Joey Nolfi
April 17, 2018 at 11:58 AM EDT

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New York City’s Tribeca Film Festival (April 18-29) boasts big stars and high-profile premieres. Here are a few of this year’s can’t-miss titles. For tickets, head here.

Reality roars in feature and television documentaries

In fitting form for the cosmopolitan fest, nonfiction titles on hot-button social issues from race to politics jump off the slate. That includes JAY-Z’s Trayvon Martin series, Rest in Power, and HBO’s Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland — both of which examine the untimely (and seemingly preventable) deaths of young, black Americans. Netflix will also premiere a buzzy take on Rachel Dolezal’s controversial life in The Rachel Divide, which probes deeper into the tormented life of the titular pariah — with a refreshingly unexpected perspective on her subject from director Laura Brownson.

Further shining a light on an unorthodox subject is Blowin’ Up director Stephanie Wang-Breal, who spotlights an experimental court in Queens, New York that advocates for the rights of women arrested on prostitution charges versus automatically sending them to trial.

Tribeca’s home city will take center stage as well via The Fourth Estate, an episodic look at The New York Times‘ coverage of Donald Trump’s first term from Oscar nominee Liz Garbus and opening night film Love, Gilda, which features an intimate glimpse into Gilda Radner’s legacy as one of the first cast members NYC-based variety show Saturday Night Live.

Dyana Winkler & Tina Brown’s United Skates, a compelling take on the disappearance of the African-American roller-rink community, Call Her Ganda, a PJ Raval-directed investigation into the aftereffects of the 2014 death of a transgender Filipina woman supposedly murdered by a U.S. Marine, and The American Meme — a disturbing and eye-opening portrait of the dark side of internet fame with appearances by Paris Hilton, Brittany Furlan, DJ Khaled, and more — round out Tribeca’s robust slate of ace nonfiction offerings.

Wild genre fare takes charge

Zombies shuffle into the showcase with Cargo, about an infected father (Martin Freeman) battling his way across the Australian outback in search of a safe haven for his newborn daughter before, and a chillingly fantastic doomsday thriller The Night Eats the World, which follows a young Parisian man who wakes up after a wild party only to discover that the world outside has fallen victim to a mysterious plague. The undead drama The Dark chronicles a teen girl’s tortured soul as she complies with a curse demanding that she haunt her rustic childhood home.

The Alia Shawkat-starring lesbian love story Duck Butter, the majority of which was filmed over the course of 24 hours at Shawkat’s real-life home, should please indie-comedy fans in its daring tale of two women who pledge to have sex every hour on the hour for a full day. 7 Stages to Achieve Eternal Bliss by Passing Through the Gateway Chosen by the Holy Storsh is also shaping up to be as bonkers as its title, starring Kate Micucci, Sam Huntington, and Taika Waititi in a zany yarn about a young couple who relocate from Ohio to Los Angeles. While there, they move into a posh apartment with unbelievably low rent, later discovering why as a band of cultists routinely flock to their pad to commit suicide in honor of a mystic guru who offed himself in their bathtub.

Sci-fi lovers can bask in the Ansel Elgort-starring sci-fi drama Jonathan, also starring Patricia Clarkson and Suki Waterhouse, as well as Drake Doremus’ Ridley Scott-produced futuristic romance Zoe, starring Léa Seydoux, Ewan McGregor, Rashida Jones, and Christina Aguilera in her first live-action role since 2010’s Burlesque.

Fresh POVs turn artists into art

Icons go under the microscope in scripted biopics like Eliza Dushku’s narrative producing debut, Mapplethorpe, about photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, and feature docs like McQueen, which charts the rise of fashion designer Alexander McQueen and his enduring impact on culture several years after his death.

Paul Schiraldi

But, struggling artists of the fictional breed get their big break in the narrative flicks, too, like Eva Vives’ brilliant examination of gender politics in comedy All About Nina, which stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a reckless comic, and Blue Night, a fabulous French New Wave-inspired tale with Sarah Jessica Parker as a singer adrift in New York after a dour medical diagnosis.

Strong performances lead the way

The films might’ve bene made on a small scale, but the performances within are mighty and mammoth. Creed and Thor: Ragnarok actress Tessa Thompson is at her career-best in Nia DaCosta’s expertly crafted modern western Little Woods as a reformed drug dealer trying to make ends meet for herself and her waitress sister in the titular, fracking-ravaged North Dakota town.

Thompson’s fellow Marvel graduate, Guardians of the Galaxy star Karen Gillan, roars onto the directorial scene with The Party’s Just Beginning, a haunting exploration of the effect one man’s suicide has on his best friend’s (Gillan, also in the lead role) already troubled existence.

Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz share a first name and equally impressive performative skills in A Fantastic Woman helmer Sebastian Lelio’s directorial follow-up Disobedience, a tale of forbidden lesbian love set against the backdrop of London’s conservative Orthodox Jewish scene, and Desiree Akhavan’s Sundance hit The Miseducation of Cameron Post brings the wondrous talents of Chloe Grace Moretz and Sasha Lane from Park City to the Big Apple.

Live talks and high profile reunions court nostalgia and spotlight future projects

You come to Tribeca for the films, but you stay for the robust lineup of star-studded panels, cast reunions, and industry talks which have become a signature selling point for the festival since its 2002 inception.

This year, Tribeca founder Robert De Niro will sit with actor-director Bradley Cooper to discuss his career and, hopefully, his work on directing the heavily buzzed-about Lady Gaga romance A Star Is Born, which is set for release later this year.

Cast and crew reunions on tap for Tribeca’s 2018 edition include Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg, Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Embeth Davidtz), Scarface (Brian De Palma, Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer), and In the Soup (Alexandre Rockwell, Steve Buscemi, Jennifer Beals, Sam Rockwell, cinematographer Phil Parmet).

Throughout the festival, Alec Baldwin is also set to interview esteemed director Spike Lee, Claire Danes will sit down for a live chat with her Homeland director Lesli Linka Glatter, and Sarah Jessica Parker will also open up about her road to success in a new festival presentation titled The Journey. Further talks scheduled include Alexander Payne, Nancy Meyers, John Legend, Jason Reitman, and Jamie Foxx.

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