Stars and storytellers orbit the universe of the Tribeca Film Festival, which kicks off its 15th edition April 14 with a documentary about the Met Costume Institute gala (“The First Monday in May”), perhaps the most celeb-saturated event on the Manhattan cultural calendar. As for stories? They’re not just coming from film.
Conceding that the best stuff really is on TV right now, TFF will include a collective binge-watch of programs “past, present and future” (a theme of this year’s festival, said a spokesperson Dubbed “Tribeca Tune In,” the section will include a return to the finale of “Six Feet Under” with creator Alan Ball providing live commentary; a sneak peek at the upcoming remake of “Roots”; multiple episodes of the new HBO series “The Night Of . . . ” followed by a conversation with star John Turturro and creators Steve Zaillian and novelist Richard Price. Also: the premiere of TNT’s upcoming “Animal Kingdom,” starring Ellen Barkin and based on the Australian drama of 2010. And “Greenleaf,” which marks Oprah Winfrey’s return to dramatic acting in a recurring role (and will air on OWN).
“Film is not the center of everything,” a TFF spokesperson said, and no, it’s clearly not. Like its southwestern counterpart, SXSW, which has been morphing more and more into a tech conference and away from cinema, Tribeca — with its focus on new storytelling technologies (TFI Interactive), digital gaming (“Games for Change”), web series, a digital creators market and, obviously, television — seems to be hedging its bets about the future of film.
Not that there aren’t movies. Or stars. Among the directors responsible for the 102 features and 74 shorts in this year’s festival are Danny DeVito, Katie Holmes, Demetri Martin, Matthew Modine, Ricky Gervais and Jason Bateman. Documentaries focus on the famous, including Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon (Liza Johnson’s “Elvis & Nixon”); soccer’s Pele (Jeff and Michael Zimbalist’s “Pele: Birth of a Legend”); the late, great Sidney Lumet (Nancy Buirski’s “By Sidney Lumet”); and Norwegian chess master Magnus Carlsen (Benjamin Ree’s “Magnus”). Social Issues? Tribeca’s got ’em: “haveababy” is cinematographer Amanda Micheli's look at a Las Vegas fertility clinic competition and the plight of would-be parents; in “Night School,” Andrew Cohn follows three Indianapolis adults with the decks stacked against them working for their high school diplomas. “Shadow World,” based on the Andrew Feinstein book and directed by Johan Grimonprez, examines the global arms trade.
Among the dramas destined for audience love are “Wolves,” a family and basketball story from writer-director Bart Freundlich and starring Michael Shannon and Carla Gugino; the Katie Holmes-directed “All We Had”; and Bateman’s “The Family Fang.”
Comedy may not be king at Tribeca, but it rules: “Robert Klein Still Can’t Stop His Leg” is film-critic-cum-film-director Marshall Fine’s portrait of the groundbreaking comedian; Ferne Pearlstein’s “The Last Laugh” asks whether the Holocaust is funny, combining film clips and interviewees (Mel Brooks, Sarah Silverman, Joan Rivers, Louis C.K., Chris Rock, the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman) with an intimate portrait of Auschwitz survivor Renee Firestone, and rare archival footage of concentration-camp cabarets. “The Loneliest Stoplight” is the latest from the twisted comedic mind of animator Bill Plympton.
Past, present and future? Silent comedy god Harold Lloyd will be seen in the classic “Safety Last” presented with a new score by DJ Z-Trip. And Robert De Niro, the festival’s co-founder, will get behind the wheel in a 40th anniversary presentation of “Taxi Driver.”