The latest edition of the Tribeca Film Festival premiered dozens of documentaries, shorts and domestic and international features: as usual, docs led the way. Alex Holmes’ Maiden, a bracing account of the first all-female crew in yachting’s premier Whitbread Round the World Race, reunites its members, led by crew leader Tracey Edwards, all of whom speak with a mix of wonder and pride over their amazing race in 1989. Edwards is as modest and unassuming as her crewmates are effusive in their praise for her steady leadership that helped them conquer many physical and psychological hurdles on their way to finishing the grueling months-long trek.
In the satisfying A Taste of Sky, Michael Lei explores how the goodwill of Danish gourmand Claus Meyer, whose Gustu is a high-end restaurant and cooking school for poor youths in La Paz, Bolivia, has allowed those (like the chefs profiled in the film, Kenzo and Maria Claudia) with marks against them to make their own mark on the culinary scene. Lil Buck: Real Swan is Louis Wallecan’s eye-opening portrait of the street dancer turned sought-after artist Lil Buck, from his early days growing up as Charles Riley in Memphis to his newly-minted celebrity that has included performances with Madonna and with Cirque de Soleil.
What Will Become of Us is Steven Cantor’s frank portrait of Frank Lowy, Australian founder of the shopping mall giant Westfield, who while in his 80s decided to discuss his tragic past as a Jew in Hungary during World War II: the most devastating moments find Lowy sharing intimacies about his father (who was killed in Auschwitz) and his beloved wife (afflicted with Alzhimer’s).
The curious mind of German director Werner Herzog is on display in his latest docs. Meeting Gorbachev shows Herzog—who co-directed with André Singer—sitting down with the jolly former Soviet premier, who doesn’t pull punches (well, not many) as he discusses Glasnost, the end of the Cold War and the current state of the world. Herzog might be a little too differential to his subject, although that may be because that’s the only way Gorbachev would talk at all. In Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin, Herzog touchingly chronicles the life and death of one of his closest friends, a British writer and adventurer who died of AIDS 30 years ago. Herzog even allows himself to wax sentimental as he traces Chatwin’s footsteps—literally and figuratively.
An intriguing but frustrating documentary, Framing John DeLorean is Don Argott and Sheena Joyce’s look at the Detroit car maker who became infamous when his world blew up in a haze of unsold cars and cocaine possession charges by the Feds. Par for the course are reenactments of events in DeLorean’s life, but with a twist: an A-list cast performs them, starting with Alec Baldwin as DeLorean and Morena Baccarin as his wife. The result feels stagey and awkward along with not providing any more insight than other parts of the film do. Bloating the running time are moments when Baldwin—while having his makeup applied—comments on the man he’s portraying, again to scant effect.
Of the two features I saw, Takashi Doscher’s Only is far more forgettable, a lackluster post-apocalyptic nightmare where women are prized only for their breeding capabilities. Despite the winning presence of Frieda Pinto, complemented by a persuasive Leslie Odom Jr. as her partner, Doscher’s nightmarish scenario isn’t very distinctive from the dystopias we’ve been bombarded by elsewhere.
Better is Charlie Says, Mary Harron’s at times harrowing drama about the Manson cult, shown through the eyes of three of Charlie’s women—Leslie Van Houten (Hannah Murray), Patricia Krenwinkel (Sosie Bacon), and Susan Atkins (Marianne Rendón)— who discuss their exploits with a prison analyst (Annabeth Gish). Harron effectively dramatizes the ecstasies and agonies of life in a cult, including the killings themselves, which are never displayed as exploitatively as in disastrous recent The Haunting of Sharon Tate. Strong acting by the women and a bizarrely scary turn by Matt Smith as Charlie help smooth out the bumpier paths the movie takes.
18th Tribeca Film Festival
New York, NY
April 24-May 5, 2019