The 2019 Tribeca Film Festival opens with Roger Ross Williams’ moving ode to the historic Harlem theater.
Even non-Manhattanites have heard, likely due to its famed amateur night, of the Harlem institution known as the Apollo Theater. This decades-long gathering place for an African-American community that often was, and still very much is, under siege gets a splendid tribute in Roger Ross Williams’ 2019 Tribeca Film Festival opener, and HBO-bound feature, The Apollo.
Fittingly, the movie world-premiered in the very venue it was honoring, and Tribeca co-founder Robert De Niro used the opportunity to take a few swipes at the racist dog-whistling of a certain commander-in-chief. “Not in this house!” he thundered, while conspicuously keeping the bad-behaved twit in question unmentioned. The audience, wildly applauding, knew exactly who he meant.
As Williams’ film goes on to show, displays of both approbation and reproach are common at The Apollo. A performer quickly knows if they’ve got the masses (1,506 patrons at full capacity) on their side, and among the archival treasures here is a video of 13-year-old Lauryn Hill not quite blowing the crowd away. There’s an element of danger to taking that stage, something not necessarily relieved by rubbing the “Tree of Hope” stump, the remains of a “good luck” elm chopped down in 1934 (the year the theater first opened its doors to black spectators) that sits just by the wings.
But there are innumerable triumphs as well, which many interviewees recall with a dazed gleam in their eye. Leslie Uggams, who first graced the Apollo stage as a 9-year-old, reminisces about opening for Louis Armstrong. Jamie Foxx talks about comics like Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor, who told harsh truths (about poverty and police brutality, among other oppressions) in ways that would have Apollo attendees doubled over with laughter.
There’s some amazing footage of an older Billie Holiday breathing fiery life into “Strange Fruit,” which she performed at the theater in its early days against the counsel of the powers-that-be, as well as an early Motown gathering that features a coterie of grand-talents-in-the-making such as Diana Ross and the Supremes and a 12-year-old Stevie Wonder. And no Apollo retrospective would be complete without fervent consecrations of the Godfather and the Queen of Soul, James Brown and Aretha Franklin, each of whom raised their audiences’ spirits in revolutionary ways.
The film isn’t just enshrining the Apollo’s history, however. Williams is as concerned with the theater’s future, with what its place is in a world that is perhaps better than it was, but remains in so many ways (and to African-Americans in particular) emphatically terrible. The Apollo eavesdrops on a few soul-searching board meetings chaired by CEO Janelle Procope and her team (the closest the doc gets to Frederick Wiseman-esque vérité). It also observes rehearsals for and the premiere performance of a star-studded stage adaptation of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s epistolary polemic Between the World and Me. Angela Bassett and Common absolutely kill their contributions.
In these scenes, Williams seems to be pondering if the Apollo — which survived a bankruptcy-incited closure in the ’70s, and is now a federal and city landmark run by a State of New York non-profit — can remain an indefinitely vital house of congregation and inspiration. Well, who can speak to eternity? But the fact that the theater has stood steadfast among so much change (good, ill and indifferent) suggests it will at the least endure. And The Apollo goes a long way to ensuring that the memories created in this one-of-a-kind space will be neither fleeting nor forgotten.
Director: Roger Ross Williams Producers: Lisa Cortes, Nigel Sinclair, Jeanne Elfant Festa, Cassidy Hartmann, Roger Ross Williams Screenwriters: Cassidy Hartmann, Jean Tsien Cinematographer: Michael Dwyer Editors: Jean Tsien, John S. Fisher Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Gala)
The 18th edition of the Tribeca Film Festival is set to take over downtown Manhattan on April 24 through May 5, and the 100-plus movies that will be showcased at the annual affair tackle a variety of genres and topics.
From much-anticipated documentaries to highly advertised feature films dealing with themes that have resonated within society both politically and culturally throughout the year, the 2019 lineup looks as stellar as ever.
Although there is still much ground to cover, the changing landscape of the industry makes itself apparent more than ever today: 40% of the feature films showcased are directed by women, 29% by people of color and 13% by LGBTQIA.
Here are the 20 productions we’re most excited to catch:
1. The Apollo
Oscar winning filmmaker Roger Ross Williams is behind this documentary that takes a deeper look at the history of the iconic venue in New York City, which will host the world-premiere of the screening and kick off the year’s festival. The film also explores the first stage production of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.
2. The Quiet One
The film focuses on artist and original bassist for the Rolling Stones Bill Wyman, dubbed a “man of few words.” Expect to take a peek behind his personal archives, filled with photographs, memorabilia and unseen footage, in addition to interviews with family and friends.
3. A Day in the Life of America
Actor Jared Leto puts on his director hat for this documentary that features footage from all 50 American states over the Fourth of July, creating an all-encompassing view of the country.
Christoph Waltz’s directorial debut centers around Ulrich Mott, an “eccentric social climber” that “throws lavish parties with his much-older wife.” The film stars the director himself alongside Vanessa Redgrave, who plays Waltz’s wife, and Annette Bening, his wife’s daughter.
Margot Robbie plays Allison Wells, a fugitive bank robber with a bounty on her head. Finn Cole sees her capture and the money he’d receive from that bounty as the only way to save his family’s farm, which is on the brink of foreclosure.
6. American Woman
This fictional drama is inspired by the much-chronicled 1974 kidnapping of heiress Patricia Hearst, who was 19 years old when taken from her apartment in Berkeley, California and beaten by an urban guerilla group called the Symbionese Liberation Army. Mad Men producer Semi Chellas’ directorial debut is a fictionalized retelling of Hearst’s time in hiding.
Freida Pinto and Leslie Odom Jr. star in this post-apocalyptic love story about a mysterious plague that only affects females.
8. Framing John DeLorean
Framing John DeLorean focuses on the infamous auto executive whose company crashed in the ’80s following corruption- and drug-related charges. Alec Baldwin stars as the titular character.
9. Come to Daddy
Elijah Wood is the star of this thriller: after a suicide attempt and heavy drug usage, he ventures out to his estranged father’s waterfront home in the hopes of reconnecting with him. But, upon his arrival, he notices strange things happening.
10. Standing Up, Falling Down
Ben Schwartz and Billy Crystal play two parts of an unlikely friendship between a stand-up comedian and a dermatologist in Long Island in this comedy directed by Matt Ratner.
11. Ask Doctor Ruth
Dr. Ruth Westheimer, now 90, is the subject of this documentary by Ryan White exploring her career as a celebrity sex therapist and, even more interestingly, her life as a Holocaust survivor.
12. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
Following Netflix’s successful documentary about serial killer Ted Bundy, this new film chronicles Bundy’s crimes from the perspective of his longtime girlfriend Liz (Lily Collins). Zac Efron stars as Bundy himself.
13. I Want My MTV
Explore the launch and early days of the culture-defining, music-centric network MTV in this documentary by Tyler Meason and Patrick Waldrop. Executives, musicians and veejays who were part of the 1981 launch and beyond appear on-camera for interviews.
14. The Kill Team
An unlikely duo, Alexander Skarsgård and Nat Wolff, play American soldiers in Afghanistan in this true crime thriller directed by Dan Krauss.
In Luce, Octavia Spencer plays an “overbearing teacher” whose perspective on Luce, one of his students, is shattered after an “unsettling essay” that he pens. Tim Roth and Naomi Watts play Luce’s adoptive parents.
16. Other Music
Now permanently closed, Other Music was a record store in New York’s West Village that, for 20 years, also functioned as a cultural and neighborhood staple. This documentary chronicles its history by featuring bands the likes of the Strokes, Vampire Weekend and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Already heavily marketed and picked up for distribution by Universal Pictures, Yesterday imagines a world with no Beatles. Academy Award-winning director Danny Boyle directs Himesh Patel as a struggling singer-songwriter in England who appropriates Beatles’ songs when nobody else knows about their existence. The result? Life-shattering fame, of course.
18. Safe Spaces
Adjunct professor Josh (Justin Long) is dealing with a budding romance, a class of college students and his grandmother’s illness in this comedy also starring Fran Drescher and Richard Schiff.
19. After Parkland
Spend 90 minutes witnessing the immediate aftermath of the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that shook the country to its core. The documentary features footage with both students and their parents.
20. Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston
Learn about the rise and fall of Halston, dubbed America’s “first celebrity designer” and a staple of the city’s nightlife scene. Billy Joel, Anjelica Huston, Diane von Furstenberg and Liza Minnelli are just some of the many people featured in interviews.
Nigel Sinclair, Celine Rattray and Thomas Benski are among speakers scheduled to attend the 11th annual Winston Baker TV & Film Finance Forum in New York on April 24 in association with the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment.
The event will cover financial and creative perspectives in entertainment and address growth and innovation strategies for film and television investors, operators and content creators in an evolving marketplace.
Strategy executives from Viacom, Vine Alternative Investments, Alcon Media Group and Guggenheim Securities will speak on the state of the market, M&A strategies, and what buyers want.
Sinclair is the co-founder and co-head with Guy East of White Horse Pictures and his producer and executive producer credits include Rush, End Of Watch, The Way Back, Tribeca Film Festival opening night premiere The Apollo, and a host of music documentaries on performers ranging from The Beatles to the late tenor Luciano Pavarotti.
Rattray partners with Trudie Styler at New York-based Maven Pictures and has produced Skin, The Kindergarten Teacher, The Kids Are All Right, Novitiate and the upcoming Sylvia Plath adaptation The Bell Jar. She served as executive producer on American Honey.
Pulse Films CEO and co-founder Benksi produced among others American Honey and the upcoming drama Mughal Mowgli and documentary XY Chelsea. His executive producer credits include The Witchand Skate Kitchen.
This year’s speaker roster includes Lilly Burns of Jax Media, Jennifer Cron of Eko, Brian Hunt of Believe Entertainment Group, Rafael Marmor of Delirio Films, and Dia Simms of Combs Enterprises.
Oscar-winning screenwriter Alexander Dinelaris (Birdman, shared with Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, and Armando Bo) will address storytelling strategies from conception through production, while John Sloss and distribution expert Lia Buman will share insider tips on finding success in the film business.
The event will take place at the Dream Downtown Hotel in New York City.For further information click here.