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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Tribeca Short Takes: TV, Short Films, and Virtual Reality

In just one week's time, the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival has managed to highlight a remarkable variety of films and conversations that highlight diverse storytelling, genres, characters, cultures, languages, and even format. In fact, a major element this year was its Virtual Arcade, an exciting treasure trove of cinematic projects made specifically for the virtual reality space. That's right, folks. We are now living in the future.

Here are a few of my favorite non-traditional projects at the Festival:


Director: Brian Schulz
Short Take: Avoiding what could have easily been a somber narrative about the clean water crisis in Flint, Michigan, Schulz instead chooses to make this documentary a love letter to the city. He interviews long-time residents who reflect on the beauty of their hometown. In doing so, they share their own stories of redemption, faith, mentorship, and pride. While the movie has no discernible agenda, and skirts all intentions of being a passionate rallying cry, there is something very special about this inspiring piece and how it looks at tragedy.

Writer/Director: Kaveh Mazaheri
Cast Azadeh Abadpour, Negin Ahmadi, Forough Azizi 
Short Take: Add this to the growing list of brilliant modern films by or featuring Iranian talent or characters (Under the Shadow and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) that are coming out of the woodwork lately. While it's not directed by a woman, Retouch is decidedly feminist. It centers on a wife and mother (Azadeh Abadpour) who makes a conscious decision to not intervene when her overbearing husband (Negin Ahmadi) loses his grip on a dumbbell that falls onto his neck. While he struggles to twist from beneath the heavy weight, his wife stares on looking at once fearful, sad, yet subtly relieved. We don't know anything about the back story between the two characters, but this one scene is enough build full chapters on. Was she oppressed? Abused? Does she just no longer want her husband around? Or was this a convenient act of defiance? Abadpour's wonderful performance embodies the perfect combination of horror, silent rage, subtlety, and vulnerability. A definite must-see. 


Created by and for black women, this project highlights the brilliance, authority, beauty, and savvy of black women in science, business, and society. It immerses you in a Matrix-like portal that quickly evolves into familiar realms, including a beauty parlor, and introduces you to bold, naturally shaped and coiffed black women geniuses that serve as mentors and guides for you along this spectacular journey. It's a truly empowering trip.

In celebration of Mother Earth, voice actors Constance Wu (ABC's Fresh Off the Boat) and Diego Luna (Rogue One) team up for a gorgeous project that teaches the importance of protecting the world in which we live and accepting personal uniqueness. Oscar and Grammy Award-winner John Legend executive produced and stars as the lead character, who is teased in the preview showcased at the Festival. For a more interactive experience, you can even impact the weather with the gentle wave of a wand. While it may primarily attract children, there's definitely a universal message that audiences of all ages can appreciate. 


After years of playing the love interest and the insignificant other in countless films, Jessica Biel may have finally found the role she was actually meant to play. Director Antonio Campos, who slayed audiences with the criminally underrated Christine last year, returns with an equally disturbing and fragile narrative about Cora Tanner (Biel) whose intrigue is only matched by her violent rage when you least expect. We know very little about Cora when we first meet her, outside the fact that she is a mother and a wife, but her discomfort in her own surroundings is palpable. As Biel said at the Festival's premiere of the first episode, Cora is the type of character whose layers are peeled as the series progresses. I'm already hooked. 


Commenting on everything from the lack of diversity in late night TV to the underdiscussed transphobia and homophobia portrayed on the classic sitcom Martin, to the vulnerability of being a black woman who discusses race on the Internet, Aisha Harris (Culture Writer and Editor for Slate) and Franchesca Ramsey (the mastermind behind the viral sensation, Sh*t White Girls Black Girls (SWGSTBG) and the host of MTV’s Decoded) left no subject taboo in this much needed conversation about diverse images in media. Funny, enlightening, and boldly outrageous, Ramsey basically proved she is a spirit animal of many of us as she too thinks that Party of Five was unceremoniously canceled, your faves are problematic, and that Chewing Gum's Michaela Coel is "inspiring." She's debuting a late night pilot on Comedy Central soon. She didn't reveal any more details beyond that, but my fingers are crossed. 

For more information about the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival, visit their website


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