Popular
Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival.

16 Standout Films You Can Still Catch at Tribeca 2019

OkayAfrica's guide to the 18th annual Tribeca Film Festival that's currently underway.

The Tribeca Film Festival is now underway in New York, showcasing work from emerging and notable talent in the global film world. In it's 18th year, the festival's features program is set to present 103 films from 124 filmmakers. Out of the total feature films, 29 percent are helmed by directors of color.

Out of the 63 short films in competition, 31 are world premieres.

"We spent a great deal of time curating programs that reflect the diverse interests of our audiences," Sharon Badal, vice president of filmmaker relations and shorts programming, says. "This year we emphasize identity, community, and humanity while also entertaining our audience with some laughter, fun, and adventure."

We know that big, established festivals yield overwhelming options of films of note to check out. In the following rundown below, we list 16 features, shorts, VR experiences and documentaries we recommend you can't miss, with synopses from Tribeca below.


SEE YOU YESTERDAY

Two Brooklyn teenage prodigies, C.J. Walker and Sebastian Thomas, build make-shift time machines to save C.J.'s brother, Calvin, from being wrongfully killed by a police officer. Featuring Eden Duncan-Smith, Dante Crichlow and Astro.

Program: Viewpoints

Director + Co-Writer: Stefon Bristol

Co-Writer: Frederica Bailey

Producers: Spike Lee, Jason Sokoloff and Matt Myers

World Premiere

ALL ON A MARDI GRAS DAY

Photo by Gabriel Bienczycki, courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival.

In a gentrifying New Orleans, Demond is part of a secret culture called Mardi Gras Indians, African-American men who spend all year sewing feathered suits to decide who's "the prettiest."

Program: Life Preserver Shorts

Director + Writer: Michal Pietrzyk

New York Premiere

BURNING CANE

Photo by Phillip Youmans, courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival.

Set among the cane fields of rural Louisiana, 'Burning Cane' follows a deeply religious mother struggling to reconcile her convictions of faith with the love she has for her troubled son. Featuring Wendell Pierce, Karen Kaia Livers, Dominique McClellan and Braelyn Kelly.

Program: U.S. Narrative Competition

Director + Writer: Phillip Youmans

Producers: Wendell Pierce, Mose Mayer, Ojo Akinlana, Karen KaiaLivers, Cassandra Youmans and Phillip Youmans

World Premiere

ANOTHER DREAM

Still by Ado Ato Pictures, courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival.

Another Dream brings the gripping, true story of an Egyptian lesbian couple to life. Faced with a post-Revolution backlash against their community, they must choose between love and home.

Program: Storyscapes

Creator: Tamara Shogaolu of Ado Ato Pictures

Key Collaborators: Lauren Dubowski, Natalya Sarch, Nada El-Kouny, Anastasia Semenoff (alpha_rats), Martijn Zandvliet, Gata Mahardika, Ytje Veenstra, Audioimmersive.com

World Premiere

THE APOLLO

Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival.

The feature-length documentary weaves together archival footage, music, comedy and dance performances, and behind-the-scenes verité with the team that makes the theater run. Featuring interviews from Patti LaBelle, Pharrell Williams, Smokey Robinson, and Jamie Foxx.

Director: Roger Ross Williams

Festival Opener + World Premiere

GOLDIE

Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival.

Two Brooklyn teenage prodigies, C.J. Walker and Sebastian Thomas, build make-shift time machines to save C.J.'s brother, Calvin, from being wrongfully killed by a police officer. Featuring Eden Duncan-Smith, Dante Crichlow and Astro.

Program: Viewpoints

Director + Writer: Sam De Jong

Producers: Luca Borghese and Ben Howe

North American Premiere

TUCA & BERTIE

Tuca & Bertie is an animated comedy series about the friendship between two 30-year-old bird women who live in the same apartment building. It features Tuca, a cocky, carefree toucan, and Bertie, an anxious, daydreaming songbird. Featuring Tiffany Haddish and Ali Wong.

Program: TV

Creator: Lisa Hanawalt

Executive Producers: Lisa Hanawalt, Raphael Bob-Waksberg, Noel Bright, Steven A. Cohen, Tiffany Haddish, Ali Wong.

New Series World Premiere

ACCUSED NO. 2: WALTER SISULU

Illustration by Oerd Van Cuijlenborg, courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival.

A trove of 256 hours of sound archives of the Rivonia trial bring back to life the political battle waged by Nelson Mandela and his seven co-defendants against apartheid. This film looks at one of them in particular: Accused No. 2, Walter Sisulu.

Program: Tribeca Cinema360

Creators: Nicolas Champeaux & Gilles Porte

Key Collaborators: Oerd Van Cuijlenborg, Aurélien Godderis-Chouzenoux, Michaël Bolufer, Jérémy Pouilloux

LAZARUS

Image courtesy of Johan Hugo.

Lazarus is a short documentary following Lazarus Chigwandali, a street musician with Albinism from Malawi as he teams up with a London-based music producer to record his debut album. With Clem Kwizombe, Esau Mwamwaya, Johan Hugo, Ikponwosa Ero. In Chechewa, English with English subtitles.

Program: Shorts

Director: David Darg

World Premiere

THE REMIX: HIP HOP X FASHION

Photo by Niknaz Tavakolian, courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival.

The story of how hip hop changed fashion, leading to the stratospheric and global rise of street wear. It is a journey of African American creativity and the limitless possibilities of a cultural movement on a global scale. Featuring Misa Hylton, April Walker, Dapper Dan, Kerby Jean-Raymond.

Program: Movie Plus

Directors: Lisa Cortés + Farah X

Producer: Lisa Cortés

World Premiere

MERCY

Image courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival.

Edith, a 14-year-old from Cameroon, journeys through the jungle seeking life-transforming surgery to remove a tumor on her jaw.

Program: Tribeca Cinema360

Creators: Armando Kirwin

Key Collaborators: Sutu, Ruben Plomp, Emma Debany, AMK LTD, Oculus VR for Good

WHAT'S MY NAME: MUHAMMAD ALI

Rights of Publicity and Persona Rights: Muhammad Ali Enterprises LLC. Photo by Ken Regan © 2019 Muhammad Ali Enterprises LLC, courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival.

One of the most iconic figures in athletic history, Muhammad Ali's incredible story from world champion boxer to inspiring social activist is explored through his own voice and never-before-seen archival material by acclaimed filmmaker Antoine Fuqua, with executive producers LeBron James and Maverick Carter.

Program: Spotlight Documentary

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Writer: Steven Leckart

Producer: Sean Stuart

World Premiere

A KID FROM CONEY ISLAND

Photo by Andy Chan, courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival.

From the streets of Coney Island to the NBA, the story of basketball star Stephon Marburyreveals that often life is about the journey, not the destination—and the unexpected places your dreams may take you.

Program: Spotlight Documentary

Directors + Writers: Chike Ozah and Coodie Simmons

Producers: Nina Yang Bongiovi, Forest Whitaker and Jason Samuels

World Premiere

THE WEEKEND

Photo by James R. Robinson, courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival.

A stand-up comic who's been struggling to get over her ex finds herself instead awkwardly third-wheeling her way through a weekend getaway alongside him and his new girlfriend in this warm, wry comedy. Featuring Sasheer Zamata, Tone Bell, DeWanda Wise, Kym Whitley and Y'lan Noel.

Program: Viewpoints

Director + Writer: Stella Meghie.

Producers: Stella Meghie, Stephanie Allain, Mel Jones, Sarah Lazow and James Gibb.

New York Premiere

RECORDER: THE MARION STOKES PROJECT

Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival.

Beginning in the 1970s, Marion Stokes recorded an incredible 70,000 VHS tapes of unfiltered daily television. At the time, her compulsion raised eyebrows, but revisited through the lens of today's media landscape, Stokes' unusual life's work becomes an extraordinary archive of television—and American—history.

Program: Viewpoints

Director: Matt Wolf

Producers: Kyle Martin, Andrew Kortschak and Walter Kortschak

World Premiere

CHILDREN DO NOT PLAY WAR

Aloyo Margrate. Photo by Carlos Alves, courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival.

Children Do Not Play War is a cinematic VR tale of the war in Uganda told through the eyes of a young girl.

Program: Tribeca Cinema360

Creators: Fabiano Mixo

The 2019 Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 24 to May 5—for tickets and more information, click here.

Interview
Image: Courtesy TIFF

Jenna Cato Bass is Capturing the Horrors of an Unhealed Nation

The film marks the South African director's third debut and stride towards making a name for herself in the international film circuit.

Ever since premiering her debut film, Love the One You Love, which won the Best Feature Film at the Jozi Festival in 2015, Jenna Cato Bass has been a name to watch on the international film festival circuit. Her 2017 feature, High Fantasy, was the first of her films to land on the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) lineup, followed by Flatland in 2019. Her latest offering, Mlungu Wam (Good Madam), debuted at TIFF in September of 2021 — marking her third time at the esteemed Canadian film event.

Often provocative, always thought-provoking, Bass' films have come to establish her as a director who looks at South Africa's youth, the lives they're living and the future that awaits them, with a nuanced, open-minded lens. For the first time in her career, Bass uses the genre of horror to dig into an enduring mark of the country's past — that of the fraught, complex relationship between madam and domestic worker, in Mlungu Wam (Good Madam). Set in Cape Town, the film follows the unusual, disturbing things that start happening when a young woman moves back in with her estranged mother, who is the longtime caretaker for a rich, white household.

Bass also co-wrote the film Tug of War (Vuta N'Kuvute), which became Tanzania's first film to be selected for TIFF this year, and she co-wrote Rafiki, which was Kenya's first film at TIFF in 2018.

She spoke to OkayAfrica about playing in a new genre and her hopes for African cinema.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF


This story revolves around the relationship between a domestic worker and her 'madam.' What made you want to make a film about this subject?

When I make films, I like the concept to revolve around something that we all have in common - because, despite the many fractures in our society, these shared places exist. And in South Africa, we felt that everyone - in some way or another - has been deeply affected by domestic work and domestic workers, who are a keystone in our society's structure. Additionally, the 'maid' and 'madam' relationship is the ultimate symbol of race relations in South Africa - as well as how they haven't changed significantly, despite almost thirty years of democracy. So a domestic worker was the perfect character around which to centre a South African horror.

The genre of horror works really well to explore this subject and tell this story — when did you know it would be the genre you'd want to use?

The early stages of developing a film aren't always linear for me. I'll be thinking about a genre I'm interested in, and then parallel to that I'll have an idea for a story or a character, and later on, will realize that these pieces all fit together. In this case, I'd been wanting to make a horror film for ages, but hadn't found the right story… until I had the idea for Mlungu Wam, and I realized I was finally ready to try this genre.

What challenges did you face in making a horror?

It was my first time working in this genre, and it was intimidating because there's no saving you if you fail. We were also working on a very, very limited budget, so it wasn't possible to show as much as we'd like to - but then again, this story was all about the subjective and the unseen, so I did as much research and planning as we could, and just had to trust it would work.

Where did you film, and did that have any impact on the process at all?

We filmed in a house in Cape Town, in a gated community in the Southern Suburbs. The house and the environment had a major impact on the film - especially because we were also quarantining there for the full 7 weeks of rehearsal and shooting. The house was our set and our accommodation, so it was very intense, very claustrophobic, and very triggering for many of our team members.

How did you and co-writer Babalwa Baartman work on the story? You've included cast members in the writing process in your previous work — did you do that here too?

Mlungu Wam was made along similar lines to my first two films, Love The One You Love and High Fantasy, where we started with an outline, cast actors, then workshopped the characters collaboratively before completing the story breakdown and using improv for the dialogue. Babalwa and I had worked together using this method on a short film we made in 2019 called Sizohlala. She really understands the process, and it was a really rewarding experience exploring the story with her and our cast.

How did Kristina Ceyton, who produced the excellent acclaimed horrors The Babadook and The Nightingale, through Causeway Films, come to be involved in this film?

I had met Sam Jennings, who is also a producer with Causeway Films, several years ago at a festival. We really connected and kept in touch over the years, sharing our work, and hoping there'd be a chance to collaborate. So when we were developing Mlungu Wam, I pitched her and Kristina the concept and they were immediately supportive. It has been a massive pleasure working with them both.

Your films are known to venture into themes of identity and healing from the past — how does this film speak to that?

Mlungu Wam is definitely about this too - it's a story about three generations of women (actually four, if you include Tsidi's grandmother, who is an unseen character in the film), how they are haunted by the past and eventually refuse to remain chained any longer. Their healing is collective, linked to each other, and wouldn't be possible for them alone as individuals.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF


You've been at TIFF before - how has your experience of it been this year, with it being a hybrid of virtual and in-person?

Things have been quieter and a bit harder to navigate, but the TIFF staff have done incredible work getting the festival off the ground, despite endless challenges. It has felt very surreal to be here, and a privilege - and inspiring too, that we can still get together to celebrate films, even though our world is in such a mess. We had over 200 (socially distanced) people at our last screening, and that was an amazing feeling.

Yours is one of few African films on this year's line-up - is there anything you'd like to see happen to try improve that?

Regarding African cinema, TIFF has a real range of films this year, across several sections. Compared to many other festivals, they seem really invested in supporting cinema from the continent. Of course, this could be better, but it's also an example to other festivals who claim there aren't enough African films, that this is clearly not the case.

get okayafrica in your inbox

popular.

Tanzanian Filmmaker Amil Shivji is Making History with a Story of Love and Resistance

As the first Tanzanian film to be chosen for TIFF, Shiviji's film is sure to get the African country a seat at the table.