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15 highlights at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival in NYC

Movie lovers, it's time to gorge yourselves at the Tribeca Film Festival, New York City's annual film bash which is as much a celebration of the city as it is of cinema, TV and virtual reality. Now in its 18th year, the TFF runs April 24-May 5 at venues all across Manhattan, showcasing more than 100 fiction and non-fiction features from around the globe, each a world, North American, U.S. or New York City premiere.

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The New York City festival features more than 100 fiction and documentary features, as well as virtual reality displays, talks and musical performances. Tribeca Film Festival

There are also retrospective screenings of film classics, sidebars (including a collection of movies reflecting on New York's past), genre films, short films, sports films, interactive and virtual reality programming, TV presentations, and panel discussions starring noted filmmakers and industry figures.

The festival opens Wednesday, April 24, with the world premiere of Roger Ross Williams' HBO documentary "The Apollo," about the landmark Harlem showplace, which will be screened – where else? – at the Apollo. The closing presentation is the world premiere of "Yesterday," the latest film from Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire"), about a musician who awakens in a world which has never heard The Beatles' music. What's a young songwriter to do? Plagiarize!

The world premiere screening of the thoughtful and tuneful documentary "Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice" will be followed by a live performance by Sheryl Crow (April 26).

Talks include conversations between director Martin Scorsese and festival co-founder Robert De Niro (April 28); frequent collaborators Jennifer Lawrence and director David O. Russell (April 27); and Alec Baldwin interviewing "Pan's Labyrinth" director Guillermo del Toro (April 25). There are also master classes in writing, music, sound design and other cinematic crafts, including a May 3 symposium with Irwin Winkler, producer of such films as "Rocky" and "The Right Stuff." 

Feature Film Highlights

One of the pleasures of the festival is discovering new films before they even have distributors lined up. But that's also a frustration; sharing the word on a movie which might not be accessible to the general public for months, or longer, can be dismaying. [Among the best of last year's Tribeca offerings were the Silicon Valley documentary "General Magic" and the Canadian teen sex comedy "Slut in a Good Way," which are only now entering general release a year later, while the Jeffrey Wright prison drama "O.G." took almost a year to make it to HBO.]

Only a portion of this year's films have been available for preview at press time, but of those screened in advance, here are 15 highlights that are definitely recommended – catch 'em while you can!

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Alec Baldwin in "Framing John DeLorean." Sundance Selects

"Framing John DeLorean" (World Premiere) - Documentaries in recent years have expanded the use of recreations to fill in gaps in storytelling where no footage exists. (After all, how many criminal enterprises have kept cameras running to document their activities?) But recreations are also valuable in life stories, as in this imaginative rendition of the tale of General Motors executive John DeLorean, who left GM to build his own car company and then, after its failure, found himself at the center of an FBI sting operation involving $24 million worth of cocaine. It's a life that's choice fodder for the Hollywood treatment, and while there is a wealth of newsreel film (and undercover surveillance tapes!) of DeLorean's life, directors Sheena M. Joyce and Don Argott also employ Alec Baldwin to don makeup and portray DeLorean in public and private dramatizations where the arc of his incredible career reaches both its zenith and its nadir. But that's not all: Baldwin gives us an actor's psychoanalysis of his character, measuring the ambitions and motives of a man who took extreme risks that forever scarred his family. Screens April 30, May 1, 4. Released theatrically and via VOD on June 7 from Sundance Selects

"Inna de Yard: The Soul of Jamaica" (World Premiere) – In the spirit of "Buena Vista Social Club," director Peter Webber documents a congregation of Jamaican reggae royalty as they record an album, then appear in concert in Paris. Beloved musical figures Ken Boothe, Kiddus I, Winston McAnuff, Judy Mowatt and others split their time between performing and engaging in a delightful nostalgia trip of musical discovery, discussing their origins and influences and how a musical life is pursued on a small, hardscrabble Caribbean island, one vinyl pressing at a time. Screens April 29 (followed by a live performance by Ken Boothe), May 1, 3. No U.S. distributor announced, but a soundtrack album is available.

"Leftover Women" (World Premiere) – In China, where there are tens of millions more single women of marriageable age than men, women who fail to snag husbands are stigmatized as "leftover women," upon whom parents and society exert tremendous pressure to find someone, anyone, to plight their troth. Shosh Shlam and Hilla Medalia's surprisingly intimate documentary follows three such women – Hua Mei, a 34-year-old lawyer; Min, a 28-year-old radio broadcaster; and Qi, a 36-year-old professor – as they navigate matchmakers, group date events, marriage markets (where parents try to sell their unmarried offspring's unique talents), therapists, and their fraught relationships with mothers and fathers. The women's emotional revelations about their personal and professional ambitions, and their conversations with parents who are by turns impatient and proud, attest to the directors' ability to be present with their camera without being in the way. Screens April 27, 28, May 1, 5. No U.S. distributor announced.

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Jaeden Martell and Keean Johnson in "Low Tide." Tribeca Film Festival

"Low Tide" (World Premiere) – This atmospheric coming-of-age crime drama, about Jersey Shore youths who burgle vacation homes, has the welcome advantage of not being predictable. In his feature debut, director Kevin McMullin mixes the atmosphere of an idyllic summer, in which locals flirt with visiting girls, with the double-crosses of a gang who turn on each other when a cache of gold coins is uncovered. Well shot and edited, with believable performances by its young cast, including Jaeden Martell, Keean Johnson, Alex Neustaedter and Daniel Zolghadri. Screens April 28, 29, May 2. No U.S. distributor announced.

"Maiden" (New York Premiere) – This thrilling documentary with some jaw-dropping footage tells the story of Tracy Edwards, who at age 24 skippered an all-female crew on a 58-foot yacht competing in the 1989-90 Whitbread Round the World Race, sailing 32,000 nautical miles from the U.K. to the edge of Antarctica and back. To say they were sailing in the face of misogyny was putting it mildly; Alex Holmes' film recounts not only the sniffs of the media and the yachting establishment to Edwards and her crew's endeavor, but also their shock once they realized these women knew what they were doing. Screens May 1, 2, 4. Opens theatrically on June 28 via Sony Pictures Classics.

Maiden | Official Trailer HD (2019) by Sony Pictures Classics on YouTube

"Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound" (World Premiere) - A choice documentary for film nerds (and admit it, if you are reading this very long article about a film festival, you are one) is this examination of the history and evolution of sound in motion pictures, with the linchpins being three superstars of the medium: Walter Murch ("Apocalypse Now"), Ben Burtt ("Star Wars") and Gary Rydstrom ("Toy Story"). The movie balances discussion of technical advancements since the birth of the movies (including multichannel Dolby stereo and digital recording and editing) with aesthetic uses of sound as a vital, yet often underappreciated, component of storytelling. Screens April 29 (followed by master class conversation with Murch, Burtt, Rydstrom and director Midge Costin), April 30, May 2. No U.S. distributor announced.  

"Only" (World Premiere) - The dystopian future following a mysterious pathogen that wipes out virtually all human females comes not by a snap but a mournful, months-long passing from life through fear to despair. This sci-fi catastrophe seems decidedly less dystopian than you'd think it would be if suddenly half the human race were eliminated, but Freida Pinto's performance as a woman fighting for survival as possibly the only woman left on Earth, while her partner does everything he can to ensure it, is very effective. A very good scene: Pinto communicates with her father via cellphone but can't reveal herself because of fears of government surveillance. Also noteworthy: the "villains" of the story are actually painted with a human touch – people who have had their futures stolen from them and seek answers, if not the possibility for a semblance of humanity. Directed and written by Takashi Doscher ("Still"). Screens April 27, 28, May 2, 4. No distributor announced.

"Our Time Machine" (World Premiere) – Chinese photographer and mixed-media artist Maleonn embarked on an imaginative theatrical project, incorporating puppetry and projections, as a means to maintain a connection with his father, once a theater director, whose mind is slipping into dementia. Conjuring a story built on memory about a young man building a time machine in order to reunite his father with the memories of the boy's own childhood, Maleonn aims to meld his own memories with an artistic collaboration he'd never had the chance to participate in with his father. A tender and visually striking film about using art to combat the unrelenting difficulties of aging. Screens April 28, 30, May 3. No distributor announced. 

Our Time Machine (Trailer) by Walking Iris Media on YouTube

"The Quiet One" (World Premiere) – The title refers to the member of the Rolling Stones who wasn't gyrating out front with a microphone or setting the stage afire on the guitar, but passionately supplying the bass for the world's greatest rock band. Bill Wyman, who grew up in south London, became enamored of American rock and blues stars like Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters. A self-taught musician, he built his own electric bass when he joined the Cliftons, before being enlisted by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards for their new blues band. A collector by nature, the modest Wyman has amassed decades of rare film footage, photos and interviews, which tell the fascinating story of the Stones, and of his own private life which seems to run counter to the vicissitudes of rock celebrity. Screens May 2, 3, 4. Released theatrically June 21 via Sundance Selects/IFC Films.

"Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project" (World Premiere) – With a background as a librarian and the moderator of a Philadelphia public access TV talk show that examined political, social and religious issues, Marion Stokes was obsessed with how the media portrayed current events, and rightfully feared that ephemeral TV news broadcasts were in danger of being wiped away – hence, her dogged determination (for which she conscripted family and the hired help) to record TV news channels nonstop for more than 30 years. When she passed in 2012, she left behind a trove of 70,000 Betamax and VHS videotapes covering local, national and international news, from the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis to the Sandy Hook school shooting. Matt Wolf's documentary explores both the personal obsessions of Stokes (a hoarder, she owned 192 Apple computers) and the quandary of what to do with the voluminous archive – her life's "work" – which she left behind. Screens April 25, 26, 27, May 4. No U.S. distributor announced.

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Aynur (Almila Bagriacik) rejects her arranged marriage in "A Regular Woman." Tribeca Film Festival

"A Regular Woman" (World Premiere) – Based on the true story of the "honor killing" of a young Muslim woman living in Berlin whose family felt she had betrayed her religion and so murdered her, director Sherry Hormann's gripping film is brought to vivid life by the performance of Almila Bagriacik as Hatun "Aynur" Sürücü, a woman who rejected both the abusive husband she'd been forced (as a 16-year-old) to marry and the strict Sunni Islam tenets of her Kurdish émigré family. (Her brothers, convinced Aynur's more secular life and relationships with non-Muslim men will condemn both her and her child to hell, decide that murder is morally justified.) The movie is a flashback, narrated by the murdered Aynur, whose forthrightness, pride and sarcastic asides are in stark contrast to the vise-grip of patriarchal familial traditions to which she is bound. Screens April 27, 28, May 1. No U.S. distributor announced.  

"Roads" (World Premiere) – While vacationing in Morocco, English teenager Gyllen (Fionn Whitehead) decides on a whim to steal his stepfather's camper van and drive it back to France, to meet up with his divorced father. Joining him on his joyride is William (Stéphane Bak), a Congolese 17-year-old sneaking through border security in search of his older brother among the refugees camping out in France. The pair's adventures involve larcenous German drug dealers, the transport of refugees, family schisms, and no small amount of self-discovery in this sensitive drama from Sebastian Schipper ("Victoria"). Screens April 25, 26, 27. No U.S. distributor announced.

"Run" (World Premiere) – The spirit of a Bruce Springsteen song – a man trapped by circumstance in a provincial town, yearning for something bigger and better but not sure what – runs through Scott Graham's Scottish drama that would make a fitting companion piece to "Roads," as it follows a father who steals his son's car and goes for a joyride, reliving the thrills of racing, and entertains the notion of making potentially startling life changes. With a coiled-spring performance by Mark Stanley, terrific camerawork, and a great sense of the claustrophobia of the northern Scottish town of Fraserburgh. Screens April 26, 27, 28, May 2. No U.S. distributor announced.

"Scheme Birds" (World Premiere) – Documentarians have the disadvantage of never knowing exactly what story may develop before their camera's lens, instead hoping that a person they've chosen to follow for months or years has a story in them worthy of examination. Directors Ellen Fiske and Ellinor Hallin have here chosen Gemma, a teenager in the town of Motherwell, Scotland, whose outlook is shaped by social media, and whose young yet eventful life would encompass family breakups, pregnancy, and violence in her housing project. Gemma is indeed a winning personality in a town whose very character has been shaken by economic distress, crime and personal tragedy. Screens April 26, 27, May 1, 3. No U.S. distributor announced.

"Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation" (World Premiere) – The monumental three-day rock and folk concert at Max Yasgur's farm in Bethel, N.Y., was memorably documented in Michael Wadleigh's 1970 film. But while that classic was primarily focused on the stunning music performances, Barak Goodman's account pays more attention to the nuts and bolts of how the concert came to be, the people behind it and those who attended, and how the resources available that August 1969 weekend became overwhelmed when 400,000 people who needed food, water and medical attention showed up for an unprecedented roster of musical artists, and left having experienced a singular event in human history. Screens April 28, 30, May 1, 4. Opens theatrically May 24 from PBS/American Experience Films. 

And that still leaves more than 80 other films to explore.

The festival also marks the 40th anniversary of Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam War drama "Apocalypse Now" by presenting the filmmaker's new 4K Ultra HD restoration and revision of his classic reimagining of "Heart of Darkness"; a 35th anniversary screening of Rob Reiner's hilarious mockumentary "This Is Spinal Tap"; a 30th anniversary screening of the rom-com "Say Anything"; and a 25th anniversary showing of the Gen X comedy "Reality Bites."

And what would May the 4th be without a big-screen presentation of the original "Star Wars"?

In addition, the Tribeca Virtual Arcade and Cinema360 venues offer immersive virtual reality programs, while Tribeca N.O.W. showcases online content.

Film screenings will be held at Regal Battery Park Stadium and Village East Cinema, as well as the School of Visual Arts Theatre and the BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center. Single tickets and various ticket packages are available online, or call toll free (866) 941-FEST (3378). Rush tickets may be available for select screenings. Beacon Theatre tickets are sold through Ticketmaster.

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