Lessons for the world we're living in | Capsule Reviews from Tribeca Film Festival 2021


This year's documentary pool at Tribeca Film Festival is a strong one with a great amount of incredible never-before-told stories that speak directly to the heart of issues that have long been the fabric of our society. The films mentioned below aim to push those conversations into the present and continue a dialogue that is urgent in a world that is growing more divisive each day. 

Being Bebe dir. by Emily Branham

The cultural impact of the TV show Rupaul's Drag Race is plentiful. If you've never seen an episode, you've almost undoubtedly heard of it, and failing that, the cultural impact runs so deep that you've most certainly unknowingly witnessed a quote or two out in public. 

Both a documentary on the first winner of the show, Bebe Zahara Benet (Nea Marshall Kudi Ngwa), and a lesson in being LGBTQ+ in Cameroon, themes of identity and living without boundaries are prevalent in every frame of Branham's documentary. It's a coming-of-age story at its heart, with a wealth of home footage to accompany it. It is a gift for an audience, and particularly for fans, to be able to travel on the journey with Marshall for that many years, heading back to 2006 right up to the present day. 

It's a behind-the-scenes deep dive in demystifying the idea of "celebrity" and the measure of success you need to make it sustainable. Being Bebe is bold storytelling just for its general intimacy and honesty that is usually withdrawn from audiences, and there are valuable teachings for every age category regardless of your relationship to the show. 

Accepted dir. by Dan Chen 

Accepted begins as a story of hope. One filled with bright minds of young people working beyond belief to live up to the "American Dream" promised to them by inspirational teachers who adopt a new method of education, resulting in a 100% acceptance rate to college. 

T.M. Landry, founded by Tracey and Mike Landry in 2005, recently came under fire for its falsifying of transcripts and other controversial teaching practices such as physical and emotional abuse. Director Dan Chen captures an extraordinary story in spending a year with the students and uncovering the controversies as they unfold.

Although starting as one film and ending as another, the filmmakers treat the story they're telling with seriousness, and it ends up being a tale more vital than the one it set out to be, cutting through to an often overlooked issue. 

The college system has come under fire for multiple reasons in recent years, and the impact of this is given space in the film, showing just how weighty these issues are in the lives of those like the students of T.M. Landry. 

Although deeply devastating at its core, the students are its leading light. Their hope radiates throughout, and although they have had so much taken from them, they remain resilient where they needn't have to. Chen has told an impactful story thoughtfully and insightfully, calling us to do better for younger generations. 

The Phantom dir. by Patrick Forbes

The Phantom is a story all too common. For every nine people executed in the US, one person has been found innocent and unfortunately, that one is not always found before the ultimate price has been paid. 

Patrick Forbes's documentary centres on the case of Carlos DeLuna, who was tried, convicted and executed for a crime he did not commit. The story comes at a necessary time in that it was debuted a matter of days before South Carolina was set to reinstate its executions after a ten-year-long hiatus. 

Although, for many, The Phantom will be a familiar story, it doesn't detract from its importance. Particularly when there are rapidly developing conversations on the place the death penalty has in society, where some states are garnering new methods to execute while others abolish its use entirely. 

The Phantom discusses many controversial issues with capital punishment, citing race and innocence while maintaining an accessible aesthetic that makes the narrative easy to follow. It has a quality of fiction that is inviting, and although aware of its polemic, it remains impartial and critical where necessary. 

Although it recycles old topics, these conversations must continue to be had until we no longer have to have them. The more media can hold people to account, the better. 


Each film mentioned is playing as part of the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival

further information can be found here https://tribecafilm.com/festival

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