Positioned just after the Sundance and SXSW film festivals each spring, Tribeca often serves as a platform for more independent fare from lesser-known filmmakers.

The festival launched its 15th edition this year in the wake of the biggest controversy the event has ever witnessed, following the festival’s decision to pull the anti-vaccination documentary Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Controversy from its program. Nevertheless, given this year’s impressive lineup, the slate of films will still no doubt overshadow that contentious topic.

So, without further ado, here are the world-premiering docs, unforgettable indies and movies with monumental star clout that you definitely shouldn’t miss this year…

Bad Rap

Director: Salima Koroma

Despite being a worldwide cultural force for decades, hip-hop’s inclusiveness still has its shortcomings. Bad Rap focuses on subjects rarely documented or talked about – Asian-American rappers.

The doc follows four MCs during both live performances and interviews, revealing what it’s really like to break into the scene as a minority. It’s also a springboard for them to prove to the world that they’re worthy of our attention.


Director: Bart Freundlich

Take Shelter’s Michael Shannon plays a bad dad with a gambling problem. He’s a liability to his popular son Anthony, a high-school jock following his basketball dreams.

Shannon’s exactly what we need for this kind of tense drama; his great skill is in holding the tensions. Cast him as the villain and he exhibits pathos. Install him as the hero and he carries a distinct whiff of danger… And if we need an embodiment of American madness, Shannon is definitely our man.

Elvis & Nixon

Director: Liza Johnson

Shannon rears his beautiful head for the second time at Tribeca as The King, in the festival’s centerpiece screening.

Back in 1970, a few days before Christmas, Elvis Presley showed up on the White House lawn asking to be made an agent-at-large in the drugs and narcotics bureau by Nixon himself. Johnson’s movie, starring Shannon and Kevin Spacey, imagines the comical details of this outlandish historical encounter.

All This Panic

Director: Jenny Gage

Adolescents in NYC haven’t really got the best rep in the movies – think Kids, in which the protagonists drink, have sex, use drugs and crash in a familiar stupor, before starting all over again the next day. Most kids probably aren’t like that, and never will be…

Refreshingly, documentary director Jenny Gage is presenting something less judgmental (and more realistic). She’s followed two middle-class Manhattan sisters and their gaggle of BFFs for three years, through boy problems, coming out, partying and the pressures of impending adulthood.


Director: Justin Tipping

Kicks follows a 15-year-old Oakland resident named Brandon who finds that the shoes he worked so hard to save for have been snatched by local thug Flaco, which leads him on a mission to retrieve his Air Jordans.

The film marks the feature debut of Tipping, who gives us a good look at inner-city life, the fetishization of sneaker culture, and an incredible soundtrack of both hip-hop classics and Bay Area favorites.

The Bomb

Directors: Kevin Ford, Smriti Keshari, Eric Schlosser

The Bomb places the viewer in the middle of the story of nuclear weapons – the most dangerous of war machines since Rocky Balboa – from the Trinity Test in 1945 to the current state of nuclear weapons in 2016.

Based on Eric Schlosser’s 2013 non-fiction expose, the flick combines Cold War-era chills with post-apocalyptic nightmare. “What I like about [The Bomb] is that it’s a really bold way to cut through the sense of denial and amnesia about this subject,” says Schlosser.

A Hologram for the King

Director: Tom Tykwer

This year, the star with biggest clout to attend Tribeca must be Tom Hanks – busy premiering his latest film, based on the popular novel by Dave Eggers.

The drama reunites Hanks with one of his Cloud Atlas directors, Tykwer, for a freewheeling tale about a desperate American salesman waiting to meet a Saudi Arabian billionaire… A far cry from mouthing along to Carly Rae Jepsen hits, but hopefully every bit as entertaining.

Contemporary Color

Director: Bill Ross IV, Turner Ross

Talking Heads frontman David Byrne is a legend and a visionary, and this documentary captures a singular event in Brooklyn curated by the legendary musician. Using a flag-parading artform called color guard, Byrne himself and a slew of other artists he selected create a one-of-a-kind multi-media experience.

Byrne let documentarians Bill and Turner Ross hang out with cameras to capture the whole shebang and then get nicely trippy with it.

The Family Fang

Director: Jason Bateman

A couple years ago, Arrested Development’s Jason Bateman dropped his debut, Bad Words, and now he’s back with this story of siblings, which has a pretty good roster of talent.

Bateman and Nicole Kidman are siblings Annie and Baxter, an actress and a struggling writer who return to their childhood home in upstate New York for a bizarre family reunion. Bateman seems to have crafted an effective portrait of a dysfunctional family not entirely unlike the Bluths, and Christopher Walken gives an impeccable performance as their dad.

My Scientology Movie

Director: John Dower

If ever there was a journalist who delivers great stories and cracks us up, it’s Louis Theroux. The beloved British documentarian, best known for immersing himself in niche subcultures among porn stars, white supremacists and pedophiles, now aims his subtly loaded questions at Scientologists.

After years of failing to get inside Scientology, Theroux struck on a new approach: film ex-members’ stories on Hollywood soundstages – then wait for the church’s enforcers to come after him.


Director: Demetri Martin

How you feel about Martin’s big-screen move into Woody Allen territory will depend on your love for the comedian. He directs, writes and stars in this indie comedy, and is joined by Community’s Gillian Jacobs, who plays his L.A. love interest.

In the flick, Dean is a freelance illustrator in New York who suffers a quarter-life crisis – dealing with his recent break-up – and leaves home for the west coast. Mirroring the late coming-of-age is Dean’s befuddled dad, played by Kevin Kline.

After Spring

Directors: Steph Ching, Ellen Martinez

This feature documentary, set in a refugee camp with a population of 80,000, had its world premiere at Tribeca this year. In a world where the news cycle never stops, Martinez and Ching’s documentary – executive produced by Jon Stewart – helps put individual faces on an international humanitarian crisis.

Built in 2012, the camp is overflowing with displaced families from Syria, living in tents for months at a time, with parentless children wandering aimlessly through their squalid surroundings.

The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Director: Bill Purple

Jason Sudeikis has been landing leading role after leading role and, in this new offering, we might just see the funnyman at his most dramatic. The film follows Sudeikis’ Henry, an architect who is mourning the loss of his wife, played by Jessica Biel (her real-life squeeze Justin Timberlake also made the movie’s music).

Unable to get his act together he finds himself getting close with Millie played by Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams and an unconventional healing bond between the two begins to form.


Director: Ben Wheatley

Probably the biggest film to premiere at Tribeca this year is High-Rise, a flick about a dystopian society that exists entirely in a high-rise building. Based on J.G. Ballard’s novel, it stars Tom Hiddleston as a man who moves to a luxury building that’s organized by class (most definitely a critique of class systems).

After receiving positive reviews at Toronto last year, the creepy drama has made its way to Tribeca before rolling out to theaters next month.

Little Boxes

Director: Rob Meyer

Although Cary Fukunaga wrapped Beasts of No Nation a while back, the award cycle for the film only recently ended. The searing drama about child soldiers is still fresh in our minds, but that doesn’t mean Fukunaga doesn’t have other projects on the go.

The director of True Detective’s first season produced this flick, which focuses on a child with a black father and white mother as he tries to understand his biracial identity in a new town.

Words by Sarah Gibson
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