×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Tribeca Documentaries Showcase Timely Political Issues


While social justice and eco-themed documentaries are once again prevalent at Tribeca, portrait docs focusing on politically controversial subjects dominate the nonfiction lineup.

Ronald Reagan, Elián González, Frank Serpico, Roger Stone, Rodney King and WeCopwatch member Ramsey Orta, who filmed Eric Garner’s fatal Staten Island arrest, are among the many famous and infamous figures being explored by 11 directors including Sierra Pettengill, Camilla Hall and Academy Award winners Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin. The six films explore subject matter that still makes headlines today including fake news, race relations and immigration.

Cara Cusumano, TFF director of programming, says including politically driven docs into this year’s lineup was a “priority.”

“We were very much in the thick of the election season when we started to program the festival and politics was on a lot of people’s minds,” Cusumano says. “We felt that it was essential to look back in time at stories and figures and what they have to say about our world today. Each film is looking back in order to look forward.”

In assembling “The Reagan Show,” co-directors Pettengill and Pacho Velez relied entirely on 1,000 hours of archival news footage of former President Reagan and videotapes created by his administration.

“Rather than applying the tapes to a pre-determined story or cherry-picking it for illustrative purposes, we sat with the tapes and reckoned with it as a body of footage,” Pettengill says. “It was crucial to me that we remain within the archival record, and resist the lure of outside voices from the present day.”

By doing so the film reveals that the country’s 40th president not only coined the term, “Make America Great Again,” but also that Reagan, like Trump, attempted to manipulate the media by replacing the truth with self-authored statements during his rivalry with charismatic Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.“I guarantee that Trump’s people studied Reagan’s playbook from 1980 and 1984 in order to figure out how you get white working-class Democrats to vote Republican,” Velez says .

Like “The Reagan Show,” Netflix’s “Get Me Roger Stone” is a window into the past 40 years of politics. President Trump is interviewed in the film about Stone — a political consultant and longtime Trump confidante and adviser. Directed by Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro and Morgan Pehme, the docu traces the monumental shifts that the self-described “dirty trickster” has made on modern GOP history — connecting Nixon, Roy Cohn and Reagan with Super PACs, lobbying, the 2000 election, as well as the election of the country’s first reality star president.

Frank Serpico” is one of three films that explores police corruption. Lindsay and Martin’s “LA 92” for National Geographic draws on archival news images and unseen footage to paint an in-depth portrait of the 1992 Los Angeles riots and the tempestuous relationship between the city’s African-American community and those charged with protecting it, while Hall’s “Copwatch” explores a group of citizens who have documented police interactions and brutality since 1990.

“Serpico” director Antonino D’Ambrosio wanted to let audiences discover rather than passively receive ideas about the former NYPD officer, who in the 1970s outed corruption and payoffs running rampant in the department.

“It’s sometimes that simple that one person can make a difference, but that idea has been turned into something that is looked down upon as a joke,” says D’Ambrosio. “Serpico’s story is a reminder that it can happen and that we aren’t living for ourselves. We are living for history and we have a role to play in shaping that history.”

Like Serpico, 5 year-old Elián González also had a role in shaping history. In CNN Films’ “Elián,” Tim Golden and Ross McDonnell retrace the 1999 custody battle between González’s Cuban father and his Miami-located relatives, who brought the conflict between Cuba and the U.S. to the forefront. It marked the first time Washington D.C. and Havana have agreed since the early ’60s. It also marked the first time the Cuban-American community found themselves on the wrong side of the argument.

“They realized simply denouncing Fidel [Castro] and denouncing Cuba wasn’t going to work anymore,” says pic’s producer Trevor Birney. “It was a long road from there to where we, the United States, found themselves at the end of the Obama administration with regards to Cuba.”

The film gives the now grown-up González the chance to tell his own side of the story 18 years after becoming a political football. But because Trump has not made it clear if he will further Obama’s advances on Cuban-American relations, González will not attend the Tribeca premiere of the film.

“His first visit back to America will be very significant moment for both America and Cuba,” says Birney. “But it’s an uncertain time for Cubans and they are not willing to send Elián here at the moment.”

Despite political fatigue, Cusumano feels that audiences want to see films in an attempt to better understand.

“How we got here and how we can all figure this out together is on people’s minds,” she says. “The empathy that film brings to a character or situation that maybe you don’t agree with, is the way that we can come together around these issues.”

More Film

  • Orange Studio, OCS Join Forces on

    Orange Studio, OCS Join Forces on Flurry of High-Profile Series

    Following “The Name of the Rose”(pictured) and “Devils,” France’s Orange has unveiled four internationally-driven series projects as part of its commitment to step into premium original shows with its film/TV division Orange Studio and pay TV group OCS both of board. Currently in development, the social western “Cheyenne & Lola,” the dance-filled workplace drama “The [...]

  • 'This Isn’t Spinal Tap': Dishing the

    'This Isn’t Spinal Tap': Dishing the Dirt on Motley Crue's Surprisingly Dark Biopic

    The new, eagerly awaited Motley Crue biopic, based on Neil Strauss’ best-selling 2001 book, “The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band,” premieres today on Netflix after a seemingly endless 13 years in development hell. Those anticipating “a fun ‘80s music movie,” as Crue bassist Nikki Sixx puts it, will inevitably be stunned [...]

  • Doppelgänger Red (Lupita Nyong'o) and Adelaide

    Box Office: Jordan Peele's 'Us' Nabs $7.4 Million on Thursday Night

    Jordan Peele’s horror-thriller “Us” opened impressively with $7.4 million on Thursday night. The figure easily topped Thursday preview numbers for “The Nun” at $5.4 million and “A Quiet Place” at $4.3 million. Projections for “Us,” Peele’s much-anticipated follow-up to 2017’s “Get Out,” have been in the $38 million to $45 million range for the weekend as [...]

  • Beatriz Bodegas on Netflix Original: ‘Who

    ‘Who Would You Take to a Desert Island?’ Producer on New Spanish Netflix Original

    BARCELONA – “Who Would You Take to a Desert Island?” is the second directorial outing from Spain’s Jota Linares (“Animales sin collar”) a Netflix Original premiering on Friday, March 22 in competition at the Malaga Spanish Language Film Festival. Starring María Pedraza, Jaime Lorente, Pol Monen and Andrea Ros, the film is the movie adaptation [...]

  • Beijing Festival Unveils 'Max Max,' 'Bourne'

    Beijing Festival Unveils 'Max Max,' 'Bourne,' Kurosawa Screening Series

    The upcoming Beijing International Film Festival will give space to high profile Hollywood franchise movies with screenings of all films in both the “Mad Max” and “Bourne Identity” series. Classic Hollywood fare will also feature prominently in a line-up that, as usual, features an eclectic grab bag of titles. The local government-backed festival opens April [...]

  • J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church

    SXSW Film Review: 'J.R. 'Bob' Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius'

    Like 8mm films of 1960s “happenings” or videos of 1970s performance art, “J.R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius” chronicles a cultural footnote that perhaps should be filed under the heading You Had to Be There. The satirical-absurdist “religion” founded by some Texans actually caught fire among hipsters in the 1980s, influencing some [...]

  • 'Roll Red Roll' Review: Piercing Documentary

    Film Review: 'Roll Red Roll'

    “Roll Red Roll” is a piercingly relevant and disturbing documentary about an infamous high school rape case that took place in Steubenville, Ohio (pop. 18,600), on Aug. 11, 2012. Steubenville, the sort of Friday-night-lights small town that boasts signs that read “Kick off for Jesus,” is a place that’s good at keeping secrets. When the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content