It’s taken 15 years, but the Tribeca Film Festival—like all teenagers—has finally found a personality it can take out in public. It’s an annual showcase that’s come to flaunt its love for great documentaries. We’ve included five truly eye-opening ones below, a full half of our picks, and could have included five more. Tribeca loves process: Even in its selection of narrative dramas, from The Family Fang to Sophia Takai’s breathtaking Always Shine, the act of artmaking is a subject in itself. And what’s a film festival co-founded by Robert De Niro without a Martin Scorsese movie? Following up past galas of The King of Comedy and Goodfellas, this year we get a special movie screening of Taxi Driver. If you haven’t already, it’s time to buddy up to the coolest, dorkiest, trying-really-hard fest in town. Visit the fest’s official site for tickets and more.
RECOMMENDED: Full coverage of the Tribeca Film Festival
Best Tribeca Film Festival movies
New York City teens have just about the worst onscreen rep imaginable: Kids, Cruel Intentions, Gossip Girl and Heaven Knows What have all made their mark. Debuting documentary director Jenny Gage is after something far less judgmental. She’s followed two middle-class Manhattan sisters and their gaggle of BFFs through parties, boy troubles, coming out and the pressures of dawning adulthood. The result, sun-struck and frenetic, is a movie you want to hug. Regal Battery Park; April 14 at 5:45pm, April 16 at 8pm, April 22 at 7:30pm • Bow Tie Chelsea; April 15 at 4pm • Rush tickets only.
A mumblecore vet made good, Brooklyn actor-director Sophia Takal steps up considerably with this ridiculously entertaining Brian De Palma–esque thriller, the surprise of the fest, one with a knowing wink in the direction of Persona. It’s about two frenemies (Mackenzie Davis and Caitlin FitzGerald), both neurotic actors of a competitive nature, who head to woodsy Big Sur, California, for a gal-pal retreat that you know will go south. Takal turns every casual exchange into a lunge for dominance, and the movie keeps you flinching. Bow Tie Chelsea; April 15 at 9:15pm • Regal Battery Park; April 16 at 10:30pm, April 20 at 7:45pm, April 23 at 2:45pm • Rush tickets only.
Chris Burden was a notorious performance artist whose acts of daredevilry earned him comparisons to Evel Knievel and immortalization in David Bowie’s “Joe the Lion” with the lyrics “Nail me to my car / and I’ll tell you who you are.” (Yes, the dude actually nailed himself to his VW.) He’s exactly the kind of figure who deserves a documentary to do him justice—and this shocking one has all the humor and panache you could hope for. Early ’70s video captures Burden being shot by a rifle in a gallery; he’s also interviewed at home months before his 2015 death. Regal Battery Park; April 16 at 5:30pm, April 22 at 8:45pm • Bow Tie Chelsea; April 18 at 8:30pm, April 21 at 9:30pm • $23.50.
Eric Schlosser’s 2013 nonfiction exposé, a Pulitzer finalist, was a terrifying chronicle of “broken arrows,” the military’s designation for accidents involving nuclear bombs—and one 1980 mishap involving a socket wrench that almost resulted in a mushroom cloud over Arkansas. The doc version, streamlined yet effective, goes deep into the Dr. Strangelove–ian folly that, years after the Cold War, we still must keep up or suffer civilization-ending consequences. Bow Tie Chelsea; April 17 at 6:15pm, April 22 at 3:45pm • Regal Battery Park; April 18 at 8pm • $23.50.
Jason Bateman is developing into a formidable director, to judge from his second behind-the-camera feature (Bad Words was his first), one that weds the faded but affectionate glories of The Royal Tenenbaums to a sharper-edged critique of the crazy passion of artists. At the very least, Bateman has pulled off two miracles: summoning a zesty, unpredictable performance from Nicole Kidman and a movingly vulnerable one from onscreen dad Christopher Walken. BMCC Tribeca; April 16 at 9pm • Regal Battery Park; April 17 at 9:45pm, April 19 at 3:45pm • Bow Tie Chelsea; April 20 at 9pm • $23.50.
Wacky, dark and unmistakably a product of New Zealand, Taika Waititi’s unhinged comedy-adventure introduces us to an unruly juvie offender (Julian Dennison) who falls under the baleful eye of his mountain-man foster uncle (a flinty Sam Neill, armed with multiple weapons). Evading a national manhunt and fleeing into the bush, the duo forge an unlikely bond over the day’s kill. It’s a movie with the same gooey glee as the early work of Peter Jackson. Regal Battery Park; April 20 at 9:45pm, April 21 at 6:45pm • Bow Tie Chelsea; April 22 at 6pm • $23.50.
Hungary’s Csanád Szegedi rose to the top of a virulently anti-Semitic political party and even landed a seat in European Parliament. But in 2012, he discovered that his grandmother was Jewish. His difficult journey of atonement is the subject of this complex profile, which puts the smooth-talking Szegedi front and center (he’s cursed with a certain glibness), along with the angry voices who don’t believe he’s being sincere. If you want a controversial fest title, this is it. Bow Tie Chelsea; April 14 at 6:15pm, April 19 at 3:30pm • Regal Battery Park; April 18 at 6:30pm, April 20 at 3:15pm • $13.50–$23.50.
Clark isn’t your typical kid—and in the lily-white suburbs where his biracial academic parents have resettled for a job, his soft-spoken love of Afrobeat and ’90s hip-hop sticks out like his luxurious head of hair. Little Boxes mines subtle comic gold from the misunderstandings of wine-swilling faculty burnouts, cool-crazed fifth-grade girls and the accidental exoticism of an NYC family thrust from its comfort zone. It’s a real Tribeca discovery, with a cast that includes the effortlessly hilarious Melanie Lynskey and True Blood’s Nelsan Ellis. Bow Tie Chelsea; April 15 at 6pm, April 19 at 3:15pm • Regal Battery Park; April 16 at 3:15pm, April 21 at 8:30pm • Rush tickets only.
NYC film critic turned director Marshall Fine has righted a colossal wrong by saluting the underappreciated Robert Klein, a stand-up comedian (the first to have a special on HBO in 1975) whose mania and political edge inspired a generation to come. Warmly, those guys are all here, testifying: Bill Maher, Richard Lewis, Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld, who calls Klein the Beatles of comedy. He’s not wrong, if cringe comedy is your Revolver. Klein, meanwhile, is still at it, a lovable ham. SVA Theatre; April 19 at 9:30pm • $23.50.
You talkin’ to me? For this special 40th-anniversary screening of the essential after-dark psychodrama, a sterling group of luminaries talk to you: Director Martin Scorsese, screenwriter Paul Schrader and costars Robert De Niro, Cybill Shepherd and Jodie Foster are all scheduled to participate in a postscreening Q&A for the ages. Superfans, hail a cab, but eyeball that guy behind the wheel closely. Beacon Theatre; April 21 at 7:30pm • $70–$355.