Tinsel Town may be the film capital, but for the next week the Big Apple becomes the epicenter of the movie world. Every year the Tribeca Film Festival heralds some of the best independent films, that you might not otherwise have a chance to see. This year’s selections range from following the world-renowned street artist JR to tailing the internet celebrity cat Lil Bub. The Mass Appeal team sifted through the plethora of films being screened over the next week to bring you our Top 10 selects that we know you won’t want to miss.
Flex Is Kings
Reem is the savvy promoter, Flizzo the undefeated local legend, Jay Donn the innovator with the talent to carry him far away from home, if he can learn to work with the outsiders who want to take him there. What unites them: a competitive dance form of dramatic contortions, simulated violence, seamlessly flowing footsteps and the occasional humorous touch. Welcome to the world of Flex.
Filmmakers Deidre Schoo and Michael Beach Nichols travel to the edge of both Brooklyn and street performance for this portrait of a rapidly growing local dance style. Their ringside view of Flex’s head-to-head battles is only the beginning. Majestic choreographed set pieces by Flex’s boldest artists are set against the evolving futures of Flizzo, Jay Donn and the form itself, showing how these artists define new identities through dance while confronting trouble at home and in their neighborhoods. Flex Is Kings is a sparkling testament to the freeing power of art and a powerful visual celebration of the beauty born when raw energy is directed toward the creative process.
—Arthur Ryel-Lindsey (For Tribeca Film Festival)
Inside Out: The People’s Art Project
A wall can be a barrier. It can be a structure of limitation or a source of repression. For the Inside Out Project, a wall is a canvas, and so are sides of trains, the arches of bridges and the steps leading to Brooklyn brownstones. This fascinating documentary tracks the evolution of the world’s largest participatory art project, the wildly popular Inside Out. From Haiti to Tunisia, South Dakota to the streets of Paris, French artist JR motivates communities to define their most important causes by pasting giant portraits in the street, testing the limits of what they thought possible. The power of paper turns people who feel without voice into unlikely activists by empowering them with their own images.
Alastair Siddons artfully curates each geographic vignette with a combination of breathtaking urban landscapes and introspective explorations of individuality. Perfectly capturing both the hope and heartbreak within each story, Inside Out is a call to action for anyone who believes in the role that art can play in transforming lives.
—Ashley Havey (For Tribeca Film Festival)
Stand Clear of the Closing Doors
Autistic teen Ricky lives in Far Rockaway, Queens, and while his family struggles with economic hardship, he faces the difficulties of fitting in at school. When he is scolded for skipping class, he escapes into the subway, embarking on a days-long underground odyssey among the subway’s disparate denizens as his mother wages an escalating search effort above ground. As the two parallel stories of mother and son unfold, Hurricane Sandy closes in on the city.
Filmed in the Rockaways, in part during last year’s devastating storm, Stand Clear of the Closing Doors is a film firmly rooted in its community Local director Sam Fleischner demonstrates a remarkable sense of place, both of the rarely filmed Rockaway streets and beaches and the iconic New York City subway, reawakening the viewer to its beauty, strangeness and magic. Experiencing both sides of the city through Ricky’s sensitive eyes, the audience takes a touching, sometimes fantastical journey of community and connection in and below New York City.
—Cara Cusumano (For Tribeca Film Festival)
Who Shot Rock & Roll
Hear the stories behind rock history’s most enduring images. This film features interviews, photographs and never-before-seen footage spotlighting the work of rock photographers Edward Colver, Henry Diltz, Jill Furmanovsky, Lynn Goldsmith, Bob Gruen, Norman Seeff, Mark Seliger, Guy Webster and, in a special segment, Linda McCartney. Also included are iconic songs by Blondie, The Doors, KISS, Led Zeppelin, Oasis, The Rolling Stones, The Sex Pistols, The Who and more.
Lil Bub & Friendz
Called “the most famous cat on the Internet,” the wide-eyed perma-kitten Lil Bub is the adorable embodiment of the web’s fascination with all things cats. Born with a rare congenital condition that leaves her features perpetually kitten-like, Bub has won over millions of online fans through her YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram sites, which her owner Mike Bridavsky faithfully maintains. Eager to meet the rest of the web’s famous cats, Mike and Bub hit the road on a wild cross-country romp to get to know all of the Internet’s biggest cat-lebrities: Nyan Cat, Grumpy Cat, the late Keyboard Cat and a few aspiring new cat starlets. They even cross paths with Ben Lashes, the world’s first meme manager, and make an appearance at the inaugural Cat Video Film Festival.
Chock full of adorable kitties, hilarious videos and the dedicated cat enthusiasts who love them, Lil Bub & Friendz is a fun and hip peek behind the curtain of the memes we know and love. A first-of-its-kind exploration of the undeniable phenomenon of memes and viral videos, it is anchored in a timeless boy-and-his-dog—er, cat—story.
—Cara Cusumano (For Tribeca Film Festival)
The Cyclone, The Freakshow, The Mermaid Parade: all Coney Island icons. But for Chris “Wonder” Schoeck, the legend of the Coney Island Strongman has always been the purest source of child-like fascination. Working as a personal trainer but searching for a place in a world in which he has yet to find his niche, Chris sets his sights on joining a mix of living legends and young aspirants who seek to ride the latest cultural wave straight to the boardwalk.
Director Dave Carroll’s moving documentary follows the sweet, unassuming Schoeck as he attempts to parlay his extraordinary strength into a stage career, despite his debilitating shyness and aversion to performance. Training with the elite group of men who, using their bodily strength alone, bend, drag, twist and shred metal, Chris quickly realizes the size of the physical and mental challenge before him. In pursuit of his lifelong dream, Chris embarks on a surprisingly emotional journey, proving that growing up does not mean giving up.
—Liza Domnitz (For Tribeca Film Festival)
Skateboarding is a four billion dollar market and one of the top three sports for boys under the age of eighteen. Adam Bhala Lough (Bomb the System) returns to Tribeca with this inspiring, behind-the-scenes look at that remarkable legacy, as eight of the world’s best skateboarders prepare for the annual street league competition held in New York. Founded by Rob Dyrdek of MTV’s Rob & Big, Street League is where true credibility is fought for and earned, as these professional skateboarders lay it all on the line. Leading up to the contest, each contender must overcome unique challenges—family pressures, injuries, money, fame and their own internal struggles—for a chance to win the big cash prize and coveted title of best street skateboarder in the world.
With a combined Twitter following of five-and-a-half million, the skaters in The Motivation include Ryan Sheckler, Paul Rodriguez and Nyjah Huston. Lough’s assured direction and intimate footage of them as they prepare to display their best tricks in one impressive, custom-made park celebrates the world’s unyielding fascination and love affair with skateboarding’s utter simplicity and freedom. Four wheels and a bit of wood never looked so good.
—Genna Terranova (For Tribeca Film Festival)
The Rider And The Storm
A surfer, New Yorker and Freedom Tower ironworker, Timmy Brennan lost everything in the Breezy Point fires during Hurricane Sandy. Through the kindness of strangers, he is given a new board and finds hope riding the same ocean that shattered his community.
Set against the lush backdrop of rural Laos, this spirited drama tells the story of scrappy ten-year-old Ahlo, who yearns to break free from his ill-fated destiny. After his village is displaced to make way for a massive dam, Ahlo escapes with his father and grandmother through the Laotian outback in search of a new home. Along the way, they come across a rocket festival that offers a lucrative—but dangerous—chance for a new beginning. With the help of his new friend Kia and her eccentric, James Brown-loving uncle, Ahlo sets out to build his own rocket, enter the contest and prove his worth to his family.
Australian filmmaker Kim Mordaunt—whose documentary Bomb Harvest investigated Laos’s status as the most bombed country in the world—returned to make this fable-like drama, one of its first internationally released feature films. The Rocket’s characters, mostly played by non-professional actors, embody the spirit of resilience and hope born out of a country affected by a legacy of war and undergoing a great economic change.
—Ian Hollander (For Tribeca Film Festival)
The Broken Circle Breakdown
Punky Elise runs a tattoo shop. Cowboy Didier plays banjo in a bluegrass band. When they meet, it’s love at first sight. When they move into a homey old farmhouse where their daughter Maybelle is born, their happiness is complete. But when a crisis strikes the hopeful new family, these two very different lovers are forced to fight for their marriage together. Elise finds comfort in religion, while Didier clings to the here-and-now, and the two find their love and faith tested as they drift farther away from each other, grasping for moments of connection amid their rousing country concerts.
Flemish director Felix van Groeningen follows up his acclaimed Cannes entry The Misfortunates with this powerhouse melodrama. Cutting between moments in time in an increasingly sophisticated play with linearity, van Groeningen weaves together and ultimately fuses the highs and lows of one tragic romance in a timeless tale of star-crossed lovers. Winner of the Audience Award at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, The Broken Circle Breakdown is an epic, crowd-pleasing, tear-jerking, one-of-a-kind musical romance.
—Cara Cusumano (For Tribeca Film Festival)