Tribeca ’16: television docs and VR share the spotlight

Tribeca Film Festival senior programmer Cara Cusumano highlights several docs and TV series, including Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four (pictured), screening in New York City over the next 12 days.
April 13, 2016

Television documentaries, virtual reality and films about the U.S. justice system and gun violence lead a packed line-up at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

The 15th annual New York City-based event is book-ended by documentaries, with Andrew Rossi‘s film about the Met Gala, The First Monday in Mayopening the festival today (April 13) and director Smriti Keshari and author Eric Schlosser’s The Bomb, a 55-minute immersive experience about nuclear proliferation, closing the festival on April 23 and 24.

The feature line-up encompasses marquee titles in the Spotlight and Viewpoints programs and the 12-film-strong World Documentary Competition – the festival’s sole program dedicated to documentaries, headlined this year by Bill and Ross Turner’s concert film Contemporary Color.

for the love of spock

For the Love of Spock

New to this edition is the inaugural Tune-In program dedicated to television, a digital creator marketplace and an increased focus on virtual reality (VR), with 32 VR projects and exhibitions screening alongside 44 feature docs and 27 doc shorts.

Among the 16 projects screening as part of Tune-In are three docs: all 7.5 hours of Ezra Edelman‘s ESPN series about the OJ Simpson murder trial, OJ: Made in America; a preview of season two of David Gelb’s Netflix series Chef’s Table; and Adam Nimoy’s doc about his father Leonard Nimoy, For the Love of Spock.

“Our concept when we came to programming TV was very audience-focused,” explains senior programmer Cara Cusumano. “Television fans are under-served. They don’t have the opportunity to come together and see their favorite things together, hear from the creators and have their favorite show as an event.”

Meanwhile, organizers are hoping to make Tribeca a destination on the festival circuit for digital creators by launching a digital creators marketplace on April 21 that will allow online creators to showcase projects to buyers and the public, such as the Morgan Spurlock-produced Vlogumentary, directed by Matthew Testa. The festival also has a digital storytellers showcase, Tribeca NOW, taking place on April 14 that includes the work of 11 creators.

The VR work will be housed in the festival’s Hub at 50 Varick Street from April 14 to 23. This year, the festival will showcase 23 new virtual reality exhibits and interactive installations – 16 of which are world premieres.

“We try to be agnostic about form,” says Cusumano. “The challenge for feature films is that it is really easy to identify something really bold and different because you’re seeing so many films. With virtual reality, there isn’t so much out there, so there’s no baseline of content that you’re programming from. If anything, we want to show more.”

Interactive and VR docs and installations that are part of Tribeca’s Storyscapes program, which includes the police brutality installation, The Argus Projectthe doc-turned-VR experience Notes on Blindness; an installation based on Whitney Dow’s Whiteness Project, Intersection of I; and a VR experience about white rhinos, The Ark.

There are 12 world premieres in the World Documentary Competition. The section’s programmers looke to include a range of docs that encompass personal, political and formally challenging work.

Cusumano highlights the latest film from past Tribeca doc competition winner Alma Har’elLoveTrue, which demystifies the fantasy of true love and screened as a work-in-progress last year.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is lawyer-turned-filmmaker David Feige’s issue-driven Untouchable, which argues that sex offender registries and the legal structures around legislating sex abuse in the U.S. need to be rethought.

“These two films are as formally different as they can be but they’re both incredibly affecting and show the huge range of impact that non-fiction storytelling can have,” says Cusumano.

Different facets of the arms industry, meanwhile, are explored in a series of films screening this year that cover militarization of police, the global arms trade and gun violence.

Craig Atkinson’s competition title Do Not Resist looks at how police forces across the U.S. are increasingly using military-grade weapons, but without the use of talking heads, interviews or voice-over; while director Johan Grimonprez investigates the illicit side of the global arms trade in Shadow World.

Midsummer in Newtown is the latest festival doc to explore the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Lloyd Kramer’s doc focuses on a group of children in Newtown, Connecticut, who stage a pop-rock version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“When you look at those three films together, you see the violence and the weaponry trickling down and how it’s affecting all levels of society,” says Cusumano.

cara cusumano_2

Cara Cusumano

Other titles highlighted by the programmer are four films playing in the festival’s Viewpoints program.

Tracy Droz Tragos’ HBO-backed Abortion: Stories Women Tell takes the issue of abortion out of abstract political conversation and puts it back in the arena of real women who go through abortions or are healthcare providers,” says Cusumano.

Meanwhile, Ellen Martinez and Steph Ching’s Jon Stewart-exec produced After Spring looks at the plight of Syrian refugees in the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan; while Andrew Cohn’s Night School follows adult learners in Indianapolis who go back to school to complete their high school diplomas.

Deborah S. Esquenazi’s true-crime doc Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four (pictured above) focuses on the case of four Texas women who were tried and convicted of assaulting two young girls amid the Satanic Panic of 1994. The women are now working towards exoneration and will travel to the Tribeca screening under a special order of the Texas government, says Cusumano.

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