From music docs to actors directing to the first time, Tribeca 2023 has plenty of exciting new films to offer. Here are some of our faves.
The Tribeca Film Festival always arrives at a funny time in the annual film fest season: The starry, optimistic highs of Sundance and SXSW are behind us, and the big international voices are reeling from what was shown to them at Cannes. But we’re also not quite at the fall fest season, where TIFF and NYFF (and more niche genre fests we love, like Fantasia and Fantastic Fest) haven’t quite happened yet. It’s up to Tribeca to usher us through the summer months, giving us a slew of new releases to chew on for a little while.
While previous years have felt hampered by COVID-era delays and other release hiccups, 2023 feels like a bit of a return to form, with a bevy of exciting titles to look forward to. It’s the year of actors-turned-directors, with acclaimed performers getting behind the director’s chair for either the first (Chelsea Peretti, Michael Shannon) or latest (Steve Buscemi) time. There are also a host of music docs exploring everyone from Gloria Gaynor to Cyndi Lauper, and the much-anticipated release of a filmed theatrical performance of Waitress! The Musical‘s Broadway run.
In anticipation of this year’s festival, which runs June 7th-18th in New York City, here’s a rundown of the titles we’re most excited about — some big names, and a lot of interesting projects we feel could use more eyes.
Tribeca 2023: Our 15 Most Anticipated Films
The Boys‘ Erin Moriarty and Suicide Squad‘s Jai Courtney star in this barn-burner of a desert thriller, as a dysfunctional couple breaking down in the Big Bend desert. Moriarty’s character is ready to split — only for another couple (Dina Shibabi and Ryan Corr) to arrive from the big city and send all four of them down a suffocating spiral of jealousy, frayed relationships, and more.
Michael Shannon steps behind the camera for this adaptation of the 2002 Brett Neveu play about a mother (Judy Greer) grappling with the impact of her son’s decision to kill three of his classmates in a school shooting. Her husband (Alexander Skarsgård) seeks comfort in faith, Janice’s is shaken; she’s invited to meet with the mothers of her son’s victims, even as she questions whether or not that will truly help her — or any of them — heal.
It’s a brilliant showcase for Greer, with shades of Fran Kranz’s Mass in its commitment to digging deep into the wounds created by such tragedies — and what forgiveness and grace can even look like in situations like these.
First Time Female Director
On the other side of the actor-turned-director coin is Chelsea Peretti, with her gut-busting ensemble comedy called, well you guessed it, First Time Female Director. Peretti plays Sam, a small local playwright suddenly thrust into the director’s chair after her play’s director is fired for misconduct. There, she learns directing ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, from obstinant cast members to the ever-present realities of getting local theater produced at all.
Knowing Peretti’s wry humor, and the supporting cast she surrounds herself with (Megan Mullaly, Kate Berlant, Blake Anderson, and more), it’s sure to be a charmer. Between this and Theater Camp (which we loved out of Sundance), drama kids should be eating good this year.
The directorial debuts from actors keep coming, this time a sizzling feminist mob drama from The Boys and Blue Bloods‘ Jennifer Esposito (who also writes and executive produces). Here, she plays the matriarch of a New York crime family who, alongside her daughters (Odessa A’Zion and Emily Bader), must navigate the capricious men around them and the veneer of violence that lays over everything they do. Not only that, they’ve got designs on carving out a piece of the pie for themselves. Annabella Sciorra and Domenick Lombardozzi co-star.
It’s quite the year for school-shooting movies, though to be fair, America has no shortage of inspiration these days. Mina Sundwall (Lost in Space) plays Genevieve, a high school senior graduating amid the shadow of a school shooting a year prior. She’s not the only one; a pall lays over everyone in Genevieve’s life, from her mother (Maria Dizzia) to the school’s basketball coach (a mesmerizing, haunting John Cho).
Chloé Zhao executive produces this feature directorial debut from Hannah Peterson, which looks to dive deeply into the ripples that tear through communities after devastating events like this — no doubt employing the vulnerable naturalism Zhao’s work is known for.
Difficult dilemmas don’t just happen Earthside this Tribeca, as Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s orbital thriller I.S.S. makes all too clear. Above the Earth’s atmosphere, the International Space Station plays host to astronauts both American (Ariana DeBose, Chris Messina, John Gallagher Jr.) and Russian (Pilou Asbæk, Masha Mashkova, Costa Ronin), each side cooperating happily in the interests of human advancement. But when war appears to break out between the US and Russia, and both sides receive conflicting orders to take the station at all costs, that fragile community begins to break down in tense ways.
Shades of Gravity and Ad Astra, with a soupcon of Sunshine, coalesce in this interstellar thriller that’s less about space-age spectacle and more about the fuzzy lines between personal and political allegiance. It’s a tense, claustrophobic affair, with impressive space-age effects considering its almost certainly modest budget.
Documentarian extraordinaire Sam Pollard (MLK/FBI) returns with yet another searing portrait of Black exclusion from the American Experiment, alongside Summer of Soul director Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson (who EPs). Here, Pollar turns his eye to the Negro Leagues, charting the ways Black people innovated the sport of baseball long before they were invited to enjoy the fruits of their invention. Pollard’s work always rings with a kind of stark sociopolitical immediacy; The League delineates clearly the ways anti-Blackness in sports of the past ripple through into the present. Don’t miss this one, sports fans.
Let the Canary Sing
Girls may want to have fun, and so does director Alison Ellwood, whose Cyndi Lauper Let the Canary Sing is a boisterous chronicle of the Go-Gos singer and ’80s icon. For as much as her notoriety is cemented in her New Wave pop sound, Lauper’s influence and longevity get plenty of mileage in this doc, particularly in interviews with Lauper herself. For those looking to shy away from hard-hitting exposes on a musical artist and just want to vibe with one of pop’s bubbliest, most uplifting presences, this one is right up their alley.
Beth (Tessa Thompson) is a nighttime crisis hotline volunteer; every night, she listens to people in the worst moments of their lives, doing what she can to help them through what are often unfathomable circumstances. Steve Buscemi’s The Listener charts one of those evenings, an intimate chamber piece in which Beth visits one caller in crisis after another (keep an ear out for well-known voices on the other side of the line, like Rebecca Hall and Alia Shawkat), to riveting and empathetic effect.
For those Tár-heads who like their female conductors with a little less predation, Maggie Contreras’ documentary on a competition centered around all-female orchestra conductors should be a welcome balm. Equal parts barn-burning feminist statement and cheeky sports movie, Maestra delves deep into the joys and burdens women face in the composing world: the rampant sexism, the concerns about motherhood interfering with their craft, the do-or-die spirit of competition. And yet, Maestra remains a breeze, centered on the thrills of victory and the agonies of musical defeat.
Lebanese-American filmmaker Jude Chehab makes a hell of a statement with her first documentary, a personal doc following her relationship with her mother, Hiba. Hiba is a devoutly Muslim woman, a member of an all-female sect operating underground for decades, whose strictness has caused a rift between the two. Over the course of the film, Jude questions Hiba about her faith, its strict principles, and the places it intersects with the needs of her own family. Family and religious drama all rolled into one, amid a corner of Islam rarely touched by most filmmakers.
Olivia West Lloyd’s three-hander thriller sees a kidnapping victim named Meg (Jennifer Kim) struggling to readjust to normal life by heading to a woodside compound owned by her husband’s (Kentucker Audley) wealthy family. But when his haughty cousin Madelin (Marin Ireland) arrives, the tension ramps up, Meg’s sense of reality becomes disrupted — bingo, bango, bongo, you’ve got an atmospheric, tense debut feature.
Kramer vs. Kramer, but make it Pride? Bill Oliver’s queer drama centers around a long-married gay couple (Billy Porter and Luke Evans) who are finally ready to call it quits, but struggle to figure out how to tell their friends and family — and what to do with their young son. While so many queer stories center around the bloom of young love, or the tragedy of persecution, Our Son explores the messy middle-ground in between: What happens when a gay couple simply can’t make it work anymore?
Songs About F**king
After his Twitch streams and stream-of-consciousness songwriting turned him into a pandemic sensation, robe-clad musical madman Marc Rebillet is embarking on his first national tour. James Gallagher’s doc, Songs About Fucking, is a beautiful, intense, thoughtful look at Rebillet’s TExas upbringing, how that informed his devil-may-care, Andrew-WK-in-right-boxers stage persona, and the almost cult-like impact he’s had on his fans and obsessives.
Australian conflict documentarian Jordan Bryon is used to life on the front lines; however, his latest assignment — embedding himself with a Commander of the Taliban during the early days of post-withdrawal Afghanistan — is further complicated by the fact that Jordan is trans, and is in the early stages of his gender transition. Thus, we get a portrait of the lengths to which trans people will try to find the truth, both about themselves and their surroundings, while we get an acute portrait of the dangerous trans people face, especially in countries that are this hostile to gender expression.