Wading through the muck of Tribeca’s programming is always a tricky business. It’s gotten a bit easier in recent years, as the festival’s gotten a bit smaller, and thus more selective. Still, with so many World Premieres from relatively unknown filmmakers (not, in and of itself, a bad thing by any means), programming often seems driven more by the recognizable names in the cast than by the quality of the filmmaking. How else to explain the past inclusion of movies like the B-list-star-studded The Chameleon (based on the same story as the far superior doc The Imposter) or the horrendous James Franco vehicle Shadows & Lies nee William Vincent?)

Tribeca has always been stronger with documentaries (The Arbor, The Woodmans) and foreign features, particularly those from the Middle East and Asia (Encounter Point, Defamation, About Elly). I also appreciate the reckless adventurousness of their Midnight section (Dream Home, The House of the Devil). And while they still show an occasional clunker, their average is improving. In fact, two of my favorite films of recent years, James Westby‘s Rid of Me and Jannicke Systad Jacobsen‘s Turn Me On, Dammit! had their World Premieres there in 2011. I accidentally stumbled into the former, and heard about the latter from a single fellow critic whose opinion I trusted. (Thanks, Perry!) I certainly wouldn’t have recommended either one before seeing it.

So here’s an alphabetical list of my most anticipated films of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival. To keep this useful, I am avoiding more obvious choices that you’ve probably heard about by now (Before Midnight, Byzantium, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Prince Avalanche, all of which I expect are worth seeing) in favor of premieres and other films that haven’t gotten so much attention.

almost-christmasAlmost Christmas d. Phil Morrison

I almost skipped over this one on the schedule, based solely on the title. Then I saw the director’s name, and sure enough, it’s the same guy who made the superbly acted, funny, discomfiting, emotionally and morally complex, grownup Junebug way back in 2005. Remember, back when you’d never heard of Amy Adams? That—combined with the otherwise suspicion-arousing fact that it stars Paul Rudd, Paul Giamatti, and Sally Hawkins—is more than enough to pique my interest.

Big Men d. Rachel Boynton

The director of Our Brand is Crisis takes on another international political story, this time examining how oil companies operate in African countries like Ghana. If it’s as smart and pointed as her last film, delineating complex issues with wit and insight, it could be one of this year’s better offerings.

Dancing in Jaffa d. Hilla Medalia

I am a sucker for these hopeful stories of Israelis and Palestinians finding a way to get along. Lucky for me, Tribeca seems to show at least one every year. This one is about cantankerous dance instructor Pierre Dulaine teaching children ballroom dancing, forcing them to confront their prejudices in the process. Will it oversimplify the political complexities of the region? I hope not, but if so, it had better be extra cute.

flexiskingsFlex is Kings d. Michael Beach Nichols and Deidre Schoo

Hmmn, another dance documentary. Not exactly my genre, but having seen some footage from this Kickstarter-funded work, it seems to have been made with energy and passion. Flex looks at a group of Brooklyn street performers who engage in a style of dance known as “flexing.”

Hide Your Smiling Faces d. Daniel Patrick Carbone

This looks like a gorgeously shot, bucolic tale of two young brothers dealing with the harsh realities of life and death. Kickstarter partially funded the miniscule budget. Think early David Gordon Green maybe. Mostly unknowns in the cast, which is a good sign, from my perspective (see above).

The Kill Team d. Dan Krauss

Krauss is a veteran documentarian, and this is an important and powerful story of American soldiers murdering civilians in Afghanistan—and of one soldier in particular whose attempt at whistleblowing was ignored, and who later joined in his unit’s crimes under duress. It’s one of those stories that you read about and struggle to understand. Hopefully Krauss’s film will offer us an entry point.

Let the Fire Burn d. Jason Osder

Another hot-button documentary, this one focuses on the bombing of the radical group MOVE by the Philadelphia police on May 13, 1985. The resulting fire killed six adults and five children while the fire department stood by for over an hour. Osder uses archival footage to bring immediacy to this tragic and baffling story.

michaelhprofessionMichael H Profession: Director d. Yves Montmayer

Despite the work of its subject, Michael Haneke, this actually looks like one of the more lighthearted docs showing at Tribeca this year. It’s been well-reviewed in Austria and in the UK, where it’s already been released. With the success of Amour, Haneke has taken yet another step toward the kind of international respectability we once believed he had no interest in. Montmayer, who’s made documentaries about Chris Doyle, Juliette Binoche, and Japanese “Pink” films, seems like the right man to give us some insight into Haneke’s life and work.

Stand Clear of the Closing Doors d. Sam Fleischner

Fleischner co-directed the underrated Wah Do Dem, and this is a great New York story, based on actual events, about an autistic boy who disappears into the subway system in the days leading up to Hurricane Sandy. Another Kickstarter project, and from what I’ve seen, I’m fairly confident that it will be worthwhile. Maybe I will learn something for when I eventually disappear into the subway system.

Teenage d. Matt Wolf

Another documentary, yes, because they are usually the safest bets here. Based on Jon Savage‘s acclaimed book, Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture, the film takes a look at the history of the concept of the teenager, and the struggle between young people and adults to define “youth.” Wolf directed the well-received Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell a few years back.


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