Considering how the format has exploded in popularity over the last few years, it’s perhaps not surprising to discover that documentaries made up a significant chunk of the lineup at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. One of them, “Halftime,” even landed the coveted opening night slot (though the fact that the subject of the film, Jennifer Lopez, would be in attendance probably helped a little bit in regards to that decision). Over the course of the festival, there were films on subjects that included: New York’s legendary Chelsea Hotel (Maya Duverdier and Amelie van Elmbt’s “Dreaming Walls,” an affecting look at some of the current residents as they meditate on the locale’s storied past and their uncertain place in its future after an extended renovation); the contemporary nudist colony experience (Patrick Bresnan and Ivete Lucas’ “Naked Gardens,” a fly-on-the-wall observation of the residents of a Florida colony going about their daily lives); and ecologically-minded fashion (Becky Hutner’s “Fashion Reimagined,” which offers an eye-opening look at rising British designer Amy Powney’s efforts to create a clothing line in which every aspect of the process is done in a sustainable manner). Hell, one documentary, Camilla Hall and Jennifer Tiexiera’s “Subject,” goes so far as to focus on people who have been the subjects of previous documentaries (including “Hoop Dreams,” “The Wolfpack,” “Capturing the Friedmans,” and, perhaps inevitably, “The Staircase”) in an occasionally provocative meditation on how ordinary lives can be affected once their personal stories have been presented to the world for consumption.
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Not surprisingly, a number of films focused on various elements of popular culture. On the musical end of things, Ethan Silverman’s “Angelheaded Hipster: The Songs of Marc Bolan & T. Rex” offered up a standard but entertaining look at the life and legacy of the glam rock legend via archival clips, talking head interviews with contemporaries of the late singer, and in-studio footage of artists ranging from U2 to Nick Cave to Maria McKee as they record a number of his songs for a 2020 tribute album of the same name. Ben Chace’s “Music Pictures: New Orleans” is the latest of a recent string of films focusing on the history of the city’s musical legacy and its attempts to return to its former glory in the face of both Hurricane Katrina and COVID, this time focusing on local legends Irma Thomas, Benny Jones Sr., Little Freddie King and the Marsalis family through performance footage. Although not necessarily about music per se, “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” does prominently feature an iconic musician John Lennon, by recounting the story of his 18-month-long romantic relationship with assistant May Pang (supposedly at the insistence of Yoko Ono), a much-discussed, if little-understood episode in his life that is, for once, told from the perspective of Pang herself. Although Pang does make for an engaging guide, the story never quite adds up to the grand romance it positions itself to be, though Beatlemaniacs will no doubt find it intriguing.
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Professional sports were represented by such films as “Unfinished Business,” Alison Klayman’s often-fascinating look at the legacy of the WNBA by studying both its past and its present, the latter via a look at the 2021 season of the New York Liberty; “McEnroe,” Barney Douglas’ surprisingly listless film featuring tennis legend John McEnroe offering up his side to the story of his often-controversial career; and “Kaepernick & America,” a stirring portrait from Ross Hockrow and Tommy Walker about quarterback Colin Kaepernick and how his public decision to take a knee during the National Anthem as a way of protesting police brutality short-circuited his career but made him an icon of the contemporary social justice movement. Outside of the sports arena, children of the Eighties could enjoy the likes of “All Man: The International Male Story,” “Billion Dollar Babies: The True Story of the Cabbage Patch Kids,” and “Butterfly in the Sky,” straightforward nostalgia bath treatments of their respective subjects: the “International Male” catalogue, the groundbreaking Cabbage Patch Kids toy fad and the PBS series “Reading Rainbow.”
On the literary side of things, Lizzie Gottlieb’s “Turn Every Page” examines the long working relationship between legendary author Robert Caro and the equally esteemed editor Robert Gottlieb (the filmmaker’s father) from their first collaboration, the groundbreaking work The Power Broker to their most celebrated work, a multi-volume biography on the life of Lyndon Johnson whose final volume is still being worked on. The film is a fascinating look at two literary giants, and is an absolute must for anyone remotely interested in the writing process, though some viewers may find themselves wishing that the two would stop talking to the cameras and get back to work.
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