Returning to Tribeca for festival

Broadway actor and Cirque du Soleil performer Blakely Slaybaugh portrays Rudy Giuliani in stylized musical numbers that are interwoven with interviews and documentary footage in the film “Rudy! A Documusical,” which is screening at the ongoing Tribeca Festival.
Broadway actor and Cirque du Soleil performer Blakely Slaybaugh portrays Rudy Giuliani in stylized musical numbers that are interwoven with interviews and documentary footage in the film “Rudy! A Documusical,” which is screening at the ongoing Tribeca Festival.

This is a getaway column; we're headed to New York for the Tribeca Film Festival this weekend.

We haven't been there in a couple of years -- the 2020 festival was canceled and we weren't up to traveling in 2021, when the festival was largely held outdoors and in the fall. This year its organizers are attempting a return to normalcy, with most of the festival moving indoors.

This will be the second airplane trip we've taken since everything shut down in March 2020. We used to fly three or four times a year; covid-19 has been hard on our frequent-flier status.

Tribeca is my favorite film festival, for reasons that have little to do with the movies there. I like New York City, and am excited about visiting a few favorite restaurants and walking those streets again. We've moved hotels this year -- we'll be closer to the Lower East Side where a lot of the press screenings will be held -- after spending a couple of years in a quirky Russian-run place near Houston and Broadway.

We once stayed in the famous Hotel Chelsea -- the subject of one of the documentaries at this year's festival. Before that we stayed in Tribeca itself -- at a hotel a couple of blocks from the ruins of the World Trade Center.

Film producer Jane Rosenthal and Robert De Niro started the festival as a reaction to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001; they saw it as a way to revitalize their wounded neighborhood.

We didn't make the first one, but we've made it to almost every festival since. They've always treated us well -- we've never had to plead for access to an event or been dismissed by an officious volunteer like at some other festivals we could name. Tribeca has always been well-run and accommodating to our ilk; they've never balked at supplying us with as many credentials as we need.

(Our Philadelphia-based critic Piers Marchant often covers Tribeca as well; this year he's covering it virtually, but we've often gotten together in the city for coffee or a slice and to talk about movies. His preview of the festival is elsewhere in this section, and Karen Martin's preview is the subject of her column in the Perspective section on Sunday.)

Unlike Sundance or Toronto, which are mainly showcases for feature films, my experience with Tribeca is that its nonfiction films are more interesting. This makes sense, given that Rosenthal, who is now CEO of Tribeca Enterprises, has said that Tribeca has always been an activist festival that never shies away from politics. There's a first-time award for environmental impact and a series of talks centered on storytelling by people of color.

Among the films that caught my eye in this year's schedule:

Jed Rothstein's "Rudy!: A Documusical," a political documentary that combines traditional interviews and archival footage with stylized theatrical scenes from a Rudy Giuliani musical to explore "the psyche and circumstances of a man in free-fall."

Cynthia Lowen's "Battleground," about diverse groups of women working to overturn Roe V. Wade.

"Endangered," which follows journalists working under duress in Brazil, Mexico City, and the U.S. (executive produced by Ronan Farrow and directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, the team that gave us "Jesus Camp" and "I Carry You with Me").

"The YouTube Effect," which promises a "timely and gripping journey inside the cloistered world of YouTube and parent Google," directed by Alex Winter who, despite being best known for playing the slacker Bill in 1989's "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" and its sequels "Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey" (1991) and "Bill & Ted Face the Music" (2020), has an interesting track record as a director, including tech documentaries "Downloaded" (2013) and "Deep Web" (2015).

This year's festival also looks to be heavy on music docs -- Netflix's Jennifer Lopez documentary "Halftime" had its world premiere as the festival's opening night film, and Taylor Swift will present her 2021 film "All Too Well: The Short Film" uptown at the Beacon Theatre (where a few years ago we watched a Patti Smith concert in which she was joined onstage by Bruce Springsteen and Michael Stipe).

I don't think we'll make it that far uptown on this trip, but we always leave room for serendipitous exploration, so there's always a chance.


If you've followed this section for any length of time, you probably understand that we don't pay much attention to the business of movie distribution and presentation. We give you the weekly box office numbers, but other than that don't spend much time worrying about which film won the weekend or whether a given movie met or exceeded or fell short of the expectations of its investors.

It's not because that stuff isn't important -- never let anyone tell you money isn't important -- it's just that we prefer to focus on the aesthetic and philosophical qualities of the movies. We want to try to make sense of them, to figure out how and why they might matter to our particular constituency, which we imagine to be a cadre of informed moviegoers.

Besides, we're not well-positioned to cover the movie business from our flyover vantage point.

Still, I was talking to a friend in the industry the other day, who indicated that while day-to-day box office business is still below 2019 levels, would-be blockbusters like "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" and "Top Gun: Maverick" have significantly outperformed industry projects.

He expects "Jurassic World: Dominion" to bring in more than $200 million this weekend. And that Baz Luhrman's "Elvis," opening June 24, will likely be the biggest opening movie of the summer.

What seems clear is that while streaming services, covid-19 and perhaps a general malaise have depressed box office receipts, people are still willing to turn out for big-movie spectacle. There's probably some pent-up demand for these oversized productions, and the spacing between tent pole movies this summer has worked out to their mutual advantage. Nothing is going to challenge "Elvis" later this month, just like nothing challenged "Doctor Strange" or "Top Gun: Maverick."

More and more, I think we'll see mid-major dramas and comedies migrating to streaming services, leaving the big blow-'em-ups to fight it out in the theatrical arena. Or, like this summer, to not fight it out.


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