The Tribeca 2018 film lineup features stories of sluttiness, surveillance and queer sexuality. Kristen Cochrane is back with another brilliant list of women-led films to see at this year’s fest (or after, in a theatre/laptop near you).
The Time’s Up movement has put pressure on the film industry to improve its measures with regards to both representation and sexual harassment, which is something that this year’s Tribeca Film Festival has directly addressed. In their press statement, the Tribeca Film Festival Office write that this year’s programming “will feature compelling conversations with activists, filmmakers, storytellers, lawyers.” The aim of this, the office continues, is to recognize how film has changed, especially in light of the women—and ongoing movements such as #MeToo and Time’s Up—who have made change possible. This year, the percentage of women who directed or co-directed films is at 45%. This year’s shortlist has recommendations for films that include documentaries—such as one on the FBI’s surveillance of an Arab American community—and fiction films—like a tale of happily slutty French Canadians, and a New York nightmare starring promising young women actors. Whether you can go to the festival or are waiting for the films’ public releases, here are some suggestions for titles to look out for.
1. Slut in a Good Way. Directed by Sophie Lorain; Canada
Montreal is a historically Catholic place, but the city’s vibrant sexual history is nevertheless written on its surface (in neon). Colloquially known as the Sin City of the North throughout its history, Montreal has sustained this reputation, demonstrated by the flocks of bachelor party bros who head downtown to interact with the city’s most patient and badass stripteaseuses. But these days, Montreal is also recognized for its progressive queer and sexual politics, and the rise of precocious filmmaker Xavier Dolan. It makes sense, then, that a film like Slut in a Good Way, a contemporary tale of intimacy and sex without shame, would hail from the famous city for being emphatic about its love for sex. In her second feature, Lorain introduces us to Charlotte, who is thrilled with her handsome boyfriend. When he reveals that he’s gay, Charlotte visits a toy store with her friends(and no, not the sexual kinds of toys) to get her mind off of things. The friends are enthralled by the young men who work at the store, and very quickly also begin working there. In a tale that isn’t unfamiliar to many of us, Charlotte flirts with the employees and ultimately has no-strings attached sex with her male coworkers. The quirky comedy is, without a doubt, very Montreal.
2. Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland. Directed by Kate Davis and David Heilbroner; United States
In 2015, Sandra Bland was pulled over and arrested for not signalling a lane change. She was found dead in her Texas county jail cell three days later after allegedly committing suicide. Sandra Bland’s death, among the many deaths that African Americans have faced at the hands of the police in the United States, led to the viral “#SayHerName” hashtag and have been a particular focus of the Black Lives Matter movement. Kate Davis and David Heilbroner, two Academy Award-nominated filmmakers, spent two years with Bland’s family to find answers on the circumstances of Bland’s death. The film uses Bland’s online video series, “Sandy Speaks,” as a throughline to understand how and why a black woman—who was an energetic advocate for Black Lives Matter—met her untimely death.
3. Mapplethorpe. Directed by Ondi Timoner; United States
Matt Smith, who has played Doctor Who, Prince Phillip on The Crown, and Charles Manson in the upcoming film Charlie Says, is well-known for his versatility. Now he can add famous photographer to his list of princes, aliens, and cult leaders—he plays the titular artist in this biopic about Robert Mapplethorpe. Mapplethorpe is directed by Ondi Timoner, a renowned documentary filmmaker and the first director in the history of the Sundance Film Festival to win the Grand Jury Prize twice in the Documentary category: for DIG! in 2004, and for We Live in Public in 2009. Mapplethorpe chronicles the photographer’s life from the early 1970s, just before he started living at the Chelsea Hotel in New York City, to his death at 42 from AIDS-related complications. The film explores subjects ranging from how he came to terms with his queer sexuality, to how his determined ambition affected his closest relationships.
4. The Feeling of Being Watched. Directed by Assia Boundaoui; United States
First-time filmmaker Assia Boundaoui took time off of her day job as a public radio journalist to make The Feeling of Being Watched, a documentary about a community which was rumoured to be under F.B.I. surveillance. These claims circulated in the 1990s and 2000s in the Arab-American community of Bridgeview, Illinois, Boundaoui’s hometown. Her own family and neighbours were surveilled and scrutinized, and the truth is uncovered in her documentary which interviews members of the community and chronicles her persistent freedom of information requests. On the film’s Kickstarter page, Boundaoui writes that the so-called “War on Terror” profoundly impacted her neighbourhood. During the Bush Administration in particular, members of the community were subject to state-level suspicion, and, understandably, it took a toll: “We would see strange cars parked on our block, hear clicking sounds on the phone, and get nervous when our neighbours got visits from official-looking men in suits.” The community wasn’t being paranoid. It turns out that the FBI’s presence and surveillance dates back to 1993. With perspectives from members of the community, Boundaoui turns the gaze back onto those who were—and have been—watching them.
5. Amateurs / Amatörer. Directed by Gabriela Pichler; Sweden
The title of Swedish filmmaker Gabriela Pichler’s sophomore film Amateurs / Amatörer is not just metaphorical. In her first feature, Eat Sleep Die (2012), the cast was mostly non-professional actors, and the narrative explored contemporary precarity—the young female protagonist struggled with unemployment while taking care of her sick father. In Amateurs, which The Hollywood Reporter called a satire, Pichler also cast both professional and non-professional actors (99% of the cast are indeed amateur actors). Amateurs tells the story of two teenagers living in a hamlet highly populated by immigrants. In rural Sweden, the teenagers seek to revitalize the local economy by making a promotional film—they want their hamlet to get the attention of a German supermarket chain that plans to open a location in Sweden. As the daughter of Bosnian and Austrian immigrants, Pichler’s films demonstrate her interest in depicting how countries in the Global North, like Sweden, have relied on the labour of migrants.
6. Braid. Directed by Mitzi Peirone; United States
Braid, the psychological thriller by filmmaker and actress Mitzi Peirone, is the first feature narrative film to be funded by crowdsourcing. It’s Peirone’s first feature film; she has previously directed two shorts: Chaosmos and Vesperlings in 2016. Braid follows two artists in New York—Petula (Imogen “Immy” Waterhouse) and Tilda (Sara Hay)—who, in an attempt to follow their dreams, end up embroiled in drug dealing and at the mercy of an angry drug lord. To pay him off, they come up with a plan to kidnap and rob their wealthy childhood friend Daphne (Madeline Brewer). But Daphne is not vulnerable to their scheme, and as Petula and Tilda use their heiress friend’s mansion as a hideout, what they thought would be harmless role-playing becomes a series of twisted games. The female protagonists (and antagonist) are also promising newcomers; Immy Waterhouse was in Nocturnal Animals (2016), and will star in the film Rain Stops Play and the television series The Outpost; Sara Hay will be in the upcoming film Extracurricular Activities; and Madeline Brewer is most recently known for her role as Janine on the television adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale (2017-), in addition to starring in the upcoming films Still and Captive State.
The Tribeca Film Festival is on from April 18 to April 29. See the full list of programming here :)
Kristen Cochrane is a writer and graduate researcher at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. Her current research is located in queer cinema, particularly in Latin America, but she also writes on topics related to culture, film, media and their intersections with gender and sexuality. Her work has appeared in Amuse/i-D, AnOther, Teen Vogue, Somesuch, and VICE.