Review: ‘Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles,’ starring Yotam Ottolenghi, Dominique Ansel, Ghaya Oliveira, Dinara Kasko, Sam Bompas, Harry Parr and Janice Wong

September 25, 2020

by Carla Hay

Sam Bompas, Dominique Ansel, Yotam Ottolenghi, Dinara Kasko and Harry Parr in “Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles”

Directed by Laura Gabbert

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in New York City and briefly in London and Versailles, France, this documentary about celebrity chef/author Yotam Ottolenghi’s Metropolitan Museum of Art event to celebrate the cakes of Versailles features a cast of white and Asian people representing the upper-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: The challenge for this event was to bring a modern twist to classic pastry dishes, and there were a few conflicts with the museum staff over what the chefs should and should not do.

Culture Audience: “Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles” will appeal primarily to high-end foodies and fans of these chefs. 

A cake display in “Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

In June 2018, celebrity chef/author Yotam Ottolenghi (who owns and operates Ottolenghi Test Kitchen, a cooking hub/office in London) presented a celebration of the pastries of the legendry French court of Versailles in an event that took place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (also known as the Met) in New York City. The exhibit event, titled “Feast of Versailles with Yotam Ottolenghi,” included the work of several notable chefs who were personally invited by Ottolenghi to participate. The straightforward documentary “Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles” (directed by Laura Gabbert) chronicles the behind-the-scenes story about this event.

The movie begins with Ottolenghi in London (where he lives) talking about why he decided to head up this event: “I was looking for the next challenge.” He says the Metropolitan Museum of Art approached him for the job. Ottolenghi remembers thinking, “Why am I getting an email from the Met? I don’t hang out with the Met [crowd].”

Ottolenghi continues, “When I saw that Versailles was the upcoming exhibit at the Met, I was intrigued. Food and art and history meet at one big event at the Met about cakes inspired by Versailles.” Considering that Ottolenghi has a background as a pastry chef, he had this thought of the event: “This is for me.”

Met Live Arts Department general manager Limor Tomer explains the idea behind the Met’s “Feast of Versailles” exhibit: “We think of performance and performance work very broadly, so the art of the kitchen fits very well into that. When we were thinking about Versailles, we were thinking about, ‘How do we give people an embodied way to understand what Versailles was and how it fit socially and culturally into people’s lives?'”

To prepare for this prestigious undertaking and to get a better understanding of the culture of Versailles, Ottolenghi visited Versailles, including the landmark Palace of Versailles. He also worked with a tutor on Versailles history: Bard Graduate Center assistant professor Deborah Krohn, who mentions in the documentary that Versailles was different from most other royal courts because there was no real privacy.

The general public could come and go in the Versailles court, which made the royals and upper-class society feel more accessible to lower-class people, but it also created more social envy, since poor people could see all the luxury that other people enjoyed in the court. Ottolenghi comments toward the end of the documentary that the court of Versailles and Instagram have parallels, since both are open to the public, but people use these forums as ways to boast, show off and create envy.

Ottolenghi opens up about his own background in the documentary. He grew up in Jerusalem, and his parents were academics who expected him to follow a similar career path. After a stint in the Israeli Defense Forces, he graduated from Tel Aviv University in 1997, with a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree in comparative literature. He relocated to Amsterdam, where he edited the Hebrew section of NIW, a Dutch-Jewish weekly magazine.

Ottolenghi’s career path turned to cuisine when he moved to London to study French cooking at Le Cordon Bleu. He still has a passion for writing though, as evidenced by his cookbooks and his articles/essays in publications such as The Guardian and The New York Times. Ottolenghi, who is openly gay, lives with his husband Karl Allen and their two sons. Ottolenghi talks warmly about his family, but they are not featured in the documentary.

Ottolenghi’s international and well-traveled background has clearly given him an open-mindedness to other cultures. His business partner Sam Tamimi, who’s briefly interviewed in the documentary, mentions how they both were raised in Jerusalem, but in very different parts of the city: Ottolenghi grew up in Western Jerusalem (which is predominantly Jewish), while Tamimi grew up in Eastern Jerusalem, which is predominantly Muslim.

This openness to other cultures is why Ottolenghi consciously decided that he wanted to invite chefs from various countries to create pastry art for the Versailles exhibit. In the documentary, he says he started his search by following pastry chefs on Instagram. Ottolenghi says he was looking for “pastry chefs who take their art so seriously that the push the boundaries of technology, flavors, presentation. And it was really important to me that they actually be as dissimilar from each other as possible.”

The chosen pastry chefs were:

  • Dominique Ansel, originally from France and currently living in New York City, this James Beard Award-winning baker is best known for creating the Cronut®, Cookie Shot, DKA (Dominique’s Kouign Amann) and Frozen S’mores.
  • Sam Bompas and Harry Parr, originally from the United Kingdom, this London-based duo known as Bompas & Parr, are conceptual artists who infuse technology in their work and are known for creating extraordinary gelatin art.
  • Dinara Kasko, originally from the Ukraine, has a background in architecture and makes pastries using 3D-modeling technologies.
  • Ghaya Oliveira, originally from Tunisia and currently living in New York City, is a James Beard Award-winning executive pastry chef at Daniel (a famous French restaurant in New York City), and she is known for her reinvention of French-based plated desserts.
  • Janice Wong, originally from Singapore, has a specialty in interactive, edible art, especially with chocolate.

With this dream team assembled, the chefs meet with members of the Met museum staff to go over planning and logistics of what the chefs will create. The Met staffers who are featured in the documentary include art curator Danielle Kisluk-Grosheide, production coordinator Sruly Lazaros and executive pastry chef Randy Eastman.

Ansel, the most famous pastry chef in the group, was an obvious top choice for the exhibit. But beyond Ansel’s name recognition and talent, Ottolenghi explains why he thought Ansel would be a perfect fit for the project, “Everything he does is grounded in tradition but modern.” In the documentary, Wong says she was a less obvious choice and she was surprised to get the assignment, since she is known for her contemporary style. However, Wong says she was intrigued because she got to do pretty much anything she wanted for the exhibit.

The chosen chefs also open up about their backgrounds. While Ansel knew from an early age that he wanted to be a chef (he’s began training as a chef after he left high school), others took a different path to their culinary careers. Kasko has the aforementioned background in architecture. Oliveira used to be a ballerina and later worked for an investment company.

Wong had a background doing “math-oriented work,” but her life changed after she survived a serious car accident where she was hit by a drunk driver. “Everything changed,” Wong says, “Something happened between the left and ride side of my brain. I kind of switched.” And so, she became more of a creative person, which led to her profession as a chef.

The biggest challenge that the chefs face in the “Feast of Versailles” exhibit is creating their elaborate works of art in the limited time that they have. They only have about a week on site at the Met to create their displays. Oliveira says she was “very inspired by nature and the gardens of Versailles,” so she decides to make an ambitious display of cakes with a lot of floral motifs.

Bompas & Parr run into problems because they decided to have some running water through a funnel/water pump as part of their exhibit, only to find out from a nervous Tomer that the Met usually doesn’t allow running water in the gallery area where the exhibit will be taking place. There’s also some Bompas & Parr drama about some items that they needed to have shipped from England, and it’s questionable if these items will arrive on time.

The Met executive pastry chef Eastman creates some conflict when he tells Kasko to add more fat (cocoa butter) to her cake batter, but she disagrees because she thinks there’s already too much fat. Eastman is very condescending to Kasko, by telling her about all the experience he has, and she reluctantly follows his advice. It seems that she only did so out of respect because the Met was the hosting venue. But Kasko ended up being right about her recipe, and she had to redo the cake batter the way she originally planned. All that lost time caused her more stress.

Naturally, the climax of the documentary is the big event, which attracted the type of Met crowd that you would expect. (Admission to the event was at a minimum price of $125 per person.) “Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles” isn’t a groundbreaking culinary documentary, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable look into the process of how this “Feast of Versailles” event was produced, as well as an insightful peek into the personalities of the chefs who created the event’s masterful dessert art.

IFC Films released “Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on September 25, 2020.

Review: ‘I Hate New York,’ starring Amanda Lepore, Sophia Lamar, Chloe Dzubilo and T De Long

September 18, 2020

by Carla Hay

Sophia Lamar in “I Hate New York” (Photo courtesy of 1844 Entertainment)

“I Hate New York”

Directed by Gustavo Sánchez

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in New York City, the documentary “I Hate New York” (filmed from 2007 to 2017) about four artistic transgender or transsexual people who have been longtime residents of New York City, with additional commentary by cisgender people who have been part of the New York City underground artist scene .

Culture Clash: Several people in the documentary talk about experiencing transphobia and how rising rents and gentrification have changed New York City’s artistic scene for the worse.

Culture Audience: “I Hate New York” will appeal mainly to people interested in LGBTQ issues and the New York City artistic scene from the 1990s to 2010s. 

Amanda Lepore in “I Hate New York” (Photo courtesy of 1844 Entertainment)

The artistic people in the provocatively titled documentary “I Hate New York” don’t really hate the city all the time. It’s more like a love/hate relationship. They love the city’s endless choices when it comes to art and culture. They love how people can come to New York and find more acceptance than they would in more conservative cities. But they also hate how the city has become too expensive for struggling artists. And they hate how the way transgender people are still targets for hate crimes and still have to fight for a lot of basic rights that cisgender people take for granted.

Directed by Gustavo Sánchez over the years 2007 to 2017, “I Hate New York” takes a fascinating, raw and emotionally up-and-down look at four transgender or transsexual people who have been longtime New York City residents and part of the city’s entertainment and artistic scene. The four stars of the movie are:

  • Amanda Lepore, a transsexual woman who has a Marilyn Monroe-inspired image and who is best known for being a nightlife personality and model.
  • Sophia Lamar, a transsexual woman who is a Cuban immigrant, as well as a singer, actress and dancer known for her edgy entertainment.
  • Chloe Dzubilo, a transgender woman who became the lead singer of the punk band the Transisters and an outspoken AIDS activist.
  • T De Long, a transgender man who’s an aspiring rapper, DJ and artist (with the stage name TJ Free) whose gender transition is documented in the film.

All of them candidly tell their personal stories and struggles about being a transgender artist in New York City. A description shown in the beginning of the documentary describes the movie this way: “It is an intimate portrait of four heroines living at the margins of activism, transgender culture and nightlife.”

Also weighing in with their opinions are Bibbe Hansen, a former Andy Warhol Superstar; nightlife personality/promoter Linda Simpson; photographer/activist iO Tillett-Wright; filmmaker Katrina Del Mar; promoter Geordon Nicol; and performer/musician Kembra Pfalher.

Lepore and Lamar used to be very close friends came up in the 1990s nightclub scene together. They even sued the nightclub Twilo together for transgender discrimination in 2001, when the club fired them as dancers for not being “real women.” But then, sometime in the late 2000s, Lamar and Lepore had a falling out and they no longer speak to each other.

Dzubilo and De Long had a different kind of connection: They became a romantic couple as De Long (who used to be known as Tara Jo) was transitioning into being a man. Their love story in the movie is touching and tragic.

What all four have in common is that they came to New York City to reinvent themselves because they weren’t really accepted in the places where they lived before. They all had different struggles with their gender identity and experiencing transphobia. And they all found their artistic voices by living in New York City.

Lepore, who is originally from New Jersey, has been open about her past as a dominatrix before she was able to make a living as a nightlife personality. In the documentary, she talks about knowing as a child that she is female. As a teenager, she secretly took female hormones so her body could match her gender. And at 17 years old, the father of her then-boyfriend paid for her sex confirmation surgery. She married the boyfriend, but the marriage didn’t last.

Broke and desperate after she left her husband, Lepore says, “I was working as a dominatrix because I didn’t have any job skills. I wasn’t making enough money doing nails and little jobs, which weren’t paying the bills … I was able to make money as a prostitute without having sex.” One thing that worked out for Lepore was that she was able to live in a hotel that used to be managed by an ex-boyfriend, and her rent pretty much stayed the same for years because the hotel’s management gave her a special discount due to that relationship.

As for all of her plastic surgery, Lepore lists the alterations she’s done to her body, including breast augmentations, a nose job, rib reductions and silicone injections in her hips, lips, cheeks and buttocks. She’s also had her eyes tilted and her hairline pulled down. Just like a lot of women who’ve had surgery to make their breasts bigger, Lepore likes to show that she thinks it was money well-spent, by having a tendency to wear low-cut tops or display her naked breasts in public.

Lepore says she’s all about glamour and escapism. And she still proudly identifies as a “club kid.” The documentary shows her getting dolled up and hobnobbing in nightclubs, usually accompanied by another transgender friend. Fellow nightlife diva Simpson says of Lepore: “Amanda’s fame … is sort of a by-product of what she became.”

If Lepore is about glamourous escapism, Lamar is the opposite: In the documentary, Lamar says, “Club kids are dead,” and she says her artistry is more about realism and being a contrarian. But at the same time, Lamar admits that she enjoys manipulating the truth when it comes to her artistic expressions: “People are in love with a liar,” she says. “People like being lied to.”

Whereas Lepore prefers dance music, Lamar’s preferred music has a rock edge. The documentary includes some footage of Lamar performing her style of avant-garde rock in a nightclub. According to Lamar, she began calling herself Sophia at the age of 13, which is somewhat unusual since a lot of transgender people come out as transgender at a later age. She explains why she changed her first name at such a young age: “Some things are punk rock before they’re punk rock.”

Lamar (who speaks English and Spanish in the movie) also describes her difficult journey when she immigrated to the United States from Cuba. She says that the boat that she and her family came in capsized. They and other passengers had to be rescued by helicopter. She got her chosen surname Lamar because “el mar” means “the sea” in Spanish.

The contrast between Lamar and Lepore is also obvious in how they view nostalgia. Lepore clearly idolizes Marilyn Monroe (she often dresses like how Monroe looked in the 1950s) and she doesn’t mind talking about her heyday as a “club kid.” Lamar has this to say about why she doesn’t like to dwell on the past: “Nostalgia is private … like masturbation. Nostalgia is like a cancer.”

Nightlife promoter Nicol comments in the documentary: “Sophia Lamar is probably one of the most important nightlife people in New York.” And although former friends Lamar and Lepore no longer speak to each other, Lepore says they are still connected because they still go to the same nightclubs and still know a lot of the same people. Whichever style of performance art that people prefer, it’s clear that there’s room for both Lepore and Lamar in New York’s nightlife.

Although neither and Lamar nor Lepore go into details about what went wrong with their friendship, Lepore hints that Lamar was the one who ended it. Lepore comments in the documentary about their estrangement: “I was upset about it … I’ve moved on … It did hurt at first … It was more her than me.”

While one relationship unraveled among two of people starring in this documentary, another relationship blossomed. Dzubilo describes herself a kid who came from a working-class Connecticut family and grow up around a lot of “white, New England, conservative small-town stuff.” Dzubilo comments in the documentary: “I went to private school on a scholarship, but I always had this deep internal life.”

She moved to New York City in the early ’80s when Studio 54 reopened under new owners after original owners Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager were imprisoned for tax evasion. Dzubilo says when she first lived in New York City, she felt he felt “gobbled up” by the city. She says she became a “wild child” and had a boyfriend who was a drug dealer. The documentary includes footage of Dzubilo as lead singer of the Transisters, a punk band consisting of all transgender women.

Dzubilo attended the Parsons School of Design and received an associate degree in Gender Studies from the City University of New York City College in 1999. But she also went through tough times, including being homeless and being diagnosed as HIV-positive, which led to her being a passionate AIDS activist. At the time she filmed this documentary, Dzubilo also talked about having other health issues, such has having debilitating problems with her bones.

It isn’t made clear in the documentary how Dzubilo and De Long met, but the movie shows De Long in the days when De Long was living as a woman named Tara Jo and she was an aspiring rapper. De Long, as Tara Jo, says that when she was a child, her dream was either to be a Hollywood star or a baseball star.

De Long also has a lot to say about how New York City has changed since she moved to the city in the mid-1990s from rural Illinois: “I wish New York could be more accessible the way it used to be, more of a place where artists can come and sort of start and not be in debt and have a chance to live here. Unfortunately, it’s a tough place to start.” De Long continues, “The problem with the underground is there’s no money in it. And you get to a certain age when you can’t do it for free anymore.”

Dzubilo and De Long became a couple when De Long was living as a transgender man. It’s mentioned in the documentary that De Long has since made the full transition by having the operation. In case people don’t know what happened in Dzubilo and De Long’s relationship, that information won’t be revealed in this review. However, the documentary does show what happened, and it’s the most emotional part of the movie.

One of the scenes that shows an example of things that cisgender people take for granted is when Dzubilo and De Long jubilantly describe how they took a trip outside of the United States as a transgender couple. They were able to get through the customs checkpoint with their passports without being questioned or harassed because they’re transgender. They talk about how that type of gender acceptance, which cisgender people don’t have to think about when they show their identification, was a huge milestone for them.

All four of the transgender stars in this movie became trans activists, with Dzubilo being the most politically active of the four. Lepore has this to say about her trans activism: “What I do is a statement. I help people in my own way.”

“I Hate New York” (which is Sánchez’s feature-film debut as a director) has a lot of raw-looking hand-held footage, but there’s also some artistic shots, especially of the nightlife scenes. And because the movie was filmed over 10 years, it’s a compelling journey into the lives of these four transgender people. “I Hate New York” isn’t about disdain for America’s most-populated city but rather hate for any transphobia they’ve experienced and New York City’s increasingly difficult financial barriers for struggling artists. However, the transgender people who star in this documentary admirably show how they’ve been able rise above the hate.

1844 Entertainment released “I Hate New York” on digital and VOD on September 1, 2020. The movie was originally released in Spain in 2018.

Review: ‘The Broken Hearts Gallery, starring Geraldine Viswanathan, Dacre Montgomery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Molly Gordon, Phillipa Soo, Arturo Castro and Bernadette Peters

September 11, 2020

by Carla Hay

Geraldine Viswanathan and Dacre Montgomery in “The Broken Hearts Gallery” (Photo by Linda Kallerus/TriStar Pictures)

“The Broken Hearts Gallery”

Directed by Natalie Krinsky

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the romantic comedy “The Broken Hearts Gallery” features a cast of Asians and white people (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 26-year-old woman, who’s been dumped by an ex-boyfriend and fired from her art-gallery job, tries to get over her problems by helping an aspiring hotel owner decorate his boutique hotel, even though her personal style clashes with his.

Culture Audience: “The Broken Hearts Gallery” will appeal primarily to viewers who like formulaic romantic comedies that have people with mostly relatable personalities.

Molly Gordon, Geraldine Viswanathan and Phillipa Soo in “The Broken Hearts Gallery” (Photo by George Kraychyk/TriStar Pictures)

The romantic comedy “The Broken Hearts Gallery” is so unapologetically mushy and predictable that it would be absolutely a chore to sit through this movie if it didn’t have its share of charming moments. Much of the credit goes to star Geraldine Viswanathan, whose quick-witted comedic timing and her keen ability to bring a sense of fun to the story end up saving what could have been a mostly forgettable and cliché film.

“The Broken Hearts Gallery” is the feature-film debut of writer/director Natalie Krinsky, who previously worked as an occasional writer on “Gossip Girl,” the primetime soap opera about upper-class young people in New York City. “Broken Hearts Gallery” is also set in New York City, but the young people at the center of the story are definitely less privileged than the wealthy scions of “Gossip Girl.”

Lucy Gulliver (played by Viswanathan), the story’s 26-year-old protagonist, is an assistant at an upscale and trendy art gallery. She has dreams of owning her own art gallery someday. Lucy lives with her two best friends—sarcastic and bossy Amanda (played by Molly Gordon) and womanizing lesbian Nadine (played by Phillipa Soo)—and they have all been close pals for years.

Amanda is currently a law student, but a running joke in the movie is that she’s always giving unsolicited legal advice, as if she’s already a lawyer. Amanda is also in a relationship with a guy named Jeff (played by Nathan Dales), who is mostly silent and henpecked by Amanda. (When Jeff finally starts talking, it’s one of the funnier parts of the movie.) Meanwhile, Nadine has a thing for dating Russian models, but then she gets bored and usually ends the relationship to move on to her next conquest.

The beginning of the movie shows the trio of gal pals while they were seniors in high school in an unnamed suburb of New York, with Lucy already planning to live in the big city. Lucy has just gotten dumped by a boyfriend, and Amanda and Nadine are comforting her while Lucy is nursing her broken heart. It’s a scenario that gets repeated more than once in the movie.

One of Lucy’s quirks is that she likes to keep mementos and knickknacks, including those that remind of her of ex-boyfriends. She freely admits she’s a pack rat, while some people might describe her collecting habit as hoarding, because she keeps things such as toenail clippings. Her hoarding isn’t at a dangerous level, but it’s odd and more than a little creepy.

Eight years after graduating from high school, Lucy’s life seems to be going fairly well for her. She’s been dating a 35-year-old co-worker named Max Vora (played by Utkarsh Ambudkar), who is the gallery’s recently promoted director. Max and Lucy have been keeping their romance somewhat hidden from their colleagues because they don’t want it to be a distraction at work. Lucy gushes about Max to Nadine and Amanda, by describing him as such a perfect romantic boyfriend that he cooks dinner for her. Meanwhile, Nadine and Amanda secretly take bets on how long Lucy’s most recent romance will last.

Lucy idolizes her boss Eva Woolf (played by Bernadette Peters), the gallery owner who named the art gallery after herself. Eva doesn’t have much tolerance for people she thinks are flaky and dumb. You know where this is going, of course. Lucy will make a fool out of herself at work because of something to do with Max. This embarrassing incident happens during a big exhibit opening at the gallery, where Eva, all of the gallery’s employees and many important clients are attendance.

Lucy has been asked to get up on stage in front of the assembled crowd and introduce Max as the gallery’s new director. As she’s about to give her introductory speech, Lucy sees Max canoodling in the audience with a woman whom she recognizes as Dr. Amelia Black (played by Tattiawna Jones), Max’s most recent ex-girlfriend. Lucy has already had too much to drink because she was nervous about making this speech. And so, when Lucy sees Max getting too close this other woman, Lucy goes into a tailspin and has an epic, jealous meltdown in front of the entire audience. As if that weren’t enough, drunken Lucy ends up tripping and falling flat on her face.

As Lucy runs out of the gallery in a humiliated daze, Max follows her outside and explains that Amelia was living in Paris but has recently moved back to New York City. And now, Max tells Lucy that he wants to get back together with Amelia. And there’s more bad news for Lucy: Eva was so mortified by Lucy’s public meltdown that she’s also sent Max to tell Lucy that she’s been fired.

As she’s reeling from this extremely bad night, Lucy just wants to go home, so she gets into a car that she thinks is the rideshare that she had booked. As she starts the tell the driver about her “worst night ever,” the driver repeatedly tells her that he’s not her rideshare driver, but Lucy is so absorbed in her misery that she won’t listen. Finally, the driver, whose name is Nick (played by Dacre Montgomery), decides to placate Lucy and drives her home.

When she gets home, Lucy realizes the man who drove her home isn’t the rideshare driver she booked. She’s once again embarrassed, but she tries to turn it around and make Nick look bad by accusing him of being a creep. She also comments that for all she knows, he could be a serial killer, and now he knows where she lives. Will this be the last time that Lucy sees Nick? Of course not.

In several very contrived situations, Nick just happens to be nearby at the exact moment that a lovelorn Lucy sees Max and makes a pathetic attempt to get Max’s attention. One of those moments is the next time that Lucy and Nick see each other. Lucy has followed Max into a restaurant, where he’s having a dinner date with Amelia. The restaurant hostess tries to block Lucy from going over to the table because Lucy doesn’t have a reservation. And right at that moment, when Amelia is about to act like a psycho ex-girlfriend and charge toward Max, Nick shows up and prevents Lucy from approaching Max, who sees Lucy anyway.

As Nick steers Lucy away from this potentially embarrassing situation for her, she gets very irritated with him and asks Nick if he’s been stalking her. Oh, the irony. Lucy and Nick get to talking, and he tells her a little bit more about himself. He’s trying to fulfill his dream of opening a boutique hotel called the Chloe Hotel. However, what he doesn’t tell her right away and what very few people in his life know is that Nick is almost broke and headed for a possible financial disaster since he poured his life savings into the hotel, which is nowhere near being completed.

One person who knows about Nick’s money problems is his best friend/business partner Marcos (played by Arturo Castro), who hasn’t been paid for a while and has decided to take another job because his wife Randy (played by Megan Ferguson) is pregnant, and they need the money. Marcos has a wry sense of humor, which goes a long way in being a counterbalance to some of the sappier moments of the movie.

Nick shows Lucy the unfinished hotel, which used to be a YMCA building. Lucy has a garbage bag with her that contains several old mementos from her ex-boyfriends, including Max. Nick, who calls her a hoarder, tells Lucy that his style is the complete opposite of hers, because he’s a minimalist. Meanwhile, there’s a large empty picture frame in the hotel that Lucy spontaneously uses to hang up one of the items in the garbage bag: a necktie that used to belong to Max.

And because Lucy is a wannabe art gallery owner. she calls this room in the hotel the Broken Heart Gallery, because of this “art display.” She scrawls a note next to the frame that explains why this necktie is from an ex-love and why it’s being discarded. Not long after that day, Nick tells her that an anonymous person came into the hotel and must have seen this necktie display because the person hung up an item with a note that it’s also from an ex-love.

Lucy takes a photo of this burgeoning art exhibit and posts it on social media. It becomes a such a viral hit that she gets the fundraising idea that can people can start stop by the unfinished hotel to drop off mementos from ex-lovers and leave messages that can be displayed in the Broken Heart Gallery. Visitors can to give donations as part of the gallery exhibit. The idea is the people who contribute to the gallery can get closure from painful breakups, because the gallery displays will be cathartic enough to help them move on.

And when Nick mentions to Lucy that Marcos got another job and the hotel’s interior designer quit, Lucy volunteers to be the hotel’s interior designer. Nick says no, but after much persistence from Lucy and much hemming and hawing from Nick, she ends up being the hotel’s interior designer. Nick and Lucy don’t really discuss payment for this job, but even if they did, it’s very easy to see how this movie is going to end.

Before that happens, there are the usual shenanigans in romantic comedies that have this type of would-be couple. “The Broken Hearts Gallery” uses the old “opposite attract” trope as much as possible to show how Lucy and Nick get on each other’s nerves, but they also can’t seem to stay away from each other. Lucy is high-strung and kooky, while Nick is laid-back and analytical. The character of Nick is somewhat generic, and his main purpose in the movie is to play the straight man to Lucy’s wackiness.

Nick and Lucy become platonic friends, but have conflicts with each other, while Lucy puts herself in more embarrassing situations in an effort to get back together with Max. Nick’s and Lucy’s friends (and viewers who’ve seen enough romantic comedies) know where this is all headed. But, of course, the two people who are supposed to end up together are the last people to admit it.

The target audience for “The Broken Hearts Gallery” is underage teenage girls, so things don’t get too raunchy in the movie. Adults watching this film will probably wish that the movie had more mature humor, since too many of the so-called adults in this movie act like they’re still in high school. (To see Viswanathan in a rowdier comedy film, check out 2018’s “Blockers,” where she was a standout in the movie too.)

Lucy is proud of her eccentricities, but some of her irrationally jealous behavior panders to some awful stereotypes about how pathetic and catty women can be when it comes to fighting over an ex-love. Lucy handles love in an uncomfortable and awkward manner that’s sometimes realistic and sometimes too over-the-top. This movie is a romantic comedy, so it isn’t supposed to be about realism all the time.

However, some of the dialogue is absolutely cringeworthy. In a scene where Lucy and Nick have some alone time and open up to each other, Lucy says to him: “We’re good together, you and me. The monster and the human. Humans need monsters to stir things up. And monsters need humans to fix everything they break. It’s just simple science.”

One of the more charming qualities of Lucy is that she’s more optimistic than Nick is about life and how to deal with problems. When more problems start to pile on Nick, he wants to abandon his dream to build the hotel, but Lucy gives him a pep talk and encourages him not to give up so easily. Meanwhile, Nick slowly starts to show that he has a romantic side, which is refreshing to Lucy, who says she’s used to men not being supportive of her and her dreams.

“The Broken Hearts Club” also has a very good supporting cast that makes the material a lot more engaging than it should be. Gordon, Soo and Castro all have moments when they somewhat steal scenes. (Gordon’s comedic timing is the most natural-looking and funniest of the supporting characters.)

And there are a few other supporting characters who are in Nick and Lucy’s world, including an Eva Woolf Gallery co-worker who’s nicknamed Harvard (played by Ego Nwodim), because she’s a know-it-all who likes to brag that she went to Harvard University, and she constantly chastises Lucy about being clueless about life. Celebrity chef Roy Choi has a cameo as himself. Suki Waterhouse plays someone who a past connection to someone in the movie.

“The Broken Hearts Gallery” has the obligatory karaoke scene, which seems to be a staple of every other predictable romantic comedy. There’s also the “big argument” scene, where the would-be couple have an estrangement. There’s absolutely no suspense over whether or not they’ll kiss and make up by the end of the story.

There are a few “surprise” twists to the movie that aren’t shocking because it all just adds up to more schmaltz. “The Broken Hearts Gallery” is not for hardcore cynics, but it’s a predictable and harmless movie that’s made enjoyable mainly because of the winning performance by Viswanathan.

TriStar Pictures released “The Broken Hearts Gallery” in U.S. cinemas on September 11, 2020.

Review: ‘The Garden Left Behind,’ starring Carlie Guevara, Michael Madsen, Ed Asner, Danny Flaherty, Alex Kruz, Tamara Williams and Miriam Cruz

September 4, 2020

by Carla Hay

Carlie Guevara in “The Garden Left Behind” (Photo courtesy of Uncork’d Entertainment and Dark Star Pictures)

“The Garden Left Behind”

Directed by Flavio Alves

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the dramatic film “The Garden Left Behind” features a racially diverse cast of characters (Latinos, African Americas, white people and Asians) of transgender and cisgender people representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A young transgender woman who is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico experiences hateful discrimination and personal struggles during her quest to get medical treatment for her transition.

Culture Audience: “The Garden Left Behind” will mostly appeal to people interested in transgender female issues that are portrayed realistically in a scripted movie. 

Miriam Cruz in “The Garden Left Behind” (Photo courtesy of Uncork’d Entertainment and Dark Star Pictures)

The struggles of undocumented immigrants in America are rarely told in movies from the perspective of a transgender woman, but the drama “The Garden Left Behind” admirably and authentically gives a voice to this often-overlooked community. Directed by Flavio Alves (who co-wrote the screenplay with John Rotondo), “The Garden Left Behind” is anchored by an impressive performance by Carlie Guevara, who makes her feature-film debut in the movie.

Alves and Rotondo are cisgender men, so they did a lot of research before making “The Garden Left Behind,” a movie that was partially crowdfunded through eBay. Alves says in comments that are in the movie’s production notes: “In order to do the story justice, we met with more than 30 trans-led organizations, with hopes of including their concerns about the fictional story we were building. John and I wrote this story because we care deeply about the transgender community, and shortly after starting our research, we understood that it would require us to do a lot more homework in order to develop authentic characters.”

The filmmakers also made the decision to casting only transgender people in the transgender roles. And they had several transgender people in the behind-the scenes film crew. According to what Alves says in the movie’s production notes: “We were lucky enough to have the Trans Filmmakers Project join the production team of our film, providing us with a large pool of transgender representation behind the camera, so that they could gain experience making media, that will eventually help them to develop stories of their own. In addition to TFP, a long list of other fantastic organizations helped support the film, including GLAAD, who took us under their wing and provided special trainings for our crew of actors, advocates, and allies.”

It’s important to mention all of this information about the movie because all of that authenticity shows in “The Garden Left Behind,” which takes viewers on an emotionally powerful journey of one woman’s experiences in trying to overcome obstacles and discrimination from bigots who want to mistreat transgender people as outcasts. And the filmmakers should be commended for having real transgender representation on screen and off screen for the movie, because many movies about transgender people still don’t cast transgender people in transgender roles, and they shut out transgender people from being on the film crew.

The story of “The Garden Left Behind” takes an intimate look into a few months in the life of Tina Carerra (played by Guevara), a vibrant transgender woman in her early 20s whose goal is to make a complete medical transition into the female gender. She lives with her loving grandmother Eliana (played by Miriam Cruz) in New York City’s Bronx borough, and Tina is the one who’s responsible for earning the household income. Tina (whose birth name is Antonio) has been living in the United States with her grandmother (who only speaks Spanish and is also undocumented) since Tina was 5 years old. Tina’s parents are not mentioned or seen in the movie.

The obstacles to Tina’s life goal are very daunting: Tina is barely able to pay the household bills on her salary as a rideshare diver. As an undocumented immigrant without a college education, her career options are also limited. And she’s too proud to ask for help from people she knows, including her boyfriend Jason (played by Alex Kruz), an older businessman whom she’s been dating for the past two years.

Tina and Jason’s relationship is a lot like how romances are between trans women and straight men: The men often want to keep the relationship as secret as possible. This secrecy is starting to irritate Tina, but Jason is taking small steps toward making their relationship more public when he takes Tina out to dinner for the first time. However, it bothers Tina that Jason, who works in a corporate office job, still won’t introduce her to his family and friends.

Eliana is aware that Tina has been dating Jason, who sometimes comes over to the apartment for late-night trysts with Tina, but Tina hasn’t introduced Jason to Eliana, and it’s implied that Eliana doesn’t even know his name. The morning after one of these trysts, Eliana tells her that Jason is welcome to sleep over on the couch, but Tina brushes off the subject of her love life in a defensive way. Eliana sheepishly responds by saying that she won’t try to pry in Tina’s personal life. Tina also doesn’t know how to talk to her grandmother about her goal to transition into a fully biological female.

However, Tina gets emotional support about the transition from her transgender female friends. They include Tina’s outspoken and sassy best friend Carol (played by Tamara Williams), plus Amanda (played by Ivana Black) and Briana (played by Lea Nyeli). Carol is the one who recommended that Tina see a doctor in the city who has worked with transgender people for years and is someone who can sign off on the psychiatric clearance that Tina needs to be eligible for her medical transition.

Tina has already told Dr. Cleary (played by Ed Asner) about her family situation by mentioning that her grandmother is “the only family I have. We’re very close. Let’s just say she has my back.” During the therapy sessions, Tina also says that her grandmother often talks about certain fond memories that she has of Mexico, such as the food, their former family home and the garden that was at the home. The stories of the garden are so influential to Tina that she has become an avid gardener in a small lot in the Bronx.

Tina confides in Carol that Dr. Cleary is sometimes frustrating because he keeps asking the same questions. But in the therapy sessions, it’s shown that Dr. Cleary keeps asking the same questions because Tina is reluctant to answer the questions clearly. She either won’t answer or gives vague answers that are not enough for Dr. Cleary to give a full evaluation.

“We’re on the same team,” Dr. Cleary tells Tina, “but I need to know more so I can evaluate you.” One of the questions that Tina seems to have trouble answering is: “Why are you here?” It’s another question that Dr. Cleary asks Tina that finally breaks the ice and gets them to open up to each other: “Are you happy?”

Tina asks Dr. Cleary what the definition of happy is and asks him to tell her what makes him happy. He says that what makes him happy is waking up to his wife, seeing his children and grandchildren succeed, and doing his job. After Dr. Cleary shows himself in a more human light, it improves Tina’s ability to have candid conversations with him. Dr. Cleary eventually diagnoses Tina with having gender dysphoria, which is the diagnosis she needs to start getting medical treatment for her transition.

But Tina experiences major obstacles because she doesn’t have health insurance and she can’t afford the out-of-pocket costs that she would have to pay to continue the medical treatment. She also begins breathing and voice-exercise therapy to have a more feminine-sounding voice. In order to pay for some to these costs, Tina makes a decision to sell her car, which means she can no longer be a rideshare driver.

Luckily, she finds another job as a bartender at a local bar where she and Jason have been customers. Tina and Jason have had a friendly relationship with the bar’s owner/manager Kevin (played by Michael Madsen), who hires Tina on the spot when he sees that she has good bartending skills. Because she’s an undocumented immigrant, Tina ends up paying for a fake resident alien card (or green card) so that she can work at the bar.

Meanwhile, Tina has a passing but polite acquaintance with a young man in his late teens named Chris (played by Anthony Abdo), whom Tina encounters sometimes while he’s working at his cashier job at a local convenience store where she’s a regular customer. Chris is very quiet and shy, but he hangs out with a trio of rowdy, homophobic teenagers who are his teammates on a local baseball team.

Chris’ bigoted pals are group leader Oscar (played by Danny Flaherty), Adrien (Sidiki Fofana) and Leo (played by Will Kirsanda), who have no qualms about showing how much they hate anything to do with the LGBTQ community. On the night that Tina and Jason have their first dinner together at a restaurant, they are walking and cuddling on the street after they leave the restaurant. Oscar, Adrien and Leo happen on the same street, and when they see Tina and Jason together, the troublemaking trio starts yelling transphobic insults. The harassment brings Tina to tears, but Jason comforts her with a passionate kiss before they go into his place.

Unfortunately, it won’t be the last time that Tina and other people in her transgender community are the targets of hate. Shortly after Tina experiences this harassment, Carol’s close friend Rosie gets beaten up by police officers for being transgender, but the cops haven’t been held accountable. This hate crime sparks Carol to organize Trans Lives Matter protests, and Tina becomes part of the movement too. The protests and media coverage set off a chain of events that have profound effects on Tina’s life in ways that are both inspiring and horrifying.

“The Garden Left Behind” is not always an easy film to watch if people aren’t prepared to see the hatred and inhumane way that other human beings are mistreated in life. But it’s a harsh reality that is experienced by many transgender people who are often overlooked and treated as undeserving as the same rights as everyone else. The movie shows Tina’s political awakening when she begins to understand that by staying silent and doing nothing, she is indirectly helping the bigotry and hate crimes to thrive.

Although a lot of people can’t or won’t sympathize with Tina being an undocumented immigrant, her story is one shared by millions of undocumented people who came to the U.S. as children, through no choice of their own, because they were brought by adults who were also undocumented immigrants. Tina, like most of these Dreamers, is not a “charity case” who doesn’t want to work. She wants to be a productive member of society, but she also has the additional and costly challenge that cisgender people do not have: transitioning into the gender she should have had when she was born.

Perhaps by coincidence, “The Garden Left Behind” was released the same week as filmmaker/actress Isabel Sandoval’s dramatic movie “Lingua Franca,” which is also about a transgender woman who’s an undocumented immigrant in New York City. Whereas Sandoval’s character in “Lingua Franca” is at a stage in her life where she’s ready to get married, Tina has barely begun her adult life and is still learning about what it’s like to try to find a life partner as a transgender woman.

Although what ultimately ends up happening to Tina is easy to predict, that doesn’t lessen the emotional impact of the story. The way that Alves skillfully crafts the story shows that Tina, more often than not, lives a life that is very much like other young people who are financially struggling and worried about their futures. She just happens to be transgender and an undocumented Mexican immigrant, and therefore she has to deal with all the discrimination that comes with being in these identity groups. “The Garden Left Behind” should be essential viewing for people who want to see what it’s like for a transgender woman to find her voice and stand up for who she is, even if other people want to punish her for it.

Uncork’d Entertainment and Dark Star Pictures released “The Garden Left Behind” in select U.S. virtual cinemas on August 28, 2020. The movie’s VOD release date is September 8, 2020.

Review: ‘Lingua Franca,’ starring Isabel Sandoval, Eamon Farren and Lynn Cohen

September 3, 2020

by Carla Hay

Isabel Sandoval in “Lingua Franca” (Photo courtesy of Array)

“Lingua Franca”

Directed by Isabel Sandoval

Some language in Tagalog and Cebuano with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the dramatic film “Lingua Franca” features a racially diverse cast (white people and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A transgender woman, who is a caregiver and an undocumented immigrant from the Philippines, has a fear being deported, so she decides to find a willing U.S. citizen to marry, and begins a romantic relationship with her employer’s adult grandson.

Culture Audience: “Lingua Franca” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in an emotionally authentic “character study” story of a transgender woman who is living a quietly desperate life. 

Isabel Sandoval and Eamon Farren in “Lingua Franca” (Photo courtesy of Array)

It’s no secret that a lot of undocumented immigrants in the United States pay U.S. citizens to marry them in order for the immigrants to get resident alien status and a “green card” that allows the immigrants to legally work in the United States. While this illegal marriage arrangement has been depicted in several TV shows and movies, the dramatic film “Lingua Franca” is unique because it’s told from the perspective of an undocumented immigrant who is a transgender woman. Isabel Sandoval, who is a transgender woman in real life, is the writer, director, producer, editor and star of “Lingua Franca,” which is a realistic and low-key character study rather than a movie packed with contrived melodrama.

The term “lingua franca” means “something that is like a common language,” according to Webster’s New World College Dictionary. In the movie “Lingua Franca,” viewers can have their own opinions on what the “common language” is in the story. But it’s clear that the two lovers at the center of the story are both looking for love and acceptance in each other because they feel like “outsiders” in their own worlds.

The movie takes place in New York City during the first year or two of Donald Trump’s presidency, because news reports seen and heard in the movie talk about the Trump administration’s order for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to increase detentions and deportations of undocumented immigrants. There are racial overtones to these immigration crackdowns, since the vast majority of the undocumented immigrants being targeted for arrests, detentions and deportations are people of color, while the vast majority of ICE officials are white.

Sandoval plays Olivia, a transgender woman and undocumented immigrant from the Philippines. It’s not revealed in the movie how long Olivia has been living in the United States. Olivia has a Filipino accent, which suggests that she came to the U.S. as an adult.

Olivia is in her late 30s, and she currently lives in New York City’s Brooklyn borough, where she works as a responsible caregiver for an elderly American widow named Olga (played by Lynn Cohen), who is showing signs of dementia. Because of the rise in ICE arrests of undocumented immigrants, Olivia has become more paranoid about her immigration status being exposed.

Complicating matters is the fact that Olivia cannot change her gender and her name on her Philippines passport because of a law in the Philippines that does not allow transgender people to change their genders on government-issued identification. Therefore, she’s stuck in a complicated immigration limbo where she’s living her life as a woman in the United States, but the Philippines government officially classifies her as a man.

Olivia has a very quiet life that revolves around her job, since she has no family members in the area and she have very few friends. Olivia stays overnight in Olga’s home during the days of the week when Olivia works. Olga’s dementia has reached a point where she forgets that she’s in her own home. Olga sometimes calls on a house phone to ask Olivia to take her home, when Olga is already at home. Olivia patiently has to remind Olga to look at her surroundings in order to jog Olga’s memories and help Olga understand where she is.

Olivia’s closest friend is Katrina “Trixie” De La Fuente (played by Ivory Aquino), who’s also an undocumented immigrant from the Philippines. In one of the early scenes in the movie, Trixie gets married to a U.S. citizen named Daniel Cutler (played by Jake Soister), but it’s a legitimate marriage because they seem to be in love with each other. The wedding is a small ceremony (less than 50 people are in attendance) at a local courthouse.

Olivia’s date for the wedding is Matthew (played by Leif Steinert), who is also a U.S. citizen. It’s revealed later in the story that Olivia has been paying Matthew in installments, and once he has been paid in full, he has agreed to marry Olivia so that she can get her green card. But based on Matthew’s uncomfortable body language when he’s with Olivia at Trixie and Daniel’s wedding, Matthew is not feeling any close emotional connection with Olivia. What happens to Matthew and Olivia’s arrangement will come as no surprise to observant viewers.

Olivia has also been sending money to her mother in the Philippines. Her mother is heard, but not seen, in the movie by frequent phone conversations. (Helen Kwong is the voice of Olivia’s mother.) When Olivia’s mother calls her, it’s usually to find out when Olivia will be sending her money and to worry about Olivia’s immigration status in the United States. Her mother has heard about the increase in the number of ICE raids and arrests, so she tells tells Olivia to be careful.

Meanwhile, Olga’s grandson Alex (played by Eamon Farren), who’s in his late 20s, has returned to Brooklyn, where the rest of his immediate family lives. Alex was living on a farm in Ohio, but for whatever reason, he’s now back in Brooklyn. It’s not long before it’s revealed that Alex is an alcoholic and the “black sheep” of the family. He has an arrest record for driving under the influence: Before he moved to Ohio, Alex crashed his car into a bodega, and his family had to bail him out of jail for $5,000. It’s not stated how long ago this arrest happened, but it’s caused enough shame in his family that they consider his trustworthiness to be questionable.

Alex’s history of irresponsible behavior is one of the reasons why Alex’s uncle Murray (played by Lev Gorn) has reluctantly hired Alex to work as a trainee in the slaughterhouse where Murray is a supervisor to numerous employees, including Alex. Murray tells Alex that he only hired him as a favor to Alex’s mother, who is Murray’s sister. Murray warns Alex that Alex’s job is on a probation basis until Alex can prove that he’s a responsible and hard worker. He also tells Alex not to call him “uncle” when he’s on the job, because he doesn’t want the other workers to think that Alex is getting special treatment. Like an impish kid, Alex defies Murray’s request and calls him “uncle” anyway.

Alex and Olivia cross paths because now that Alex is living in Brooklyn again, members of his family (which includes his parents, his older brother and his brother’s wife) have asked him to help take care of his grandmother Olga during Olivia’s time off from the job. Olivia shows Olga’s schedule to Alex and the instructions on what to do. Olivia also tells Alex that she will still be the one to give Olga baths, but Alex will be in charge of almost everything else when Olivia isn’t there.

Olivia can see that Alex is nervous about having all of this responsibility because he admits to her up front that the schedule is a lot of him to handle. She calmly assures him that he can follow the schedule and that he’ll eventually get used to it. Meanwhile, although Alex and Olivia don’t flirt with each other when they first meet, it’s clear there might be some mutual attraction between them. For now, Olivia is trying to keep things professional with Alex.

Alex reconnects with some Brooklyn friends and finds himself falling back into his old drinking habits. At a scene in a local bar, Alex declines to drink alcohol at first because he says he’s in a recovery program for addiction. But then, a male friend eggs him on until Alex gives in and orders some vodka. It’s not shown what happens in the bar after that, but not surprisingly, Alex wakes up the next day with a hangover. And because he overslept, he’s late for the schedule he was supposed to keep for his grandmother Olga. Olivia finds out and gets irritated with Alex, but he is so charming to her that she ends up forgiving him.

It seems that Alex is leading an aimless life because there’s no indication that he has any goals or is ready to “grow up.” When he hangs out with his male friends, they play video games. The talk about sex with women, and one of the guys says that he suspects he might have dated a transgender woman because she would only give him oral sex and wouldn’t let him see her private parts. The guy who tells this story uses a derogatory term to describe this alleged transgender woman, so viewers know that Alex has at least one friend who’s bigoted against the LGBTQ community.

Olivia and Alex begin to spend more time together, because he has a car and a driver’s license, so he sometimes gives her rides to where she needs to go. Even though Olivia and Alex have opposite personalities (Olivia is introverted, Alex is extroverted), they start to become more attracted to each other. Alex incorrectly assumes that Matthew is Olivia’s boyfriend, and that’s when she confides in Alex that Matthew has been someone she’s been paying to eventually marry her so that she can get a green card.

She also tells Alex that she’s terrified by the possibility that she will be arrested by ICE. While Olivia and Alex are hanging out together outside one day, they see an undocumented immigrant being detained by ICE agents, who arrested the immigrant right on the street in front of the immigrant’s family members. It’s a sight that causes Olivia to become upset and more paranoid. Alex knows how much Olivia’s undocumented immigration status bothers her, and he tries to comfort Olivia.

Over time, Alex and Olivia’s conversations become more flirtatious until it’s pretty obvious that they’re going to become lovers. If it isn’t made clear enough that Olivia has sexual needs, there’s a scene of Olivia in her bedroom with a copy of D.H. Lawrence’s novel “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” on the dresser, and she takes out her vibrator to clean it.

Olivia and Alex eventually become lovers, but she hasn’t told him that she’s transgender. The sex scenes don’t really show what happens underneath the bed covers, but it’s implied that it’s possible that Olivia could have hidden her genital area from Alex. Olivia’s female breasts are seen in an upper-body nude scene, so it’s obvious she’s taken hormones, which probably made other parts of her body look more feminine too.

Will Alex find out that Olivia is transgender? Will Olivia marry Matthew or Alex to get a green card? And could she be arrested by ICE before any of that happens? The movie answers those questions, but not in an overdramatic “TV movie of the week” way, but in more of an atmospheric and introspective way that has lingering shots of the Brooklyn skyline and scenery, as Olivia and Alex’s love story develops.

“Lingua Franca” was released in the same week as the dramatic film “The Garden Left Behind,” which is about a transgender woman who’s an undocumented Mexican immigrant living in New York City. Even though the immigration status of these two women are the same, both of the movies and their central transgender characters are very different. In “The Garden Left Behind,” the transgender protagonist (who is named Tina) is a Dreamer in her 20s, and she becomes a political activist. Tina has a Latino American boyfriend who knows she’s transgender, but Tina isn’t at a stage in her life where she’s thinking about getting married, even if it’s to get legal immigration status.

In “Lingua Franca,” the transgender protagonist doesn’t want to do anything to call attention to herself and she definitely does not tell a potential boyfriend up front that she is transgender. And because Olivia is very introverted and passive, she doesn’t really have the type of personality to be a political activist. Olivia is someone who is okay with being as invisible as possible in American society, if it means it decreases her chances of being detained and deported.

Both movies have good acting, solid direction and well-written screenplays that realistically depict conversations, situations and events experienced by the characters. Olivia in “Lingua Franca” is a lot more emotionally isolated than Tina in “The Garden Left Behind.” Olivia doesn’t have any biological family members who live close to her (by contrast, Tina lives with her grandmother), and Olivia doesn’t have a support group of other people in the LGBTQ community.

Even if Olivia told potential husbands that she’s transgender, she’s at an age where a potential husband in an immigration arrangement might be more inclined to want a younger “trophy wife.” There’s some small acknowledgement of the “spinster” issue when, shortly after Olivia’s friend Trixie gets married, Olivia tells Trixie in a dejected tone that she’s “always the bridesmaid,” while Trixie tries to cheer up Olivia and tell her that she will eventually find someone to marry.

“Lingua Franca” has a lot of “slice of life” scenes that aren’t necessarily about moving the plot forward but they’re in the movie to give viewers a more vivid personality portraits of Olivia and Alex. It’s obvious that he’s not very stable, but will Olivia think he’s her best chance of getting legal immigration status? Olivia didn’t tell Alex that she’s transgender before they became lovers, but he knows how desperate she is to get her green card. There are a few scenes in the movie where he uses that desperation to emotionally manipulate Olivia.

“Lingua Franca” is Sandoval’s third feature film and the first feature where she has the name Isabel. For her previous two feature films—2011’s “Señorita and 2012’s “Apparition”—she wrote and directed under the name Vincent Sandoval. “Lingua Franca” might be a fictional film, but it accurately shows situations and feelings experienced by an untold number of transgender undocumented immigrants. And because Sandoval is also a transgender, there is a level of authenticity to this entire movie that would be difficult to achieve if the story had been told by all-cisgender group of filmmakers.

“Lingua Franca” poignantly shows how undocumented immigrants have to act “invisible,” for fear of being deported. That diminishment in society is further complicated when the immigrant is transgender. Thanks to Sandoval’s unique creative vision, “Lingua Franca” is an admirable spotlight that is not about pity but about respect and dignity.

Array released “Lingua Franca” in select U.S. cinemas on August 26, 2020, the same date that the movie premiered on Netflix.

Review: ‘Black Magic for White Boys,’ starring Ronald Guttman, Onur Tukel, Jamie Block, Charlie LaRose, Eva Dorrepaal, Franck Raharinosy and Colin Buckingham

July 22, 2020

by Carla Hay

Franck Raharinosy, Annie McCain Engman, Jamie Block, Charlie LaRose and Onur Tukel in “Black Magic for White Boys” (Photo courtesy of MPI Media)

“Black Magic for White Boys”  

Directed by Onur Tukel

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the comedy “Black Magic for White Boys” has a predominantly white cast (with some black people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash:  Various white men in the story use a magician’s spell to make certain people disappear or make their wishes come true.

Culture Audience: “Black Magic for White Boys” will appeal primarily to people who like quirky indie comedies that tend to be rambling and unfocused.

Ronald Guttman, Leah Shore, Colin Buckingham and Eva Dorrepaal in “Black Magic for White Boys” (Photo courtesy of MPI Media)

Writer/director Onur Tukel’s comedy “Black Magic for White Boys” premiered at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City as part of the “Tribeca TV — Pilot Season” program for pilot episodes looking to get picked up for a full TV series. It doesn’t look like “Black Magic for White Boys” is going to be a TV series, so the six planned episodes have been condensed and released as a feature film instead. This movie format is a better fit for “Black Magic for White Boys,” which has a concept (white men trying to hold on to power in a politically correct world) that wears thin by the end of the film. There are also several annoying characters that viewers would not want to see again in a continuing series.

The story takes place in New York City, where a small, run-down performing-arts theater (which is not named in the movie) is the catalyst for most of the action in the movie. The theater, which has a seating capacity of about 50 to 60 people, is owned by a French immigrant couple named Larry (played by Ronald Guttman) and Magdalena (played by Lisa Azuelos), who frequently quarrel with each other.

Larry does a stage show as a magician (using the name Larry the Magnificent) in the theater, whose sparse attendance has put the theater on the brink of going out of business. However, one of the things that Larry is most proud of is that he has a book of magical spells that he has written himself.

Three of the theater employees work as assistants in Fred’s magic act: Lucy (played by Eva Dorrepaal), who is generally friendly to everyone; Dean (played by Colin Buckingham), who is self-conscious about being a little person; and recently hired Leah (played by Leah Shore), a mild-mannered naïf who looks and dresses like Barbra Streisand, circa 1976.

Another employee at the theater is theater manager Quentin (played by Brian W. Smith), who keeps warning Fred that the theater will have to shut down unless they can increase the number of paying customers. Magdalena is very aware that she and Larry are in dire financial straits. Magdalena wants to cut their losses and move back to France. Larry hates the idea and refuses to go out of business.

During this period of financial turmoil for the theater, two couples attend a Larry the Magnificent show on a fateful evening. One couple consists of businessman Jaime (played by Jamie Block) and his wife Wendy (played by Annie McCain Engman). They are on a double date with scruffy gadfly Oscar Trout (played Onur Tukel) and a much-younger woman named Chase (played by Charlie LaRose), who have met each other for the first time this evening because it was a blind date set up by their mutual friends Jamie and Wendy.

While the two couples are watching Larry the Magnificent’s poorly attended performance (the theater is less than half full), Larry picks Jamie out of the audience to participate in the disappearing act part of the show, when an audience member is placed in a box. The secret of this trick is that the box leads to a hidden walkway, where the person leaves the stage without being seen by the audience, and then magically “reappears” somewhere else in the theater.

To Larry and Jamie’s shock, the disappearing act actually works without the trick of using the walkway. When Jamie comes back, he has no memory of what happened when he disappeared, but he’s so impressed, that he stays after the show and tries to meet Larry the Magnificent to find out the secret of how he disappeared . Lucy tells Jamie that Larry isn’t available, but Jamie is determined to come back later to find out the secret.

Not long after that show, Larry and Magdalena are having another one of their arguments. She threatens to leave him. Larry knows that his magical spells seem to be working, so he makes Magdalena disappear. Larry seems surprised but not upset by her disappearance. Larry privately makes an attempt to find Magdalena, but when she’s nowhere to be found (and he genuinely has no idea where she is), he tells the rest of the staff that Magdalena has decided to leave and go back to France.

In the beginning of the movie, there’s some background on Jamie, who is shown to be a ruthless businessman. He owns an apartment building in a low-income neighborhood. And he’s personally and gleefully gone to the building to tell the tenants that their rent will increase 30% by the next month because of a new city law that allows it.

The tenants are understandably upset, and most say that they’re going to refuse to pay the rent increase since they can’t afford the new rent fee. There are various scenes in the movie that show the tenants (who are all people of color—mostly African Americans and some Latinos) griping about the rent increase in places like street corners while waiting for a bus or in a tenant meeting inside one of the building’s apartments.

Meanwhile, the movie shows that after the date at the magic show, Chase went home with Oscar and spent the night with him. Before they have sex, Oscar tells Chase some more about his background. Oscar, who has never been married and doesn’t have kids, is unemployed, but he brags that it’s because he’s been living off of an inheritance that his late father left him. Apparently, Oscar’s mother is also dead, and he has no siblings, because it seems as if Oscar got the entire inheritance.

Oscar is adamant in telling Chase that he never wants the responsibility of having kids, although he says that he’s open to finding a life partner. Chase tells Oscar that it’s not a problem for her that he doesn’t want kids, because she knows she has fertility issues and can’t get pregnant anyway.

It’s at this point in the story that you know exactly what’s going to happen— and it does: Chase gets pregnant, and she wants to keep the child. She finds out she’s pregnant four months after she and Oscar have been dating each other. When she tells Oscar, he’s furious about it.

First, Oscar tries to convince Chase to have an abortion. When that doesn’t work, Oscar attempts to trick Chase into taking an abortion pill that he buys from a drug-dealer friend named Fred (played by Franck Raharinosy), who carries around a pharmaceutical box filled with illegal and legal drugs. That doesn’t work either.

And then, Oscar remembers that Jamie told him that Larry the Magnificent’s magical spell really made Jamie disappear. And somehow, Fred has gotten ahold of Larry’s book of magic spells and passed on some of its secrets to Jamie, who has been using magic spells to make his complaining tenants disappear. When Oscar hears that there’s a magic spell to make people disappear, he thinks it would be a great idea to use this spell to get rid of Chase’s pregnancy by having the impregnated embryo disappear.

There’s also a subplot about magician’s assistant Leah, who’s been dating a racist and sexist moron named Ralphie (played by Brendan Miller), who degrades her and everyone who has the misfortune of being in contact with him. Leah breaks up with Ralphie and starts having a chaste romance with her co-worker Dean.

Ralphie, who sees himself as a desirable hunk, can’t believe that Leah has moved on by dating a little person. Ralphie begins to stalk Leah at the theater and tries to sweet-talk his way back into Leah’s life. Ralphie says he’s now in therapy and taking medication for his emotional problems, so Leah dumps Dean and gets back together with Ralphie. Guess where Ralphie got the medication? Fred, of course.

Dean is crushed by the breakup and feels that he was jilted because of his below-average stature. Leah insists that wasn’t the reason why she ended their romance, but Dean decides that he’s tired of being short. And who comes to the “rescue” again? It’s Fred, who gives Dean a pill and magical spell that Dean can use to change his physical appearance to be a better-looking, taller version of himself.

And the story takes another bizarre turn when Larry orders theater manager Quentin to get the menstrual blood of a young virgin. (The reasons why are explained in the movie.) Quentin thinks the fastest way to find a female virgin is to interview barely legal women to work at the theater. In one such interview, after getting some basic questions out of the way, Quentin awkwardly asks the young woman if she’s a virgin. You can imagine what her reaction is, especially in this #MeToo era.

Meanwhile, Oscar’s problems escalate when he finds out that his accountant/business manager (played by Kevin Corrigan) swindled Oscar out of all of his inheritance money by making bad investments without Oscar’s permission. Oscar is then forced to find a job. During a job interview that Oscar has at a computer company, where he’s being interviewed by a man who’s about 20 years younger than Oscar, this insufferable blowhard shows how old and out of touch he is by talking about his skills with outdated software.

Oscar then goes on a rant about race where he tells the white man interviewing him that white men are under siege and need to stick together. Oscar also goes off on a tangent about how he’s really of Middle Eastern heritage, and he can pass as white or a person of color, depending on whatever situation suits him best. In what’s supposed to be a joke, Oscar then says if the company needs to fill a quota for to add a Middle Eastern or Latino staffer, he can be that person.

What is the point of “Black Magic for White Boys”? It’s basically Tukel’s sloppily written social commentary on how white men feel their power slipping away in a country (the United States) where females are 51% of the population, there’s an increasing number of non-white people, and there are more demands for positions of power to have a more accurate reflection of the racial and gender diversity that exists in the U.S.

All the white men in this movie take some kind of action to try to make themselves feel like they are asserting their power. Larry makes his wife Magdalena (portrayed as a nagging shrew) disappear. Jamie knows that his tenants are organizing meetings to fight back against his outrageous rent increase, so he makes these tenants disappear.

Oscar thinks that if Chase gives birth to their child, she’ll be trapping him into paying child support for the next 18 years. And so, Oscar tries to make the pregnancy disappear. How this pregnancy issue is ultimately resolved seems like the movie’s weak attempt to prevent any criticism that the movie is too offensive when it comes to unplanned pregnancies.

Ralphie pretends that he’s changed for the better, in order to get back together with Leah in a relationship where he’s the dominant partner. (And the movie plays into stereotypes that women prefer “bad boys” over “nice guys.”) And even “nice guy” Dean aspires to society’s physical ideal of what it means to be a man, because Dean wants to have more power when it comes to dating women.

Fred exerts his power by being the story’s Dr. Feelgood, who gives the image that he has the answers to people’s problems in his pharmaceutical box. Fred, a white drug dealer, has a somewhat “respectable” image in this movie, compared to how a black drug dealer doing the same things would be portrayed as a “criminal who should be locked up” in this movie or other movies like it. At any rate, all the non-white people in the movie are portrayed as subservient in some way to white people.

“Black Magic for White Boys” tries to be funny, but most of the jokes don’t really land very well. Any of the dialogue that’s deliberately politically incorrect just seems too self-aware to be genuinely funny. The acting in this film is adequate. It’s the writing that really makes this film an often-boring mess.

And writer/director Tukel shows his Generation X age in some of the jokes. For example, one of the African American men in the movie resists Jamie’s attempts to buy his house. He says to Jamie, “The last time I let a white man in my house, he tried to play Air Supply on my stereo.” Most people born in or after the 1980s won’t understand that joke, because they won’t even know who Air Supply is.

Another ’80s reference in one of the movie’s jokes is made when someone shows a picture of the Elephant Man, and the other person asks if that’s a picture of Mickey Rourke. It’s a joke that works best for people who know the context of how Rourke was a handsome sex symbol in the 1980s. Comparing the Elephant Man to what Rourke looks like now is kind of an insider-ish cheap shot that will go over the heads of people who don’t really know movie history or don’t even know who Rourke is.

Another example of how the movie isn’t written very well is how it handles a “dress code” issue for Oscar, who prides himself on being a non-conformist. Oscar gets a phone call telling him that he got the job that he interviewed for at the computer company. But to his dismay, the person who calls Oscar with this news also tells Oscar that his long-ish hair and bushy beard will be a problem for the company, so Oscar agrees to cut his hair and shave his beard in order to get the job.

And yet, later in the story, when he starts working at this company, Oscar’s hair and beard remain unchanged. It just doesn’t make sense to make such a big deal about him having to cut his hair and beard (presumably as an example of how Oscar has to change in order to fit in as another office wonk) and then abandon that idea altogether. It’s an example of this movie’s sloppy screenwriting and careless directing.

In the end, the issue over Oscar’s hair and beard was unnecessary because Oscar makes some other decisions in his life which contradict the type of person he obviously was proud of being for several years. This drastic personality change for Oscar looks like Tukel’s lame attempt to placate any viewers of this movie who would object to Oscar’s plan to terminate Chase’s pregnancy.

And it’s one of the wishy-washy things about this movie, which can’t decide if it wants to be a dark satire or a series of absurdist comedy sketches strung together. (Within the movie, there are five different chapters that are labeled.) If you’re going to have a character such as Oscar who’s a politically incorrect lout, then go all in, and stick with it. The world is filled with too many comedies that are ruined by taking the easy way out and having a longtime jerk suddenly turn into a big-hearted softie.

Oscar’s storyline is wrapped up nicely with a tidy little bow, but almost all of the other characters’ story arcs wander and aren’t necessarily resolved at the end of the film. Maybe that’s because this movie was originally conceived as the first season of a series. But even then, there’s not really much of a story left at the end for anyone to be interested in seeing what would happen next.

MPI Media released “Black Magic for White Boys” on digital and VOD July 3, 2020


Review: ‘Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own,’ starring Ursula von Rydinsgvard

May 29, 2020

by Carla Hay

Ursula von Rydingsvard in “Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own” (Photo courtesy of Icarus Films)

“Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own”

Directed by Daniel Traub

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City and other parts of the world, this documentary about sculptor Ursula von Rydingsvard features a predominantly white group of people (with some Asians) talking about von Rydingsvard’s life and career.

Culture Clash: Coming to America as a child from a large immigrant family, von Rydingsvard overcame childhood abuse, poverty and self-doubt to become one of the leading sculptors in the art world.

Culture Audience: “Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own” will appeal primarily to enthusiasts of fine art.

Ursula von Rydingsvard in “Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own” (Photo courtesy of Icarus Films)

Whether or not sculpture is someone’s preferred art form, the documentary “Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own” offers a compelling look into the life and artistic process of notable sculptor Ursula von Rydingsvard. The movie would be worth seeing, even if it only showed her creativity, but New York City-based von Rydingsvard (who participated in the documentary) also opens up about how she overcame personal and professional obstacles to get where she is now.

Throughout the film (skillfully directed by Daniel Traub), von Rydingsvard and her team of assistants are shown creating what was one of her most ambitious pieces up to that point: “Uroda,” a copper sculpture commissioned by Princeton University in New Jersey, where the sculpture currently stands outside the university’s Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment. The massive sculpture (which includes steel and bronze) was completed in 2015, and the documentary shows the two-year journey in creating it.

“Uroda” was somewhat outside of von Rydingsvard’s comfort zone, since she made a name for herself as a sculptor whose specialty was cedar wood. She remembers in the documentary that her preference for cedar wood came about when a monk artist named Michael Mulhern gave her cedar wood to work with when she was a young artist. She was immediately struck by the “soft” and “sensuous” feel of the cedar wood and the feeling that she “could really get carried away” with working with this material.

In the documentary, von Rydingsvard also explains why wood has a big emotional connection for her. Born in 1942, she grew up Germany with her Ukranian father and Polish mother, who were peasant famers forced to work for the Nazis. (Her parents had had nine children, including Ursula.) After Germany was defeated in World War II, the family lived in Displaced Persons camps. She remembers that at those camps, “Everything was made of wood … in a rough, rugged way. There was a kind of safety that the wood gave me.”

But things weren’t always safe in the family household, since von Rydingsvard and her younger brother Stas Karoliszyn say in the documentary that their father was physically and emotionally abusive to all of his children. The children would endure vicious beatings and degrading insults from heir father. The abuse got worse after the family immigrated to the United States in 1950, because von Rydingsvard believes that her father had an inferiority complex about being an immigrant.

According to von Rydingsvard, art was an outlet to express her emotions: “I’m so glad I did something with that anger and pain.” Her brother agrees: “Her artwork is her driving force, always.” He adds that their mother was a source of healing strength for the family: “We would not have survived the camps.”

In school, von Rydingsvard’s artist talent was recognized from an early age. She remembers being someone who was often chosen to do artwork for the school, such as make posters or Christmas decorations. “It gave me special attention that was positive,” she says. She says later in the film about art: “It helped enable me to figure myself out as something other than lazy and stupid and worthless.”

But growing up in working-class Plainview, Connecticut, there weren’t any professional artists that she knew about, so it never crossed her mind that she could make a career out of being a professional artist. She comments, “I have a tremendous yearning to be an artist. And somehow, I thought that I really didn’t deserve that. And it took most of my life, actually, to gain confidence.”

The journey to become a professional artist wasn’t an easy one for von Rydingsvard. Despite knowing from an early age that she liked making art, she was confined by traditional gender roles (in an era when it was much harder for women to be accepted into the art world than men) and was trapped in a bad marriage to a violent schizophrenic. She ended the marriage after nine years because she said she could no longer help her husband and she feared for the safety of herself and their daughter Ursie.

At the age of 33, von Rydingsvard moved from Oakland, California, to New York City, where she says she felt reborn. Even though she was a financially struggling divorced mother, she felt inspired to become a professional artist for the first time because the New York artist scene was filled with a variety of women who helped pave the way for her to find her place in the art world. She also says that nature has always been her biggest art inspiration.

Her daughter Ursie remembers growing up at that time in a “raw” SoHo loft “before living in a loft was cool.” And Ursie says that even though she and her mother were poor and living off of food stamps, it was a time of great freedom and artistic discovery for her mother. Ursie recalls the one main rule she had when she was growing up: “‘Do what you want. Just don’t set off the sprinklers.’ That was my childhood.”

Ursie also remembers that because of her mother’s decision to be a wood sculptor, “I would go to sleep to the sound of chainsaws,” which Ursie says almost had a “lullaby” effect on her. Living under financial hardship brought mother and daughter closer together. “It was a very tight, close relationship,” Ursie says.

One of the first pieces by von Rydingsvard that got attention in New York City was 1980’s “St. Martin’s Dream, a wood sculpture in Battery Park that resembled birds perched on a long fence. Several other von Rydingsvard pieces are seen and mentioned in the documentary including “Ona,” “Uroda,””Dumma,” “St. Eulalia,” “Sunken Shadow and Echo,” “Ocean Floor,” “Mama Your Legs,” “Ene Du Rabe,” “For Paul,” “Bent Lace” and “Scientia.”

Several people from the New York City art world are interviewed in the documentary about von Rydingsvard, including artist Sarah Sze and art patrons Agnes Gund and Lole Harp McGovern. Adam Weinberg, the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Alice Pratt Brown director, comments that “the essence of her work is touch.” Galerie Lelong president Mary Sabatino adds, “Her process is laborious. Her process is almost medieval.” Fellow artist Judy Pfaff calls von Rydingsvard “very driven,” “focused” and “very disciplined.”

Studio owner Elka Krajewska comments that part of von Rydingsvard’s identity that comes through in her art is “definitely the immigrant story, coming into this world that’s very new, and trying to figure out how … to deal with it” Art writer Patricia C. Phillips says, “I think Ursula loves beauty, but I don’t think she’s really setting out to make beautiful things. And I think she’s also setting out to make things that unsettle us a little bit. It’s why I think people find it fascinating.”

As for what von Rydingsvard thinks about beauty, she comments in a conversation with her second husband, Paul Greengard, a Nobel Prize-winning brain scientist/researcher from Yale University. (Greengard and von Rydingsvard got married in 1985. He died in 2019, at the age of 93.) “I actually hate the word ‘beauty,'” von Rydingsvard says. “I feel very uncomfortable using it because nobody actually knows what it means.”

She continues in her thoughts on beauty: “Everybody has their own understanding of it. It’s kind of an idealized state, and I’m not even sure anything like that exists. There’s  no criteria for beauty. There’s no criteria to art, to begin with. You can’t define it.”

Greengard then smiles and says to her, “I started going out with you because of your beauty.” She smiles back and indicates that she’s flattered. It’s an endearing moment in the film that shows how much these two still loved each other after decades of being married.

Some of the documentary’s footage is at Richard Webber Studio in Brooklyn, where much of her art is constructed. Richard Webber and von Rydingsvard have been longtime colleagues. She gives credit to the team of workers who assist her in building her visions. Far from being an aloof leader, von Rydingsvard is hands-on by doing a lot of the labor too, and she eats meals with her team, whom she calls “superb.”

“I like them all so much,” von Rydingsvard says. “The fact that we have lunches together every day—all of that’s an important part of the mix. We’re always extremely respectful. That’s an atmosphere that we created that works to help make the art.” Members of von Rydingsvard’s team are interviewed in the film include studio manager Sean Weeks-Earp, cutter Ted Springer and cutter/studio assistant Morgan Daly, who echo the camaraderie spirit.

One of the best aspects of “Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own” is the excellent cinematography from Traub, with assistance from cinematographer Michelle Zarbafian. From the lingering closeups to the rapturous views, the movie provides a visual feast of an experience, which is the next best thing to seeing von Rydingsvard’s art in person. The neo-classical musical score from Simon Taufique also complements each scene in a mood-perfect way.

“Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own” isn’t a long film (the total running time is only 57 minutes), but it packs in a meaningful chronicle of von Rydingsvard’s lifetime of art and experiences. The movie is bound to please fans of the artist, as well as win over new admirers of her unique talent.

Icarus Films released “Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own” through the virtual cinema program of Film Forum in New York City on May 29, 2020. The movie’s virtual cinema release in other U.S. cities begins on June 5, 2020.

2020 Tribeca Film Festival: jury winners announced

April 29, 2020

Tribeca Film Festival - white logo

The following is a press release from the Tribeca Film Festival:

 The Tribeca Film Festival, presented by AT&T, announced the winners for the 2020 juried competition, awarding top honors from this year’s program. Tribeca has continued its commitment to celebrating storytellers while the 19th edition, previously set to take place April 15-26, 2020 in New York City, is being rescheduled.

The Half of It was honored with The Founders Award for Best U.S. Narrative Feature; The Hater for Best International Narrative Feature; and Socks On Fire for Best Documentary Feature. Shorts awards went to No More Wings for Best Narrative Short; My Father The Mover for Best Documentary Short; Friends for Best Animated Short and Cru-Raw for the Student Visionary Award. The Nora Ephron Award went to director Ruthy Pribar for her feature Asia. The award was created seven years ago to honor excellence in storytelling by a female writer or director who embodies the spirit and boldness of the late filmmaker. The full list of films and filmmakers honored are highlighted below.

“We are fortunate that technology allowed for our jury to come together this year to honor our filmmakers,” said Tribeca Film Festival Co-Founder and CEO Jane Rosenthal. “Despite not being able to be together physically, we were still able to support our artists, which has always been at the heart of the Festival.”                                                                                    

“While we are not yet able to celebrate these incredible films at their premieres, we are so proud to celebrate them in partnership with our generous jurors through our 2020 Tribeca awards,” said Festival Director Cara Cusumano. “The jury chose to recognize a daring, innovative, entertaining, diverse group of films and filmmakers, and the Festival is pleased to honor all of them with our first ever virtual awards ceremony.”

 Tribeca’s Art Awards, in partnership with CHANEL, honor winners in select categories with original pieces from ten world-class artists, a tradition since the Festival’s beginning. This year’s selections were curated by notable gallerist Vito Schnabel.

 As announced in early April, select programming from the 2020 edition was made available online for the public, industry, and press. This included: Immersive programming/Cinema360, the N.O.W. Creators Market, Tribeca X, Extranet Industry Resource Hub. Additional online programming will be announced in the coming weeks including Tribeca Talks @ Home, which debuted last week with Cinema360 discussions and will continue on May 3rd featuring the creators of selections from the 2020 program. More information can be found here. Projects included are: Bad Education (HBO), Inheritance (DirecTV/Vertical), I Promise (Quibi), Normal People (Hulu), Not Going QuietlyThe Great (Hulu), The Half of It (Netflix).

 Winners of the juried awards, presented by AT&T; Art Awards in partnership with CHANEL; Tribeca X, sponsored by PwC; and the jury participants are as follows:


The jury comprised of Cherien DabisTerry Kinney and Lucas Hedges awarded the following:

Daniel Diemer and Leah Lewis in “The Half of It” (Photo by KC Bailey/Netflix)

Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature – The Half of It, directed by Alice Wu.

  • Jury Comment: “The film is so charming, it’s so energetic, it’s so fun, it’s so well-paced, it’s directed with such a sure hand, it’s a really confident film and the characters are really well drawn and the actors were fantastic.”
  • Art Award: Julian Schnabel‘s Le Scaphandre et le Papillon, 2007. Oil on map.

Best Actress in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film – Assol Abdullina, Materna.

  • Jury Comment: “Assol just has so much compelling energy; her emotions ran so deep…we cared about her dilemma.”

Sasha Knight and Steve Zahn in “Cowboys”

Best Actor in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film – Steve Zahn, Cowboys.

  • Jury Comment: “Steve showed great range in playing this character.”

Lindsay Burdge and Jade Eshete in “Materna” (Photo by Greta Zozula)

Best Cinematography in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film – Materna, Greta Zozula, Chananun Chotrungroj, Kelly Jeffrey, Cinematographers.

  • Jury Comment: “The visuals were striking and played with color, light and dark, in a very interesting way.”
  • Special Jury Mention for Cinematography: My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To.

Steve Zahn and Sasha Knight in “Cowboys”

Best Screenplay in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film – Cowboys, Anna Kerrigan, Screenwriter.

  • Jury Comment: “A beautiful portrait of a father and his transgendered son.”


The jury comprised of Sabine HoffmanJudith GodrècheDanny BoyleWilliam Hurt, and Demián Bichir awarded the following:

Maciej Musiałowski and Agata Kulesza in “The Hater” (Photo by Jaroslaw Sosinski)

Best International Narrative Feature – The Hater (Poland), directed by Jan Komasa.

  • Jury Comment: “Incredibly relevant for today; we were really impressed by the way it portrayed a character that is not immediately empathetic but really got us into the journey and the story.”
  • Art Award: Helen Marden‘s January Golden Rock, 2020. Watercolor on paper.
  • Special Jury Mention: Ainu Mosir


Best Actor in an International Narrative Feature Film – Noe Hernandez, Kokoloko (Mexico).

  • Jury Comment: “For his raw and brave performance, taking a giant leap of faith, hand-to-hand with his director.”

Shira Haas and Alena Yiv in “Asia” (Photo by Daniella Nowitz)

Best Actress in an International Narrative Feature Film – Shira Haas, Asia (Israel).

  • Jury Comment: “Her face is a never-ending landscape in which even the tiniest expression is heartbreaking; she’s an incredibly honest and present actress who brings depth to everything she does.”

Alena Yiv in “Asia” (Photo by Daniella Nowitz)

Best Cinematography in an International Narrative Feature Film – Asia (Israel)Daniella Nowitz, Cinematographer.

  • Jury Comments: “We were impressed with how the cinematography was supporting the emotionality of the story and was allowing us to really deeply feel with the characters.”

“Very simply and beautifully done.”

Ashish Vidyarthi and Suhasini Maniratnam in “Tryst With Destiny”

Best Screenplay in an International Narrative Feature Film – Tryst With Destiny (India, France), Prashant Nair, Screenwriter.

  • Jury Comments: “How cleverly conceived and executed this script was!” “Beautifully made film.”



The jury comprised of Yance FordRegina K. ScullyRyan Fleck, Chris Pine, and Peter Deming awarded the following:


Bo McGuire in “Socks on Fire” (Photo by Matt Clegg)

Best Documentary Feature – Socks on Fire, Bo McGuire, Director.

  • Jury Comment:  “The film used new techniques woven into documentary filmmaking and narrative storytelling.”
  • Art Award: Sterling Ruby‘s DRFTRS, 2020. Collage, paint and glue on paper.
  • Special Jury Mention: Wonderboy

Eduardo San Juan Breña in “499” (Photo by Alejandro Mejía/AMC)

Best Cinematography in a Documentary Film – 499, Alejandro Mejia, Cinematographer.  

  • Jury Comment: “The filmmakers did an incredible job of weaving this fictional story into what’s happening today with the disappeared and to marry such grand visions that cinema can only do.”


‘Father Soldier Son” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Best Editing in a Documentary Film – Father Soldier Son, Amy Foote, Editor.

  • Jury Comment: “Such a well-crafted film from start to finish; a story that stays with you.”


The jury comprised of Lukas Haas, Juno Temple, Nat Wolff, Grace Van Patten, and James Ponsoldt awarded the following:

Jorge Garcia in “Nobody Knows I’m Here”

Best New Narrative Director – Nobody Knows I’m Here, Gaspar Antillo, Director.

  • Jury Comment: “A film that felt vital and alive, and every time we thought we knew who the protagonist was or what the world was it evolved and revealed more of itself to us.”
  • Art Award: Rita Ackermann‘s The Working Woman 3, 2018. Oil, crayon and graphite on paper.


The jury comprised of Erin Lee CarrStacey ReissJosh HutchersonJoel McHale, and Gretchen Mol awarded the following:


Albert Maysles New Documentary Director Award – Jacinta, Jessica Earnshaw, Director.

  • Jury Comments: “Incredibly engaging filmmaking,” “very moving, beautifully done.”
  • Art Award: Gus Van Sant‘s Achelous and Hercules, 2016. Enamel on paper.
  • Special Jury mention: The Last Out


The jury comprised of Gina RodriguezAparna NancherlaAnna BaryshnikovRegina Hall, and Lizzy Caplan awarded:

Alena Yiv and Shira Haas in “Asia” (Photo by Daniella Nowitz)

The Nora Ephron Award – Asia, Director, Ruthy Pribar.

  • Jury Comment: “From the writing, to the directing, to the camera moves, to the direction for the acting, to the way Ms. Pribar told a story through non-speaking was just outstanding.”
  • Art Award: Pat Steir‘s Untitled, 2008. Oil, pencil, ink, and acrylic on paper.
  • Special Jury Mention: My Wonderful Wanda


2020 Tribeca Film Festival: select immersive programming premieres early due to coronavirus change in schedule

April 3, 2020

Tribeca Film Festival - white logo

The Hsu Family in “Home” (Photo by Larry Lee)

The following is a press release from the Tribeca Film Festival:

The Tribeca Film Festival, presented by AT&T, announced plans today that select programming from the 19th annual Festival will be presented online.

Tribeca is dedicated to supporting filmmakers, creators, and artists that breathe life into the Festival, the New York community, and the industry. We are excited to bring new work from incredible storytellers to an audience eager to connect with their stories. Since its inception, Tribeca has pushed the boundaries of storytelling and innovative ways to connect with audiences. This online program is the latest iteration of that commitment.

First, our focus was to ensure our industry and filmmaking community could continue to connect and develop their careers. To support that mission, we are bringing a mix of programming online that celebrates and promotes creators. The programming includes the N.O.W. Creators Market, Jury and Art Awards, our Industry Extranet Resource Hub, and the brand storytelling Tribeca X Awards.

Second, we wanted to move as fast as possible to bring some of our programming from the upcoming festival to audiences worldwide. Tribeca Immersive’s audience-facing Cinema360 will debut in partnership with Oculus and features 15 VR films, curated into four 30-40 minute programs. The public will be able to access Cinema360 via Oculus TV, for Oculus Go and Oculus Quest. The millions of people who own Oculus headsets will be able to participate in this unique programming from home. Tribeca is one of the first and only festivals to introduce this curated immersive experience to consumers.

Today, we will launch the Tribeca X Awards, where the finalists from adidas, Adorama, Dior, Dove,  Hewlett Packard, Kelly Services, Lime, Procter & Gamble, Red Bull, Square, Synchrony Bank, and Volvo Car UK will be available for audience viewing on

The Tribeca Industry Extranet Resource Hub that is hosting participating films will be available for industry and press. The Tribeca Extranet is the Festival’s online hub providing accredited industry with resources for the program including rights availabilities, delegate directory, and sales contacts.

The juried awards for feature and shorts categories will be presented by the jury who will select the winners to be announced on within the window of the original Festival dates. The jury includes leaders of the creative community including Danny Boyle, Aparna Nancherla, Regina Hall, Yance Ford, Lucas Hedges, Pamela Adlon, Marti Noxon, Asia Kate Dillon and Sheila Nevins.

Winners in select Competition categories will be eligible for our Art Award where world-class artists donate a piece of their work to be awarded to Festival filmmakers. The awards have been a tradition since the Festival’s founding in 2001. The 2020 Art Awards, supported by CHANEL, features the work of alumni and new artists curated by notable gallerist, Vito Schnabel.

Dates for all industry and public programming are provided below.

“As human beings, we are navigating uncharted waters,” said Tribeca Enterprises and Tribeca Film Festival Co-Founder and CEO Jane Rosenthal. “While we cannot gather in person to lock arms, laugh, and cry, it’s important for us to stay socially and spiritually connected. Tribeca is about resiliency, and we fiercely believe in the power of artists to bring us together. We were founded after the devastation of 9/11 and it’s in our DNA to bring communities together through the arts.”

Tribeca’s immediate response after our postponement was to launch initiatives that could give our community something to look forward to each day. “A Short Film a Day Keeps Anxiety Away,” a daily curated online short film series featuring select award winning shorts and premieres from multiple Tribeca alumni; Soundtrack Sunday, live performances and celebrity soundtrack selections happening across Tribeca social media channels; and #TribecaTakeoutChallenge, an Instagram call-to-action campaign to inspire people to support their local restaurants while watching their favorite film.

“Our programmers adapt as society shifts and the audience needs change. The team here has responded to those needs and we stand with our creators everyday as things move through to the new future we will all be seeing over the horizon very soon,” said Paula Weinstein, CCO of Tribeca Enterprises.

“We want to ensure we are meeting the urgent needs of our community by continuing with 2020 festival programming that can evolve into virtual or remote initiatives,” said Tribeca’s Festival Director Cara Cusumano. “We identified these five programs as ones that could easily pivot online and still deliver the same impact for creators and industry. We are excited to share these most immediate announcements, while we continue to look ahead to our Festival’s next steps.“

Details on all of these programs below.


“Forgotten Kiss” (Photo by Daniil Bakalin)

Tribeca Immersive, the incubator for innovation in storytelling, will move forward with the first edition of Cinema360 programming to be offered remotely. In partnership with industry pioneer Facebook’s Oculus, Cinema360 will feature 15 VR films, curated into four 30-40 minute programs. Films are viewable from April 17 through April 25 in Oculus TV, available for Oculus Go or Oculus Quest headsets.

Featuring eye-popping visuals and compelling storytelling, this year’s Cinema360 selections include everything from science fiction and horror, to romance and comedy, proving that there’s truly something for everyone. Additionally, 10 of the 15 creators make their global premiere at Tribeca Film Festival.

In addition to screening the entire 2020 Tribeca Cinema360 slate, Oculus is also releasing “The Key,” which will be available as an app for Oculus Rift, Oculus Rift-S, and Oculus Quest. This project won the 2019 Tribeca Storyscapes Award, which honors artists who bridge the gap between technology and storytelling. This magical and moving experience, from creator Celine Tricart, was made in conjunction with Friends of Refugees and Oculus VR For Good and premiered in competition at the 2019 edition of the Festival. Following its premiere at Tribeca Film Festival, the critically acclaimed work went on to win the Golden Lion award at Venice VR 2019, and was featured at 12 other international festivals.

“Now, more than ever, we are feeling incredibly isolated from one another,” said Loren Hammonds, Senior Programmer of Film & Immersive. “The XR community is very much a global community, as evidenced by this program which features work from China, South Korea, Spain and Ethiopia, just to name a few. It’s my hope that by providing these remarkable 360 films to a global audience during this trying time, we can do our part to bring people back together in the name of great art and shared perspectives.”

Cinema360 Program 1: Dreams to Remember

These dreamlike experiences are journeys of adventure, from an immigrant worker’s poetic and alienating vision of his new home country, to the seemingly impossible first mission to an unexplored moon.

“1st Step” (Photo by Sean Lovelace)

1st Step (International Premiere)—Germany

Project Creators: Joerg Courtial,  Maria Courtial

1st Step is equal parts documentary and fairy tale, telling the magical story of a dream come true: the Apollo missions. Follow the missions from launch all the way through to return, and find yourself gazing at lunar panoramas re-created from NASA’s archival photos.

Dear Lizzy (World Premiere)—USA

Project Creator: Within & Fivehundred

Key Collaborator: Deborah’s Child

Lizzy takes a walk as she reads a letter from a long lost friend. The road is long and there are many strange and beautiful things to see along the way. Yet Lizzy keeps walking. What is she searching for?

Forgotten Kiss (World Premiere)—Finland

Project Creator: Oleg Nikolaenko

Key Collaborator: Daniil Bakalin

Based on the story Forgotten Kiss by Russian writer Alexander Kuprin, this film tells the beautiful legend of a royal prince, who was kissed by the magic Fairy of the Spring Night. As the prince grew up he kept looking for something incomprehensible, something completely forgotten: the forgotten kiss of the fairy.

 Rain Fruits (World Premiere)—South Korea

Project Creators: Youngyoon Song, Sngmoo Lee

Key Collaborators: Sergio Bromberg, Hyejin Jeon, Jinhyung Kim, Hwaeun Kim

Tharu comes to Korea from Myanmar in hopes of becoming a trained engineer. After a series of experiences as an alien worker in this capitalist country, he realizes that one’s dream cannot be found anywhere in the world but where his heart is: his homeland.


Cinema360 Program 2: Seventeen Plus

Future classics in search of cults, this collection of mind-bending narrative experiences is designed for more mature audiences.

Chris Mulkey in “A Safe Guide to Dying” (Photo by Alessandro Pederzoli)

A Safe Guide to Dying (World Premiere)—USA

Project Creator: Dimitris Tsilifonis

Key Collaborator: Froso Tsipopoulou

Linus is on a journey to find painless ways to die inside a video game simulation that emulates sensory experiences. While experimenting with different suicide methods, he realizes he cannot log out. Trapped in a digital abyss, a force is set in motion to reconnect Linus with his offline self.

Black Bag (North American Premiere)—China

Project Creator: Shao Qing

Ex-military security guard, Mr. S works for a bank and leads the life of a normal working-class man. He fantasizes about a major heist, a dream that becomes reality.  This VR film uses abstract metaphor combined with a unique hand-painted art style to create an intense thriller.

The Pantheon of Queer Mythology (World Premiere)—Spain

Project Creator: Enrique Agudo

Key Collaborator: Tim Deluxe

The Pantheon of Queer Mythology is a window into the world of a collective of Deities that present a way to question, empathize, celebrate, repent, resist, consume, abstract, identify, regenerate, and love in complex times. Step in, dare to learn, be inspired to grow, and enjoy the queerness.

Saturnism (World Premiere)—France

Project Creator: Mihai Grecu

Step inside one of the darkest paintings in the history of art: Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son. You will find yourself alone with mad Saturn himself in the cold and gloomy landscape. Saturnism is a visceral and primitive 360 experience.


Cinema360 Program 3: Kinfolk

Three stories of homes and families.

“The Inhabited House” (Photo by Agustin Prieto)

Ferenj: A Graphic Memoir In VR (World Premiere)—USA, Ethiopia

Project Creator: Ainslee A. Robson

Key Collaborator: Liam Young

Ferenj is a visual dialogue between memory, reality, and the digital in an immersive memoir about Ethiopian-American mixed-race identity.

Inhabited House, The (North American Premiere)—Argentina

Project Creator: Diego Kompel

Creator Diego Kompel resurrects fond memories of his grandparents house in this inventive non-fiction work. Compositing 360 footage of the house with actual home movies that help bring the past to life, this experience is an exercise in formalism that draws on the power of remembrance, reverence, and family.

Home (International Premiere)—Taiwan ROC

Project Creator: HSU Chih-Yen

Key Collaborators: Kaohsiung Film Archive, Hsu Chih Yen Director Studios, Funique VR Studio

In this beautifully poignant experience, a family gathers at their old house on a summer afternoon. They surround  grandma, though she’s no longer able to move, react, or hear clearly. As people come and go, the day stretches on—leading to the inevitable end of the gathering.


Cinema360 Program 4: Pure Imagination

Stories of innovation and illusion, with a healthy dose of inspiration.


Lutaw (World Premiere)—USA, Philippines

Project Creator: Samantha Quick

Key Collaborator: Michaela Holland

Like so many others in her remote area of the Philippines, Geramy must swim between the small islands in order to travel to the nearest school. But she’s determined to find a better way to commute. This 3D animated experience is made in partnership with Oculus VR for Good and Yellow Boat of Hope.

Attack on Daddy (North American Premiere)—South Korea

Project Creator: Sung Sihup

It’s Sunday afternoon and an exhausted daddy lies on the couch. Annoyed with his daughter’s pestering pleas to play, he falls asleep and wakes up to find her missing. Sensing something awry, daddy quickly realizes that the answer to the mystery lies in her seemingly abandoned dollhouse.

Tale of the Tibetan Nomad (World Premiere)—USA

Project Creator: Carol Liu

Key Collaborator: Stan Lai

A newlywed nomad and his wife bask in the flush of new love. He falls asleep then awakens to discover his wife has disappeared. Embarking on a quest to find her, he’s led into a life he never dreamed of—one that soon slips beyond his control.

Upstander (World Premiere)—USA

Project Creator: Van Phan

Key Collaborator: Oculus VR for Good

Upstander is a 360 animated experience about bullying and how we, as bystanders, can make a difference. Immersing the audience in a world adjacent to our own, you are challenged to think and take action. How can we be part of the solution and not be part of the problem?

“We are also announcing the official selections for this year’s Virtual Arcade, including the Storyscapes nominees,” says Senior Programmer, Film & Immersive Loren Hammonds.  “The entire list of officially selected projects can be found on here on our website, starting today. We gratefully acknowledge all selected creators of Tribeca Immersive 2020 and would like to thank them for their patience and understanding through this difficult time of uncertainty.”


The N.O.W. (New Online Work) section, sponsored by HBO, will host its fifth annual private industry market that brings together leading online, episodic and immersive storytellers (2020 N.O.W. Showcase creators, 2020 TribecaTV Pilot Season creators and an additional curated group of online, indie episodic and VR writers/performers/influencers) to pitch new projects to a wide-range of industry, including distributors, production companies, streamers, and online platforms. Participating companies taking pitch meetings include Albyon, Atlas V, BRON Studios, CNN Original Series, Giant Spoon, Gunpowder & Sky, NOWNESS, Topic Streaming, Topic Studios, Tribeca Studios, and more.

The N.O.W. Creators Market will take place virtually April 21 and 22, 2020, setting up hundreds of 20-minute, video pitch meetings between Creators and Industry looking to collaborate on future projects.

“We established the N.O.W. Creators Market in 2016 as a way to introduce a wide array of filmmakers, writers and emerging creators to an equally diverse group of industry in an effort to inspire collaboration and career opportunities,” said Liza Domnitz, Senior Programmer, Film, TV & New Online Work. “Through the power of technology, we couldn’t be more pleased that, despite the tenuous circumstances, we can push on with the 2020 Market, and [virtually] bring together the creative community for two exciting days of one-on-one pitching and conversation.”


Tribeca’s New Online Work (N.O.W.) section highlights independent filmmakers who create original, short form and episodic work specifically for the online exhibition space. Previous inclusions in the NOW section include High Maintenance (Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair), The Gay and Wondrous Life of Caleb Gallo (Brian Jordan Alvarez), You’re So Talented (Sam Bailey), Dinette (Shaina Feinberg) and Kiss of the Rabbit God (Andrew Thomas Huang). This year’s slate includes episodic, short form and documentary work from up-and-coming and seasoned filmmakers.

The following group of filmmakers participating in the virtual N.O.W. Creators Market were to debut their work as part of the 2020 Tribeca New Online Work Showcase:

Mike Bender and Doug Chernack (Awkward Family Photos)

Mike Bender is the co-founder of, the bestselling author of Awkward Family Photos, and screenwriter and co-producer of Not Another Teen Movie. Doug Chernack is the co-founder of, bestselling author of Awkward Family Photos, and a creator and producer for E!, Fox Sports, and the Golf Channel.

Tomas Gomez Bustillo (Museum of Fleeting Wonders)

Tomás Gómez Bustillo was born in Buenos Aires. He earned a degree in political science in Buenos Aires and his MFA in directing at the American Film Institute Conservatory. His work screened at Slamdance and Montreal World Film Festival. He is developing his feature debut, The Death of Irma Lopez.

Lance Edmands (The Seeker)

Lance Edmands was born in Maine and graduated from NYU. His first feature as writer and director, Bluebird, premiered at Tribeca in 2013; Factory 25 and Sundance Artist Services then released theatrically. Edmands also directs and edits commercials. The Seeker is his first documentary.

Curtis Essel (Allumuah)

Curtis Essel is a director of 33 Bound; a visual production company based in London. He consciously desires to leave his audience with a little more knowledge than when they began. Imparting viewers with insight is an integral part of his process whilst showcasing the personal human experiences to anyone who comes by his work.

Keylee Koop-Sudduth and Micah Sudduth (Backsliders)

Keylee Koop-Sudduth and Micah Sudduth are a married couple of filmmakers originally from the Bible Belt. They believe stories are medicine, so they created Bob Billiams Productions to help themselves heal. Drawing from their rural backgrounds, they craft authentic stories that are a unique balance of humor and heart.

 Britt Lower and Alex Knell (Circus Person)

Britt Lower is a multi-disciplinary filmmaker and artist. Circus Person, which she wrote and stars in, is her directorial debut. She plays opposite Patricia Arquette in the upcoming Ben Stiller-directed series, Severance. Her other credits include High Maintenance, Man Seeking Woman, Casual, and Mr. Roosevelt. Alex Knell works to handcraft rich stories across new tech, film and live formats. Trained in physical theater (Lecoq), she has designed visual storytelling for 100+ filmmakers.

Héctor Silva Núñez & Lu Urdaneta (Home)

Héctor Silva Núñez is a Venezuelan filmmaker based in Chile. His works premiered at Cannes, Toronto International Film Festival, and Tribeca. He is developing his first narrative feature. Lu Urdaneta is a Venezuelan-American actress and producer based in Miami. Her production company, Alef, develops the first vertical series in Spanglish.

Alden Nusser and Ben Fries (Dying Business)

Alden Nusser and Ben Fries grew up together in Manhattan and began working together as filmmakers in 2015. Coming from documentary and music video/commercial backgrounds, respectively, their first collaboration, Crime Cutz, premiered at Tribeca in 2018. They’re the founding partners of the creative production company Field Agency.

Ava Warbick (Bobbie Blood)

Ava Warbrick‘s documentary Stephanie in the Water premiered at the Hamptons International Film Festival in 2013. Her work has been featured by Artist Television Access, Anthology Film Archives, Light Industry, Nowness, Vogue, and Netflix. Warbrick serves on the Kesselring Prize Committee for Playwriting and is a graduate of Bard College.



Tribeca continued its tradition of opening submissions to independently produced TV pilots in 2020.  The following group of filmmakers participating in the virtual N.O.W. Creators Market were to debut their pilots as part of the 2020 Tribeca TV Pilot Season program:

Shelby Bartelstein (Pretty People)

Shelby Bartelstein is beyond grateful to Tribeca 2020 for including Pretty People in the Indie Pilot Showcase. Shelby penned, directed and stars in the pilot, which follows two best friends whose budding romance is tested when weight comes into play.

Che Grayson (Magic Hour)

Che Grayson is a filmmaker, writer and TED speaker. Her award-winning films have shown internationally, and her writing has been published by Teen Vogue, Image Comics and IDW Publishing. As a graduate of New York University’s MFA film program, she has written, directed and produced while studying under the mentorship of Spike Lee and Kasi Lemmons. Che is a 2016 TED resident, a 2017 IFP Marcie Bloom Film Fellow with Sony Picture Classics and a 2018 Directing Fellow with Ryan Murphy’s Half Initiative. Most recently Che began developing a series for TV, Magic Hour, starring Indya Moore (POSE).

Emily Kron and Kate Hopkins (Deceased Ones)

Emily Kron and Kate Hopkins are an exuberant two-headed creative team, writing, directing and producing television, film and digital media with their company Grandma’s Beach House Productions. They have collaborated on several films, series, music videos and comedy sketches, focusing on female-centric stories that are usually funny and unusually weird!

Scott Turner Schofield (Becoming a Man in 127 EASY Steps: But What About The Children)

Named a “Trans Influencer of Hollywood” by OUT Magazine, Scott Turner Schofield is an award-winning actor, writer and producer. Critically-acclaimed for his roles on CBS’s The Bold And The Beautiful and Amazon Prime’s Studio City, Schofield received international notice for his leading role in the 2018 feature film The Conductor (Splendid Films). He currently consults for HBO’s Euphoria among other projects. His one man show—Becoming a Man in 127 Easy Steps, funded by the National Performance Network and the Princess Grace Foundation-USA—is now a groundbreaking multimedia project.

Mike Ott (Unemployable)

Mike Ott studied under Thom Andersen at the California Institute of the Arts where he received his Masters of Fine Arts degree in Film/Video. His films have won numerous awards, including the Audience award at AFI Fest, a Gotham Award for “Best Film Not Playing in a Theater Near You,” and in 2011 he won the “Someone to Watch” Independent Spirit Award. Mike is currently in production on his hybrid feature California Dreams.



Amir Admoni and Fabito Rychter*

Amir Admoni and Fabito Rychter have been working together for the last 10 years. The partnership yielded movies, TV shows, and plays that have collected 71 international awards and traveled to more than 120 festivals. Gravity VR is their first virtual reality project together.

Enrique Agudo*

Enrique Agudo’s work explores the limits of digital media. With a background in architecture, Agudo evolved into speculative worldbuilding, moving from architectural projects to research-driven fictional narratives. His work looks at future anthropological issues, identity, sexuality, and humanities through animation, new media art, creative direction, or VR.

Nitzan Bartov and Char Simpson*

Nitzan Bartov is an architect and game designer. Her work in XR, interactive, and spatial media mixes pop culture, sci-fi, and mysticism to explore relationships between humans and technology. Char Simpson is a writer and a video artist. They write interactive fiction and devise narrative formulas for immersive experiences.

Ann Bierhaus

Anna Bierhaus is a writer living in NYC, and her scripts have regularly placed in ScreenCraft, Creative World Awards, and Final Draft, among others, and gone on to Sundance’s second round.

Common Table Creative (Oliver English, Simon English and Jamer Bellis)

Common Table Creative works with the world’s leading food and beverage companies, NGOs and nonprofits to tell stories about the power of food. We create short films and long-form documentaries about food, driving consumers to support the companies, businesses, and politicians of the future.

Bianca Cristovao

Bianca Cristovao is a writer, performer, and creator based in Los Angeles. Originally from the Czech Republic’s capital, she gained recognition for her stand up performance about diversity and immigration.

Nicole Dawson

Nicole Dawson is a New York-based storyteller and graduate of NYU Tisch. Writing primarily for young adult audiences, her stories are grounded in visceral settings and dynamic female protagonists.

Stanley Erhart

Stanley Erhart (@lastmanstanley) is an undergraduate at Tulane University pursuing a BS in digital media production. Stanley uploads short form abstract videos on the social media app TikTok.

Matthew K. Esolda & Brian Goodheart

Matthew K. Esolda and Brian Goodheart are Emergency Contact, a creative/directing duo with over a decade of experience in advertising and content creation. They are friendly and are very excited to meet you.

Valeria Forster & Mercedes Cordova

In 2012, Mercedes Córdova and Valeria Forster founded Brava Cine, a production company based in Buenos Aires, with  the purpose of developing and promoting audiovisual projects by female directors.

Léa Furnion

New York writer/filmmaker Léa Furnion likes making things, an idea that inhabits her series pilot, a handy-focused neo-practical voyage to a love for eco-living, a topic of her upcoming novel.

Malerie Grady & James Mackenzie

Malerie Grady and James Mackenzie are filmmakers from Atlanta, Georgia. They developed Tough Love from a back-alley comedy sketch to a character-driven dating web series that premiered at Outfest 2019.

Caleb Hearon

Caleb Hearon is a Chicago-based comedian at whom nobody has ever been mad. He performs every week at iO Chicago, Second City, The Hideout, and on Twitter, if video monologues count. Caleb is an NBCUniversal Bob Curry Fellow and produces iO’s weekly sketch and current events show, Studio Eleven. He’s originally from Missouri where he was raised by four strong women—his mother, Kellie, and the Dixie Chicks.

Sami Kriegstein Jacobson

Sami Kriegstein Jacobson is an award-winning director, producer, and multimedia-artist (HuffPost, Spotify, InStyle, Complex, YouTubePremium) who moonlights as a digital branded content consultant, which sounds vague but is real, Dad, I swear.

Jennifer Levinson

Jennifer Levinson’s written and produced content has amassed 100 million views across BuzzFeed Video, VRScout, and CryptTV. Formerly a writer on the show Solve, Jennifer now has five projects in production.

Jonathan Lewis

Jonathan Aubrie Lewis is an award winning (2019 AT&T Film Awards Underrepresented Winner) filmmaker who has been a professional director for the past eight years. His most recent film, Sojourn, is an intimate exploration of black male identity. It has screened at Atlanta Film Festival, Austin Film Festival, Raindance Film Festival, Holly Shorts and most notably, The National Museum of African American History & Culture, a part of the Smithsonian African American Film Festival.

Bunny Michael & Omega

Bunny Michael and Omega are multidisciplinary artists and collaborators. Their work which displayed at The Whitney, Tate Modern, and MOMA PS1 has been featured in NY Times and ArtForum.

Raqi Syed & Areito Echevarria*

Raqi Syed and Areito Echevarria are visual effects artists and researchers whose work combines visual storytelling and new technologies. They have contributed to films such as Avatar and The Hobbit series. They are both practitioners in immersive reality and currently teach at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand.

Adam Waheed

Adam Waheed is a comedian, actor and content creator, from Queens, New York. He most recently wrote, produced, and starred in the short film, Tribes, which was an official selection for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. He also starred in the Comedy Central series, Pitch Please, which is live on Comedy Central’s Facebook page. Adam has also worked with high-end brands like T-Mobile, Old Spice, Mountain Dew, Call of Duty and more.

Micah Ariel Watson

Micah Ariel Watson is a filmmaker and playwright from Wichita, KS. Her work centers the sacred and secular in Black culture. She will receive her MFA from NYU spring 2020.

 *Indicates 2020 Tribeca Immersive Official Selection Artist.


Tribeca Extranet, the festival’s online resource hub for industry, will launch as planned, providing accredited industry with resources on the 2020 program including rights availabilities, delegate directory, and sales contacts.  The Extranet will also host an online screening library of select Tribeca 2020 projects.  Work from the feature & short films programs, Tribeca N.O.W., and pilot season can opt to make their pieces available to accredited press & industry during the window of April 15 – May 15. The films may be securely streamed on personal computers or tablets.  All viewed titles will be reported to press & sales contacts.

The Extranet is available to accredited 2020 industry, using your Tribeca user name and password to access.  New accreditations are currently open here:

Email industry@tribecafilmfestival.orfg for more information.


The Tribeca Film Festival, presented by AT&T, is moving forward with announcing the 2020 jury members who will select the winners in the film competition sections for the 2020 program. The jurors will award work in nine different categories and honor new voices and prominent members of the creative community with unique art awards. More than 30 industry leaders were selected to honor feature length and short film categories, comprising narratives and documentary films. Jurors will also present the Tribeca X Award, celebrating excellence in branded storytelling at the intersection of advertising and entertainment. The winning films, projects, filmmakers, actors, and storytellers in each category will be announced on during the original Festival dates, April 15-26.

Each year Tribeca and CHANEL bring together world-class artists who donate a piece of their work to be presented as an award to honored Festival filmmakers, a tradition since the Festival’s beginning.

“Now more than ever, it is important that we come together to celebrate the work of the amazing storytellers that give us laughter and craft the stories that unite us. It is our responsibility to honor these creators with the Tribeca Art Awards along with CHANEL, our partners for the past 15 years” – Jane Rosenthal, Tribeca Enterprises and Tribeca Film Festival Co-Founder and CEO

The 2020 Tribeca Film Festival Art Awards, supported by CHANEL, features the work of one artist returning to support the program for his 19th year in addition to nine other artists who were personally selected by this year’s curator and notable gallerist, Vito Schnabel.

“I am honored to have been invited to assemble a cross-generational group of nine artists whose work captures the current mood of contemporary society. This project is inspired by the connection between artists and filmmakers as natural storytellers, creators of narratives that accrue to a form of cultural journalism. Each artist included in this selection has a special relationship with both New York City and my gallery,” – Vito Schnabel

*Indicates the 2020 Art awarded in each category

For further information on participating Jurors please visit

To view an online gallery of art work and artists bios visit:


  • 2020 U.S. Narrative Feature Competition Jury – awarding Founders Award for Best U.S. Narrative Feature, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay, and Best CinematographyCherien Dabis, Terry Kinney, Lucas Hedges

*Art Award: Julian Schnabel: Le Scaphandre et le Papillon, 2007. Oil on map. Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature

  • 2020 International Narrative Competition Jury – awarding Best International Narrative Feature, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay, Best CinematographySabine Hoffman, Judith Godrèche, Danny Boyle, William Hurt, Demian Bichir

*Art Award: Helen Marden: January Golden Rock, 2020. Watercolor on paper. Best International Narrative Feature


  • 2020 Documentary Feature Competition Jury – awarding Best Documentary Feature, Best Editing, Best CinematographyYance Ford, Regina Scully, Ryan Fleck, Chris Pine, Peter Deming

*Art Award: *Sterling Ruby: DRFTRS, 2020. Collage, paint and glue on paper. Best Documentary Feature


  • 2020 Best New Narrative Director Competition JuryLukas Haas, Juno Temple, Nat Wolff, Grace Van Patten, James Ponsoldt

*Art Award: *Rita Ackermann: The Working Woman 3, 2018. Oil, crayon and graphite on paper. Best New Narrative Director


  • 2020 Albert Maysles Award for Best New Documentary Director JuryErin Lee Carr, Stacey Reiss, Josh Hutcherson, Joel McHale, Gretchen Mol

*Art Award: Gus Van Sant: Achelous and Hercules, 2016. Enamel on paper. Albert Maysles New Documentary Director Award

  • 2020 Nora Ephron Award JurorsGina Rodriguez, Lizzy Caplan, Aparna Nancherla, Anna Baryshnikov, Regina Hall

*Art Award: Pat Steir: Untitled, 2008. Oil, pencil, ink, and acrylic on paper. Nora Ephron Award


  • 2020 Narrative/Animation Short Competition JuryKasi Lemmons, Pamela Adlon, Kerry Bishe, Taylor Hackford, Marshall Curry

*Art Award: Robert Nava: Medusa’s Walk, 2020. Acrylic, oil stick, crayon, and pencil on paper. Best Narrative Short

*Art Award: Stephen Hannock: Wallsend Morning on the River Tyne, 2019. Oil on board. Best Animated Short

  • 2020 Short Documentary and Student Visionary Competitions JuryAsia Kate Dillon, Marti Noxon, Sheila Nevins

*Art Award: Francesco Clemente: Flag US, 2018. Watercolor and miniature on paper. Best Documentary Short

*Art Award: Vahakn Arslanian: Light of Airbus, 2009. Graphite on paper in artist’s frame. Student Visionary Award



Stefon Bristol, Filmmaker

Taylor Johns, Head of Content Production, YETI

David Lee, Chief Creative Officer, Squarespace

Matt MacDonald, Chief Creative Officer, Omnicom for AT&T

Bonnie Siegler, Founder, Eight and a Half



The Tribeca Film Festival, presented by AT&T, announced today that it will continue Tribeca X sponsored by PwC, it’s competition to celebrate the intersection of advertising and entertainment. The 5th annual Tribeca X Award will honor the best brand and filmmaker collaborations of the year and recognize best in class branded content told through the lens of storytelling. Following an expansion in 2019, the Tribeca X Award will award both narrative and documentary work in three categories: feature film, short film, episodic series. The finalists for the 2020 Tribeca X Awards include works created by notable filmmakers and featuring talent such as Morgan Cooper, Gabrielle Dennis, Margaret Qualley, Lena Waithe, Denzel Whitaker and Olivia Wilde representing brands and agencies including adidas, Dove, Dior, Hewlett-Packard (HP), Procter & Gamble (P&G), Red Bull, Square, Synchrony Bank, Volvo, attn:, Anonymous Content, ColorCreative, Giant Spoon, Great Big Story, and Grey Group.

The shortlisted pieces represent a diverse group of filmmakers and reflect a variety of themes and subjects including climate change, technology, social responsibility, finance, music, fashion, LGBTQ+ inclusion  and more.

Many of this year’s selected finalists will be available to screen on Traditionally, these pieces screen in theaters during the Festival, but this year Tribeca will showcase the competition online. The selected finalists are available to view now:




“All The Streets Are Silent: The Convergence of Hip Hop and Skateboarding (1987-1997)

Synopsis: Downtown Manhattan. Early 90s. Two potent subcultures were colliding: Skateboarding and hip hop. “All the Streets Are Silent” brings to life the magic of that time period.

Director: Jeremy Elkin

Brand: adidas

Agency: Elkin Editions



Synopsis: With exclusive access to Dior’s “Maison de Parfums” creative process, this documentary film unveils the fascinating role of the Nose at Dior; the most prestigious Fashion et Perfume brand in the world.

Director(s): Clément Beauvais, Arthur de Kersauson

Brand: Dior

Production Co: Mercenary Production


“U Shoot Videos?”

Synopsis: Moji, a young filmmaker in Kansas City, shoots low budget music videos for a living. He has talent and wants to take his career to the next level, but the leap forward is difficult and at times dangerous.

Director: Morgan Cooper

Brand: Adorama

Talent: Denzel Whitaker



“The Birdman”

Synopsis: Volvo & Sky Atlantic present the true story of a young boy from Wales who went from breeding birds in his back yard to saving the rarest bird in the world and 8 other species from the brink of extinction.

Director: D.A.R.Y.L

Brand: Volvo Car UK

Agency: Grey London



Synopsis: The unscripted film follows Inglewood resident Carlos Lopez, detailing the roadblocks he’s faced living in a sprawling city with limited public transit and no car and the newfound freedom he’s discovered through the micro mobility of Lime.

Director: Cara Stricker

Brand: Lime

Agency: The Lab at Anonymous Content


“Forged in Flint”

Synopsis: Small business owners and entrepreneurs in Flint have decided to start building the future they want to see. And it’s working.

Director: Bradley Tangonan

Brand: Square


“Pay Day”

Synopsis: Nyssa Rose dreams of starting her own business. But she spends like there’s no tomorrow. She finds herself stuck in a time loop, reliving the same Pay Day. Again. And again. That is, until she learns to make better choices and save for her future with Synchrony Bank.

Director: Morgan Cooper

Brand: Synchrony Bank

Agency: Giant Spoon

Production Co: ColorCreative

Talent: Gabrielle Dennis


“Wake Up”

In a short directed by Olivia Wilde, Margaret Qualley stars as a woman awakened to a world she doesn’t recognize, one where people are more engaged with screens than with each other. She sets out to find connection in a disconnected world and relearn what it means to be human.

Director: Olivia Wilde

Brand: Hewlett Packard

Agency: The Lab at Anonymous Content

Talent: Margaret Qualley



“Girls Room”

Synopsis: Girls Room is an original series that tackles the pain and power of female adolescence through the eyes of 5 girls as they face the challenges of growing up in today’s social-first world. Cinematically vertical, the series was created to reach young girls where they are, on social media platforms on their mobile devices.

Director: Tiffany Johnson

Writer: Lena Waithe

Brand: Dove

Agency: attn:, BBH Entertainment


“The Mind Behind”

Synopsis: The Mind Behind is a 3-episode documentary series that delves deep into the minds of our most talented artists and athletes and explores how they react to extraordinary situations unique to their profession.

Director: Niyantha Shekar

Brand: Red Bull

Agency: Red Bull Media House

Production Co: Supari Studios



Synopsis: Proud is a video channel in partnership with Procter & Gamble that lives on Great Big Story, CNN’s global video company devoted to cinematic storytelling, housing sponsored editorial content that celebrates members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Director(s): Asher May-Corsini, Sofia Couceiro, Michael Fequiere, Dave Yim

Brand: Procter & Gamble

Agency: Great Big Story


“What’s Next”

Synopsis: Through this series of five short documentaries, Kelly Services pays homage to the remarkable men and women who apply their talents in various communities around the world.

Director: Ben Proudfoot

Brand: Kelly Services

Production Co: Breakwater Studios

About the Tribeca Film Festival:

The Tribeca Film Festival, presented by AT&T, brings visionaries and diverse audiences together to celebrate storytelling in all its forms, including film, TV, VR, gaming, music, and online work. With strong roots in independent film, Tribeca is a platform for creative expression and immersive entertainment. The Festival champions emerging and established voices; discovers award-winning filmmakers and creators; curates innovative experiences; and introduces new technology and ideas through premieres, exhibitions, talks, and live performances.

The Festival was founded by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, and Craig Hatkoff in 2001 to spur the economic and cultural revitalization of lower Manhattan following the attacks on the World Trade Center. Now in its 19th year, the Festival has evolved into a destination for creativity that reimagines the cinematic experience and explores how art can unite communities.

Twitter: @Tribeca

Instagram: @tribeca



About Presenting Sponsor AT&T:

As Presenting Sponsor of the Tribeca Film Festival, AT&T is committed to supporting the Festival and the art of filmmaking through access and innovation, while expanding opportunities to diverse creators around the globe. AT&T helps millions connect to their passions – no matter where they are. This year, AT&T and Tribeca will once again collaborate to give the world access to stories from underrepresented filmmakers that deserve to be seen. AT&T Presents: Untold Stories – an Inclusive Film Program in Collaboration with Tribeca, is a multi-year, multi-tier alliance between AT&T and Tribeca along with the year-round nonprofit Tribeca Film Institute.

About the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival Partners:

The Tribeca Film Festival is pleased to announce its 2020 Partners: Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), BVLGARI, CHANEL, City National Bank, CNN Films, Diageo, ESPN, HBO, Montefiore, National CineMedia (NCM), New York Magazine, NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, P&G, PwC, Spring Studios New York, and Squarespace.

2020 Tribeca Film Festival postponed due to coronavirus concerns

March 12, 2020

by Carla Hay

Tribeca Film Festival - white logo

The 19th annual Tribeca Film Festival in the New York City area has been postponed until further notice, due to coronavirus concerns. The event was originally scheduled to take place April 15 to April 26, 2020. The rescheduled dates are to be announced. For the first time this year, the Tribeca Film Festival had announced it was expanding outside of New York City, and would be holding some events in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Tribeca Enterprises co-founder/CEO Jane Rosenthal issued this statement: “We founded the Tribeca Film Festival as a way to heal our community after the devastation of the 9/11 attacks in 2001. We were determined to overcome our fear and anxiety by joining together.  It is in our DNA to march forward while caring about our community, said Jane Rosenthal, co-founder and CEO of Tribeca Enterprises.

“We have made the difficult decision to postpone the 19th Tribeca Film Festival (April 15-26) based on the announcement by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that events of 500 people or more are banned due to the spread of the novel coronavirus. We are committed to ensuring the health and safety of the public while also supporting our friends, filmmakers and storytellers who look to Tribeca as a platform to showcase their work to audiences. We will be back to you shortly with our plans.”

The 2020 Tribeca Film Festival’s opening-night film was announced as director Mary Wharton’s documentary “Jimmy Carter Rock & Roll President” at the Beacon Theatre. After the world-premiere screening, Willie Nelson, Paul Shaffer, Nile Rodgers and others artists were scheduled to perform at the event.

Other movies that were announced to world premiere at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival included the comedy “The Stand-In” (starring Drew Barrymore), the drama “No Future” (starring Catherine Keener and Charlie Heaton) and the David Bowie biopic “Stardust” (starring Johnny Flynn). Documentaries that were announced to world premiere at the festival include “Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road,” “Citizen Penn” (about Sean Penn), “John Lewis: Good Trouble” and “Tough Love: The Lennox Lewis Documentary.”

The festival is among the long list of events around the world that have been postponed or cancelled due to coronavirus concerns. In addition, several schools, government offices, community centers and other places have been temporarily closed due to the outbreak.

Click here the latest updates on what’s been cancelled or postponed because of coronavirus concerns.