Forget "Avengers: Endgame" — the real superheroes of cinema can be found at the Tribeca Film Festival, which returns on Wednesday night.
For the 18th edition of the annual spring event, programmers say they have maintained their core mission to reflect the diversity of the New York moviegoing audience by programming a slate of 103 features from across the country and the world.
They have furthered that commitment, they say, and attempted to address historic film industry imbalances by having 40% of those features directed by women, 29% by people of color and 13% by LGBTQIA individuals.
"From the beginning, the festival has really been about community and about bringing people, particularly New Yorkers, together around film and the arts," says Cara Cusumano, Tribeca’s festival director. "That was part of our founding mission and I think we really hearkened back to that this year as we were programming. We have a festival this year that’s extremely inclusive and diverse and really represents our city and our filmmaking community in a really strong way."
Cusumano points to the festival’s abundance of live events, which include talks with Questlove and a special day devoted to Pride, and recent experimentation with other forms of storytelling, including this year’s live premiere of a narrative fiction podcast starring Jenny Slate called "Earth Break," as further proof of the programmers’ steadfast intention to provide a wide range of programming.
NYC moviegoers will find plenty that’s relatable on-screen in the opening night selection "The Apollo," a documentary about the 85-year-old Harlem institution, and in the introduction of a new section this year called "This Used to be New York."
The latter includes three documentaries that chart the course of gentrification and other profound cultural changes in the city, in unique ways. There’s "Martha: A Picture Story," about ’70s photographer Martha Cooper and her images of graffiti, and "Other Music," which tells the story of the former East Village indie record store.
The series rounds out with "The Projectionist," by the filmmaker Abel Ferrara (himself a onetime downtown institution), about Nick Nicolaou, the longtime theater owner who operates Cinema Village in Manhattan, the Alpine in Bay Ridge and Cinemart in Forest Hills.
"It’s always in our mind’s eye to find programming that speaks to the New York audience," Cusumano says. " … I would say we have New York in all sections of our festival, whether it be our feature program, our short films, our online work. They’re sprinkled throughout. It’s something that’s important to us and at our core."
Other movies with strong New York City ties include the documentary "A Kid From Coney Island," about former Knicks star Stephon Marbury. Then there’s the Brooklyn-set comedy "Good Posture," starring Emily Mortimer and Grace Van Patten as brownstone roommates.
The documentary "Charlie’s Records" tells the story of Rawlston Charles, founder of Bed-Stuy’s institution Charlie’s Calypso City. The family comedy "Safe Spaces" stars Justin Long, Fran Drescher and Richard Schiff. "Wig" chronicles the East Village drag festival Wigstock. The list goes on.
The Movies Plus series includes screenings and events such as Sheryl Crow performing in celebration of Linda Rondstadt after the premiere of "Linda Rondstadt: The Sound of My Voice." The Tribeca Immersive series offers virtual reality pieces and other types of experiences that "are expanding the notion of what it means to be immersive," says senior programmer Loren Hammonds.
In short, there’s a lot to digest here, on the big screen and beyond. New Yorkers expect nothing less, according to Hammonds: "What we recognize is that our audience is just culturally curious across the board."
If you go: the Tribeca Film Festival runs Wednesday through May 5. For tickets, venues and showtimes, visit tribecafilm.com.