voris even hosts a talk show that bears more than a passing resemblance to Arrested Development‘s And As It Is Such, So Also As Such Is It Unto You.

There’s no word on a release date. 

The Neutral Ground
Image: Tribeca

The Neutral Ground 

Speaking of documentaries that tackle various specific American culture wars, this one looks at the debate over whether to take down the Confederate statues in New Orleans. 

The film, directed by comedian and writer C.J. Hunt, benefits from the specific focus. We hear from politicians, activists, and even rank-and-file Louisians, including a gentleman who goes by the name Butterbean – no, not the novelty boxer, a different Butterbean – who attributes the origins of the Civil War to “this bitch, by the name of Harriet Beecher Stowe.” 

The Neutral Ground will premiere on PBS July 5. 

Stockholm Syndrome 2021 movie
Image: Bow and Arrow Entertainment

Stockholm Syndrome

This is a feature-length documentary, directed by The Architects, which looks at the 2019 episode in which the American rapper A$AP Rocky was arrested in Sweden and faced considerable jail time before the Trump administration negotiated his release. 

Before getting to the rapper’s eventual return to Sweden not long afterward, the film looks at Trump’s demand for thanks and A$AP Rocky’s refusal to give it. And since Trump pretty clearly only did it to get thanks, I wouldn’t have thanked him either.

There’s no word yet on a release date. 

Bernstein's Wall movie 2021
Image: 4th Row Films

Bernstein’s Wall 

Bradley Cooper is working on a major biopic of Leonard Bernstein for Netflix. Still, in the meantime, there’s a documentary about the great conductor, his music, his political activism, and much more. 

Directed by  Douglas Tirola, whose last film was 2015’s National Lampoon: Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead, the Bernstein documentary weaves throw several different interviews over the years, as well as music, in telling Bernstein’s story. 

The film’s release plan isn’t yet clear. 

Italian Studies
Image: Topic Studios – First Look Media

Italian Studies 

The latest film from director Adam Leon, who made the great NYC-set graffiti drama Gimme the Loot a few years ago, Italian Studies stars Vanessa Kirby as an amnesiac novelist who gets lost in New York City, falling in with a group of teenagers. 

It’s certainly gorgeously photographed, mostly focused on Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, but this is the sort of movie that’s a mood piece and not much besides mood. 

There’s no word on a release date. 

  • Stephen Silver

The Tribeca Film Festival runs June 9-20. Visit the festival’s official website for more information.

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and RogerEbert.com. In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

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