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Tribeca Film Festival 2024: 8 Highlights from This Year’s Event

The Tribeca Film Festival is nearly complete in New York City, an annual event of red carpets, world premieres, and hits from other fests. Tribeca is a tricky festival, one that doesn’t get the worldwide attention of the fall fests but does produce a few memorable films every year, launching them into the world. Here are a few brief thoughts on some of this year’s best, five documentaries and a trio of very different narrative features that display the range of offerings at this year’s Tribeca:

“Made in England: The Films of Powell and Pressburger”

This film is a gift to movie lovers, a riveting unpacking of essential chapters in film history by one of the best living filmmakers. It consists of nothing more than Martin Scorsese discussing the career and work of the Archers, AKA Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. And I could have watched it for ten hours. Most people know how blindingly smart Scorsese is, but what’s so enjoyable about “Made in England” is the love that comes through his words, not just a love for how much Powell & Pressburger shaped his career, but his honest affection for a man with whom he would become close friends. There are sections of “Made in England” wherein Scorsese draws lines between films like “Black Narcissus” and “The Red Shoes” to choices he’s made in his own work that are just incredible, a reminder that art doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and that inspiration is essential to the form. And to life.

“Vulcanizadora”

I admired the originality of Joel Potrykus’s “Buzzard,” but his latest is his best to date. It's a fascinating film that starts as one thing before shifting into much darker, emotional territory that works on issues like loss and the anxiety of fatherhood. Joshua Burge is phenomenal as half of a pair – the other played by Potrykus himself – that wanders into the Michigan woods in a manner that makes this film feel like a lark at first, another story of two very different travelers who happen to be on the same road. However, Potrykus has different intentions, turning his film from a bizarre story of friendship into something open to interpretation but feels to me about isolation, guilt, and the confusion of our world. What I admire most about the truly strange “Vulcanizadora” is that I haven’t seen anything like it in the last few years. And I can’t wait to hear people talk about it when it’s eventually released. It’s going to be a fascinating conversation.

“Witches”

The second-best documentary in a strong program of them this year that I saw out of Tribeca is Elizabeth Sankey’s deeply personal “Witches,” a movie that seems at first to be about the depiction of witchcraft in films like “The Wizard of Oz” and “The Craft,” but reveals itself to be an incredibly ambitious blend of autobiographical filmmaking and cultural commentary. It’s not just that we teach little girls that there are only good witches and bad witches—and that the good one looks much better than the bad—but that issues of female mental illness have been embedded in these representations and so much of pop culture overall. Sankey is vulnerable about her issues with postpartum depression, something that’s been historically seen as a weakness instead of a disease, tracing that back to the persecution of women deemed to be witches throughout history. Way more than just a cinematic video essay, “Witches” feels honest and true in a way that allows us to question the cultural weaponization of mental health.

“The Devil’s Bath”

“Witches” would make a solid double feature with the latest from “Goodnight Mommy” and “The Lodge” filmmakers, another truly oppressively slow burn of a film. “The Devil’s Bath” opens with a woman throwing a crying baby off a waterfall and doesn’t let up from there. Set in the 18th century in Austria, it centers on a woman named Agnes (Anja Plaschg) who almost seems to be sinking into the mud of this gloomy land in a life that’s increasingly emotionally difficult on her. Loosely based on a real chapter of Austrian history, the film’s title comes from a phrase for depression or melancholia that pushed women of the time to murder, often their children, so they could be forgiven by the church before being executed. It’s essentially assisted suicide because taking your own life would keep these distraught women from heaven. “The Devil’s Bath” is a consistently bleak work, but it’s also incredibly confident in its filmmaking, unafraid to drag viewers into its dark world. It will be out in theaters later this month. Watch for a full review then.

“Black Table”

John James and Bill Mack’s documentary brings viewers to one of the most beloved academic institutions on Earth, interrogating how race impacts students at Yale College through the personal stories of Black alumni, who all (mostly) fondly remember what became known as the Black Table, a meeting place in the famous Commons Dining Hall. “Black Table” works not only because it has an interesting topic but also because the filmmakers clearly created a warm, open environment for the interview subjects, who came ready to start a conversation. The manner in which a prestigious institution like Yale can still fail to really support some of its most accomplished students is systemic to so many places in this country, and around the world. And any chance to listen to the absolutely brilliant Wesley Morris should be taken.

“Adult Best Friends”

As someone who has seen enough festival indie “friend comedies” for a lifetime, I have to admit to somewhat dreading this one, but Delaney Buffett avoids the traps of this genre by staying true to her characters. And making a genuinely funny movie helps too. Buffett plays Delaney, half of a BFF duo with Katie (Katie Corwin), whose life seems to be heading in a different direction. When Katie gets engaged to her boyfriend John (Mason Gooding), she’s basically too scared to tell Delaney, worried about what it will do to the rift already growing between them. To break the news, they plan a girls trip that leads to a few clichéd situations but Buffett and Corwin keep it grounded with genuinely likable performances. That likability extends to a fun supporting cast that includes Cazzie David and Zachary Quinto. I have a feeling this will land on Netflix or Hulu in the not-too-distant future and be a surprising word-of-mouth hit.

“Antidote”

Christo Grozev was a part of the investigation into the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, captured so unforgettably in “Navalny.” During that reporting, Grozev uncovered the truth about the existence of Russian kill teams, groups of assassins who had been traveling alongside Navalny, planning their assassination attempt. Pulling back the curtain on this dark underworld has put Grozev’s life in jeopardy, a truth that is painfully captured in James Jones’ “Antidote,” a film that looks at the price of being a whistleblower and a journalist willing to speak truth to the most dangerous people in the world. At one point, Grozev reveals that his stress level is so consistently high that it basically doesn’t lessen even when he’s sleeping. He suggests that the only way for that to change will be for Putin’s regime to fall. Some of the filmmaking choices here don’t work for me, but it’s a story that demands to be heard.

“Driver”

A little too verité at times for its own good, there’s still just enough natural power in this examination of life on the road for female truck drivers to justify its place on this list. Director Nesa Azimi centers her camera on Desiree Wood, a long-haul truck driver who becomes our window into a world that’s not easy on anyone, especially women. Trying to scrape together enough money to keep her truck while also supporting a movement for female drivers to report the persistent sexual harassment and assault in the industry gives “Driver” a foundation of hard-fought truth. 

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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