In its 15th year, the Tribeca Film Festival – which wrapped up April 24 – offered a bevy of indies, documentaries, quasi-documentaries, and gay porn dramas. Here are six titles (each of them is still lacking an American distributor) to look out for when they eventually pop up at a theater or streaming platform near you.
1. My Scientology Movie
Directed by John Dower
BBC broadcaster Louis Theroux is known for his calm in the face of absurdity. That makes him an ideal guide for this comic, Kafkaesque journey around the razor-fenced perimeter of the Church of Scientology. A classic Theroux moment is in this scene, outside the Church’s top secret compound in Hemet, California, where he greets the illumination of gigantic prison-style floodlights with relief that he can finally see. His approach is disarmingly shaggy and meta – and in lieu of interviews with church members, he enlists one-time strongman and now apostate Marty Rathbun to help stage reenactments involving leader David Miscavige (played chillingly by Andrew Perez). One sequence featuring an alleged (and denied by the Church) Miscavige freak-out in a boardroom is terrifying to watch.
My Scientology Movie dispenses with the monotonous ridiculing of the religion itself, and the film holds a defector like Rathbun accountable for his self-confessed decades of questionable service. On both those counts, I think it’s better than Alex Gibney’s Going Clear, which at one point features a whole montage of former Scientologists laughing and crowing about the religion’s sci-fi precepts – which they believed for decades. But Theroux’s low-key approach yields honest moments of insight about the surreal complexities of confronting another person’s faith, even in the mellowest of tones.
2. Always Shine
Directed by Sophia Takal
Anna (Mackenzie Davis from The Martian and Halt and Catch Fire) and Beth (Caitlin FitzGerald from Masters of Sex) are best friends, both actresses, whose mutual jealousy and competitiveness simmer to a boil while they’re on a road trip to Big Sur. In her second feature, after 2011’s Green, director Takal builds tension like an old pro – and then takes the movie, at the halfway point, on a wild turn down Mulholland Drive. You’ll go along for the ride. Takal is a major filmmaking talent to watch.
Directed by Richard Dewey and Timothy Marrinan
Marina Abramović, David Blaine, and the boys of Jackass all owe a debt to the lunacy of Chris Burden (1946–2015), who upended the art world in the 1970s. He stuffed himself into a locker for days, had his hands nailed to a car, rolled in broken glass, and was famously shot by a rifle. This richly textured and surprisingly sweet documentary (see trailer here) explores the roots of Burden’s public sadomasochism, while also painting a portrait of the artist in late-life repose. His subsequent work (including “Urban Light,” the iconic Los Angeles installation of street lamps) illuminates the serenity that emerged from his self-harm.
4. Houston We Have a Problem
Directed by Žiga Virc
Slovenian director Virc’s documentary is about the top secret role that Yugoslavia played in the American space program, focusing on an elderly scientist whose death was faked so that he could covertly help with the Apollo missions. The story is gripping – even before you realize (or maybe you won’t) that it’s a total hoax, a warped mirror brilliantly reflecting back on us how easily we can be conned. (Official Facebook page and trailer.)
5. Women Who Kill
Directed by Ingrid Jungermann
Brooklynite Jungermann’s writing has a Coen brothers drollness, which she’s honed on her Web series The Slope and F to 7th. (The latter was recently picked up by Showtime.) For her wry first feature, she’s poured all her mirth and deadpan into a light-footed lesbian noir involving a journalist (played by Jungermann) who podcasts about female killers – and then possibly falls under the romantic spell of one (Sheila Vand, the lady vampire from A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night). Jungermann’s film references include Blood Simple, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and The Grifters, and her voice is both generous and spiked with just enough misanthropy about dating to make the jokes sting. (Official site)
6. King Cobra
Directed by Justin Kelly
James Franco and Christian Slater star as producers of gay Internet porn rivaling over a young stud (Disney Channel regular Garrett Clayton) in a film based on a lurid true-crime story. Director Kelly (I Am Michael) goes for camp too often, especially in bawdy scenes between an off-leash Franco and Pretty Little Liars’ Keegan Allen. (Allen, though, looks like a ripped Willem Dafoe and delivers a performance of Dafoe-caliber weirdness.) Yet even if it doesn’t hit the heights of Boogie Nights, Slater is the movie’s Burt Reynolds, poignant in what is perhaps the most soulfully against-type role of his 30-year career.