Tribeca Squared

Spider-Man 3, free for a few at Tribeca.Photo: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Rooting for the Tribeca Film Festival can be a bit like cheering for the Knicks: They’ve got gobs of money and tons of potential, and you want to support the home team, but you can’t help but be hypercritical about it. This year, we’re wondering, why are there still so many bad celebrity vehicles? Why is such a purportedly populist film festival opening with an event (Al Gore’s environmental shorts) that is closed to the public? And why on earth has Tribeca hiked ticket prices from $12 to $18? (Tickets are just $15 at Sundance, where there are far better odds that you’ll see the next Little Miss Sunshine.) But on to the good news: Tribeca’s cut down on the Hollywood publicity blitzes and is offering free public tickets to premieres of Spider-Man 3 (whereas last year’s M:i:III-a-thon was, absurdly, VIP-only). And, most important, after watching just 50-some of the 150-plus features (many haven’t screened yet), we’ve already found a dozen movies that justify the elevated price of admission. And we’ll remain on the lookout. For daily coverage and the best short films of the festival, see —Logan Hill

The Business of Being Born
Premieres April 29.
Yes, it’s a tad one-sided, but it’s also very hard not to watch. Abby Epstein’s documentary, exec-produced by Ricki Lake, exposes the risks of hospital births and explores age-old practices that are frequently overlooked in this schedule-my-C-section era. Among the more arresting segments: Lake’s giving birth herself, the old-fashioned way. —Sara Cardace

Premieres April 27.
Not the kind of inspiring sports doc we’re used to, Jon Frankel’s absorbing and insightful film documents Harlem’s only high-school football team, under the guidance of former Dallas Cowboy Duke Ferguson, as they fight for respect in a city that offers them very little support. —Bilge Ebiri

The King of Kong
Premieres April 26.
Seth Gordon’s doc ennobles the surprisingly epic face-off between conniving Donkey Kong world-record holder (and hot-sauce salesman) Billy Mitchell and unlucky underdog Steve Weibe, a family man whose tearful struggle is downright Oprah-iffic. —Logan Hill

Premieres April 27.
Paolo Cherchi Usai’s experimental work pairs a live orchestral and choral performance of Arvo Pärt’s interpretation of the St. John Passion with an unsettling montage of found film. It’s not for the squeamish (think eyeball surgery), but the live performances, at St. John the Divine and Trinity Church, are bound to leave you speechless, either for better or for worse. —Sara Cardace

Photo: Courtesy of the Tribeca Film Festival

Planet B-Boy
Premieres April 26.
In the wake of Spellbound, we’ve all seen too many competition documentaries, but you have never seen guys popping and locking like the gymnastic South Koreans who dominate the world break-dancing championships. This crowd-pleasing doc by Benson Lee (a vet of the Tribeca All Access program) is a literally head-spinning tribute to hip-hop globalization. Call it The World Is Phat.—Logan Hill

The Power of the Game
Premieres April 28.
In his latest documentary, Michael Apted is inspired to examine many societies around the world through the prism of football (a.k.a. soccer) and the World Cup. That means football—and its ardent fans—as a symbol of international legitimacy in South Africa, as a refuge for the underclass in Buenos Aires, as a potential equalizer in Iran (where there is a female football reporter—often the only woman in a stadium of thousands), and as a cauldron for racism in Germany. Everyone waits for the U.S. to jump on the bandwagon—but Americans can’t get excited about anything they can’t win at. —David Edelstein

Shotgun Stories
Premieres April 27.
The Deep South: trailer homes, sprawling farms, tractors, and two sets of brothers, one abandoned by an alcoholic father, the other raised by the same man in a good Christian home. After the forsaken brothers make a scene at their father’s funeral, resentment escalates into tit-for-tat brutality that is increasingly lethal. It’s not the Hatfields versus the McCoys, but something far eerier: the Hayeses versus the Hayeses. The countrified-bass score detracts a bit from the brilliant, barbed dialogue. But Jeff Nichols’s film is a searing, then sobering exploration of primal injuries, with a truth that can’t be repeated too often: Violence is never cathartic. —David Edelstein

Times and Winds, about Turkey (and nature).Photo: Courtesy of the Tribeca Film Festival

Times and Winds
Premieres April 26.
Turkish director Reha Erdem’s otherworldly film is, on its surface, a look at the complex relationship between children and parents in a rural, windswept Anatolian village. But it is also as much an immersive meditation on the unsettling power of nature, creating a world in which its human characters are but one link in a tangled natural order. —Bilge Ebiri

Tuya's Marriage, about a Mongolian divorce.Photo: Courtesy of the Tribeca Film Festival

Tuya’s Marriage
Premieres April 28.
Winner of the Golden Bear, the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival, Wang Quan’an’s beautifully shot, odd tale follows a strong-willed Mongolian woman who, in order to provide for her disabled husband, divorces him and seeks a new mate. But it’s not a downer—rather, it’s a delicately observed look at loyalty in all its forms. —Bilge Ebiri

A Walk Into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory
Premieres April 28.
It’s always useful to be reminded—after Ric Burns’s rich and evocative but largely reverent PBS portrait—that Warhol was a perverse little creep who got off on setting acolyte against acolyte and standing back to survey the emotional (and sometimes physical) damage (and, of course, profiting immensely). Esther B. Robinson documents the career of her uncle Danny Williams, an aspiring filmmaker and Warhol’s sometime lover who disappeared in 1966—perhaps into the ocean off Cape Ann—after being shunned by the downtown freak brigade. Some of the Warhol survivors emerge sane and reflective; others (Paul Morrissey, Williams’s chief rival as resident filmmaker) a mite dodgy. Fascinating stuff. —David Edelstein

The festival based in America’s most expensive neighborhood isn’t all pay-for-play: As part of the family-friendly “Drive-In” series, the World Financial Center Plaza will be converted into a high-energy luau on April 27, complete with flame jugglers, a band playing the Beach Boys, Hawaiian food, and an outdoor sneak-peek screening of the animated toon Surf’s Up, about penguin beach bums. On May 5, sports fans should rush to N. Moore and Greenwich Streets for the free Sports Saturday celebration, featuring extreme BMX demonstrations, a football theme camp, and (no doubt) a few quasi-celebrity cameos. And on April 28, Fab Five Freddy himself will host a free screening of the pop-and-lock doc Planet B-Boy (see below) at the plaza, following live break-dance demos and lessons from champion B-boys who will urge you to, please, try these stunts at home. —S.C.

Tribeca Squared