Last Updated: June 16, 2023By Tags:

It’s so wonderful to see in-person film festivals having returned with gusto. Even though I wasn’t able to travel to New York for Tribeca, thanks to the miracle of the hybrid format—refined thanks to the covid pandemic—I was able to check out an amazing amount of documentaries and narratives. Check out below for a roundup of some of the best festival entries I saw for this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

Director: Sav Rodgers

Kevin Smith’s 1997 comedy “Chasing Amy,” in which a straight man (Ben Affleck) falls for a lesbian (Joey Lauren Adams), was considered a touchstone of late-20th century gay cinema. So it was for Sav Rodgers, who admits to the camera to having watched “Chasing Amy” well over a hundred times. Now a young adult, Rodgers not only seeks to meet Smith, but also reexamine the “problematic” nature of “Chasing Amy” from the hindsight of a quarter-century. Many of Rodgers’s subjects decry Smith even deigning to write a story about a lesbian character, while others take particular umbrage at the lesbian character falling in love with a man. These are indeed discussions worth having, both to gauge where we as a culture have come since 1997, but also a reminder that any art is a reflection of the time in which it was made—and thus should not necessarily be singed beneath the self-righteous glare of hindsight.

Crucially, Rodgers—who over the course of the film comes out as a trans man—is able to find Smith and Adams, both of whom agree to interviews. Smith is his usual buoyant self; he doesn’t specifically “apologize” for “Chasing Amy,” but he’s also mature enough to admit, in middle age, how modern audiences might see a film he made in his 20s as problematic. And Adams, who was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance in that film, sits for Rodgers’s camera in the doc’s most searing interview, in which she recounts that her acting career never quite panned out as she wished—partially, she posits, due to the machinations of Smith’s onetime patron, none other than Harvey Weinstein.

“Chasing Chasing Amy” is far more than a look back or “making of” documentary. Rodgers has fashioned both a personal filmic essay about a favorite movie as well as a nuanced reminder that art of any sort, once cast in stone, is forever…even if our opinions about it may change.

Director: Henry Roosevelt

Young Maya Kowalski went to the hospital one day with mysterious pains. Shortly thereafter, she became a ward of the State of Florida, with her worried parents Jack and Beata forbidden to even see her. The doctors at Johns Hopkins actually accuse Maya’s parents of faking her condition—and that somehow this tender 10-year-old, who is in so much pain, is guilty of Munchausen Syndrome.

Jack and Beata are turned away by the authorities; friends and advocates do their best, but still they are unable to be with Maya at her bedside. This leads to domestic disputes between the couple, who must also raise their son at the same time. Beata, a nurse by trade, especially cannot bear being away from Maya—while being accused of being a negligent parent. Beata decides to record her conversations with the hospital staff, but both she and Maya are continually gaslit again and again.

Then it gets worse. And worse still. While Maya was eventually discharged from the hospital after 92 days in “custody” away from her parents, her pain—as well as her family’s—has just begun.

Director Henry Roosevelt presents one family’s hopeful wish for justice, even as the medical and judicial systems continually fail them.

Director: Jeanie Finlay

Aubrey Gordon wants you to know that she’s fat. Her blog, Your Fat Friend, has been a totem of body positivity as well as a lightning rod for angry trolls. But Gordon, who self-describes as being riddled with anxiety, pressed on—eventually coming out from behind her anonymous handle with her book “What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat.”

Jeanie Finlay’s documentary follows Gordon as she decides to “out” herself as the blogger. During her book tour, several people thank her for her honest work and pressing for body positivity. Gordon is an extraordinary figure and a case study in persistence and bravery.

Director: Maggie Contreras

Orchestral conducting has historically been a good-ol-boys club, but “Maestra” introduces us to several incredibly capable ensemble leaders who happen to be women. Maggie Contreras trains her cameras on “La Maestra,” the world’s only competition specifically geared to female conductors.

It’s incredibly exciting to watch these extraordinary musicians behind the podium giving their all not only trying to win the competition but getting the best possible performances out of the musicians. Unsurprisingly, we learn that, even in an era of progress, sexism continues to rear its ugly head. Pregnancy affects their career chances, as several tell the cameras. One contestant is even told “you should smile more”—an old gender-based canard.

“Maestra” is a fascinating fly-on-the-wall travelogue with some of the world’s most capable ensemble leaders. Contreras, with her 80 percent female crew, is out to show that even though much progress has been made in the classical music world, there is much room for improvement.

Directors: C. Fraser Press and Darren Press

This searing animated short recreates the story of Mulugeta Seraw, an Ethiopian immigrant to America struggling to not only learn about a new culture but also maintain ties to his ancestral home. While a college student in Oregon, Seraw was murdered by white supremacists, leaving behind not only unanswered questions but also a young son struggling to understand such violence and hatred.

This unusual, provocative film contains a poetic beauty in its animated passages, which render in dreamy realization an old Ethiopian proverb that goes “I have a cow in the sky but cannot drink her milk.” Parts of the short rely upon contemporary video, but the animation is able to render less horribly the terror visited upon Seraw—and teach us all something in the meantime.

Directors: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman

In a marathon, day-long performance at Brooklyn’s St. Ann’s Warehouse, drag star Taylor Mac stages a show that takes beholders on a tour through two centuries of American popular music—which provides as much insight into the nation’s mythos as it does the changes in art that have accompanied this still-young country’s growth.

Mac, out of costume, sits for later interviews to reflect upon the performance, as well as this “alternative” historical tour through U.S. history. At a time when certain politicians are out to quash any performances of the sort, Mac is a figure of poise and strength—and to be able to sing for a full day, with the energy Mac displays, is a feat in and of itself.

Director: Jane M. Wagner

In the world of online gaming, one of the most celebrated figures was Narcissa Wright, whose virtuosity with a recent Zelda game endeared the player to millions of fans. However, that all changed when Wright came out as trans. Despite the online hate, Wright decided that the best way to win back some of her fans is to press on. Wright’s aim is to break the online record of the Zelda game “Breath of the Wild,” and live-stream the quest for all to behold.

Wright admits an addiction to attention, and thus is unable to turn away from the very medium of communication that brings her both love and hate. And director Jane M. Wagner inserts us into Wright’s reality in the best way possible: via the screen of the online portal. Thus there are no later interviews; we watch Wright as everyone on the internet watched her, whether that’s playing Zelda or sleeping or finding a new potential romantic interest.

This is experimental filmmaking, expands the bounds of the form, and Wagner has condensed so much footage into a brisk documentary wherein we are beholder of Wright’s unique quest.

Directors: Heather Courtney, Princess A. Hairson and Chelsea Hernandez

That the news industry is rife with misogyny and sexism isn’t surprising, but these enterprising entrepreneurs decided that, rather than complain, they would start a media outlet of their own called The 19th—named in honor of the amendment that gave women the right to vote. The documentary follows co-founders Emily Ramshaw and Amanda Zamora as they hustle for funding and respectability for the nonprofit organization The 19th while seeking to report on stories that specifically affect women and the LGBTQ community. But, as the pandemic hits in 2020 the mission became ever more difficult.

“News” is an engaging behind-the-curtain look at the story behind the news as well as a diverse group of hires brought on to tell more of the full story.

Director: Chris Temple and Zach Ingrasci

I’m a sucker for many things, but cryptocurrency isn’t one of them. Maybe I am missing out, as “This Is Not Financial Advice” subject and Dogecoin wizard Glauber Contessoto is seen in the documentary racking up quite a take-home as his vapor money increases and increases in value…at first.

The “crypto bro” culture is on ample display in this film, with all of its excesses and mysterious rituals as they chase invisible riches that exist only in a parallel realm. (No thanks.)

Directors: Jeff Malmberg and Morgan Neville

Chicago entrepreneur Bill Veeck bought the White Sox in 1975—but a few years thereafter, Comiskey Park became infamous for its notorious night of disco fire that resulted in much destruction. The documentary sees Veeck’s son, Mike, discussing his father’s larger-than-life legacy as both baseball fan and owner—first of the White Sox and later of several minor league teams. Talking heads include none other than Darryl Strawberry, once employed by Veeck, and live-action recreations of the elder Veeck’s life feature Charlie Day in a typically amusing performance.

Oh, and Michigan’s own Jeff Daniels—like Veeck a Midwesterner—narrates the doc.

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