Name another event where you can go from watching a documentary about Alicia Keys‘ songwriting camp and seeing her perform with some of the subjects to a deep dive into the rise and precipitous fall of infamous pop perpetrators Milli Vanilli to a film about disco queen Gloria Gaynor‘s turn to gospel, all in the same place. Then add in an exploration of hip-hop clown prince Biz Markie or Taylor Mac’s mind-bending 24-hour musical “History of Popular Music” performance piece, plus more than 100 other films and performances over the course of 12 days.
The 2023 Tribeca Festival offers all of that, plus the premiere of dozens of feature films and storyteller conversations between Paul McCartney and Conan O’Brien, John Mellencamp and David Letterman, and Chance the Rapper and Billy Porter, along with a 40th-anniversary celebration of pioneering 1983 hip-hop film Wild Style.
“The festival has grown so much over the years, which goes back to the earliest years when it was conceptualized as a storytelling festival,” says Tribeca director/VP of programming Cara Cusumano of the event co-founded by Robert De Niro in 2011 in an attempt to revitalize Lower Manhattan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Over the years, Tribeca has expanded to include TV, gaming, podcasting and music, which explains why in 2021 the event dropped “Film” from its name and became simply the Tribeca Festival.
“Not to minimize film, which is still our bedrock, but [the change] was so other creators can get attention as well,” Cusumano adds, noting that last year’s Tribeca included the world premiere of Jennifer Lopez‘s Halftime doc, Taylor Swift speaking about wanting to get into film directing, and the inauguration of the Tribeca Music Lounge. “It’s representative of everything we’ve done, but it also opens the door to the future too… everything is on the table at the festival, which you can see with this year’s huge lineup.”
In keeping with the expanded purview, music — which has always been part of the fest’s dynamic — has increasingly played a larger role at Tribeca, with this year’s event offering dozens of films, performances and special events. They include the world premiere of the VICE News original film Scream of My Blood: A Gogol Bordello Story — which compiles two decades of footage chronicling Ukrainian singer Eugene Hütz’s journey from the Kyiv underground scene to the band’s recent return to the nation after Russia’s invasion — and Songs About F—ing, a wild doc about high-energy musician Marc “Loop Daddy” Rebillet’s raucous late-summer 2021 North American tour that brought fans out of the house for one of the first, and most outrageous, post-pandemic tours.
Other highlights include All Up in the Biz, a loving look at late hip-hop legend Biz Markie featuring commentary from a galaxy of fellow rap stars attesting to Biz’s larger-than-life persona, a Tierra Whack doc (Cypher), and a film about the first all-female competition for conductors (Maestra). There will also be profiles of iconic New York concert promoter Ron Delsener (Ron Delsener Presents), folk duo Indigo Girls (It’s Only Life After All), the moving Milli Vanilli doc (which features an interview with this writer), Keys’ film (Uncharted), and Kiss the Future, which chronicles an American aid worker’s long-shot pitch to have U2 come to Sarajevo in the midst of the four-year long siege of that city.
One of the highlights for Tribeca music programmer Vincent Cassous is the June 17 performance by Carlos Santana at the Beacon Theatre following the premiere of the documentary Carlos. The return to the venue — the site of a legendary 1976 live album — will highlight the film’s previously unheard music and rare footage as part of a music slate that Cassous says “celebrate artists who have so much adversity and provide so much inspiration… there are tons of live performances that will come after screenings to help bring the films to life.” Cassous also notes other events that will pair movies and performances, including the Cyndi Lauper doc Let the Canary Sing and the French Montana doc For Khadija: French Montana, executive produced by Drake and Diddy.
“These events offer something different for fans than a traditional concert,” says Cassous, recalling that people are still talking about last year’s debut of the Detroit techno doc God Said Give ‘Em Drum Machines, which was followed by a wild performance by Inner City and Blake Baxter. “Tribeca is associated with curation and these artists all have projects about their work that are very meaningful and being included in Tribeca give the imprimatur of selection that is meaningful for them,” says Cusumano. “It’s not just any show, but a premiere about their lives and work that creates an intimate bond between the audience and the performer.”
This year’s Music Lounge at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn will shine a light squarely on musical performance again, kicking off with an “indie sleaze revival” night featuring Tei Shi and Frost Children, followed by a performance from actor/author David Duchovny (who directed the festival selection Bucky F*cking Dent), as well as sets by Eddie Chacon, an Iranian music showcase and a conversation about soundtracks with film composers from Tribeca films.