While gender, race and politically-themed documentaries are once again prevalent at Tribeca Festival, celebrity-driven docus dominate this year’s nonfiction lineup.
David Gelb’s “Stan Lee,” Stephen Kijak’s “Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed,” Luke Korem’s “Milli Vanilli,” Frank Marshall’s “Rather,” Betsy Schechter’s “Gloria Gaynor: I Will Survive,” and Fernando Villena’s Oscar De La Hoya doc “The Golden Boy” are among the nonfiction titles focused on a bold face name screening at Tribeca, which kicks off on June 7.
Marshall calls “Rather,” about longtime news anchor Dan Rather, a “very personal project.”
“The collection of stories (Rather) has covered, it’s my history and the history of our country over the past 60 years,” says Marshall. “Dan dreamed of being a reporter and spent a large part of his career in journalism at CBS, including anchoring the CBS Evening News for twenty-four years, so it seemed natural to come to New York City and celebrate the world premiere of our film at Tribeca.”
For director Michael Selditch, Tribeca Festival was also the perfect location for the world premiere of his latest docu “Happy Clothes: A Film About Patricia Field,” about the iconic costume designer known best for her work on “Sex and the City.”
“Tribeca seemed to make a lot of sense because it is a New York story and Patricia is a New York icon,” says Selditch.
The director originally asked Field to be the subject of a documentary in 2019, but she declined. Then in 2021, when Selditch asked again, Field was game.
“I think the thing that really convinced her was when I said, ‘Pat, anybody can make a documentary about you,’” recalls Selditch. “They don’t really need your permission. You’re a public figure. It would be easy to get a bunch of people to sit in front of a camera and say wonderful things about you, and then put it all together with archival footage. But that isn’t really the documentary I’m interested in making. I want to watch you work. I want to see how you make your decisions. I want to see you shopping and see you with actors and see you in a fitting and really get inside your head and be a fly on the wall.”
In addition to celebrity fare, Tribeca Festival will also showcase notable docus that previously debuted at various festivals around the world, including opening night film Nenad Cicin-Sain’s “Kiss the Future” (Berlin Intl. Film Festival) Lea Glob’s “Apolonia, Apolonia,” (IDFA), and Bethann Hardison and Frédéric Tcheng’s “Invisible Beauty” (Sundance).
Lisa Cortés, who produced “Invisible Beauty,” will be at Tribeca for the world premiere of “The Space Race,” a docu that she co-directed with Diego Hurtado de Mendoza. The National Geographic Documentary film weaves together the stories of the first Black astronauts, who broke the bonds of social injustice to achieve their dreams. Instead of historians, the docu relies solely on archival footage and the voices of Black astronauts including Ed Dwight, Guion Bluford, Charles Bolden and Victor Glover to tell the story.
“It was very clear from the beginning that if we could gain access to them, they would be the ones telling their story,” says Hurtado de Mendoza. “It’s them having full agency on how their story is told. That was absolutely key.”
In addition to highlighting the experiences of the first Black astronauts, “The Space Race” also addresses key American moments in history including the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, and the George Floyd uprising.
“What was always important for us as filmmakers is that we wanted this film to be in conversation with the present,” says Cortes. “What we are talking about in this film is race, equity, who writes history, the importance of this history being told during a time when there is a pushback to African American history being included in textbooks. So, all of those things were a part of what we were packing into 90 minutes.”
In just over 100 minutes directors Henry Roosevelt and Charlie Sadoff examine two pressing national issues: America’s problematic child welfare system via “Take Care of Maya,” and the country’s violent extremist movement in “Against All Enemies.”
Roosevelt’s “Take Care of Maya” traces a Florida family’s battle with the child welfare system after 10-year-old Maya was declared a ward of the state. The Netflix doc, according to Roosevelt, is not a call to action endeavor.
“I think people are going to feel a lot of things watching this film and there should be a complexity of emotions,” he says. “For us, it was about emotional truth more than anything. It was a human look at a very complicated child welfare system.”
In “Against All Enemies,” Sadoff investigates the rise of veterans’ involvement in various insurrectionist and white supremacist groups across the country. Sadoff gives a 360 look at the insurrectionist movement by examining its historical roots, interviewing experts and veterans and using never-before-seen insider footage of the Oath Keepers.
Safoff says that when former Navy pilot and combat recon mission commander Ken Harbaugh, a writer and producer on the project, brought the idea of “Against All Enemies” to him, he knew straight away that “it was a film I wanted to make.
“The greatest threat to the United States are domestic violent extremist groups, and at the core of those movements are military veterans who were trained by the very government they seek to overthrow,” says Sadoff. “As we dug into the story, two questions that were posed in some of our early interviews really started to intrigue me. The first was from Rep. Jason Crow, who was in the Capitol on Jan. 6th, and asked, “how did I end up on one side of that door, and my fellow vets, who swore the same oath, end up on the other side?” The second was from veteran Kris Goldsmith, who asked, “what is the pattern that got us here?” Trying to answer those questions and several others that came to light along the way made this a really interesting film to make.”
In total 53 documentaries will screen at Tribeca Festival, which runs June 7 – June 18.