Muhammad Ali, Parkland, and The Apollo docs shine at the Tribeca Film Festival: EW review
After a successful Tribeca Film Festival full of reunions, parties and fabulous celebrity guests—many of the standouts of the 2019 festival were from the rich assortment of documentary films, many of which will be hitting screens in the near future. EW’s critics Chris Nashawaty and Leah Greenblatt took a look at some of the docs out of the festival to bookmark for your future documentary viewing.
What happens to a devastated community when the news cameras and the nation’s attention moves on? In their sensitive, even-keeled account, directors Jake Lefferman and Emily Taguchi follow several survivors of the 2018 shooting at Florida’s Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School, which left 17 dead and 50 injured. That means tracing the rising profiles of students Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg as they become flashpoint activists across cable news and social media, but also capturing how even the most quotidian moments of teenagerdom—prom, pickup basketball, the mere act of entering a classroom—were permanently altered by the massacre. The kids are their own best representatives here, though the parents of slain senior Joaquin Oliver, who escaped the political upheavals of Venezuela only to lose their only son to senseless violence in America, become a sort of emotional core of the story. The filmmakers are careful though, too, to let their subjects speak their own truths (one grieving dad is adamant that school safety, not gun control, is the answer). What feels important in Parkland is less about pushing any kind of political agenda or viewpoint than about simply listening, and bearing witness. B+ —LG (no set release date)
Physically, it’s just another pile of New York City bricks, a little worn and shabby around the edges. but the cultural significance of the Apollo Theater is hard to understate: Opened in 1934, the Harlem music hall became not just a haven for black artistry but a celebration of it at a time when African-Americans were still shut out of uncountable aspects of American life. An early home for acts ranging from Billie Holliday to Lauryn Hill, the venue’s roster reads like a greatest-hits of the 20th century, and Oscar-winning director Roger Ross Williams ( Music by Prudence) stacks his story accordingly, drawing warm testimonials from some of the biggest names to ever grace its stage, including Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight, Jamie Foxx, and Pharrell Williams. But the also works beautifully as a mosaic, unfurling its rich history without failing to acknowledge that it takes more than nostalgia to keep a cultural institution alive. In that sense, The Apollo feels like both a necessary lesson and a gift. A–—LG (The Apollo is due to air this fall on HBO)
A paragon of American style and self-invention, Halston—born Roy Halston Frowick in Des Moines—began his career making hats at Bergdorf for the likes of First Lady Jackie Kennedy before going on to become perhaps the most singular name in 1970s fashion. But the louche, fluid designs that helped define a decade belied the chaos beneath: Addiction, control issues, profligate spending. It’s a quintessential cautionary tale, supported by reams of glamorous archival footage and the recollections of longtime friends like Joel Schumacher and Liza Minelli. It’s too bad, though, that director Frederic Tcheng ( Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel) chose to add a deeply unnecessary—and entirely fictional— framing device, a misguided touch Halston’s sad, fascinating story hardly needs. B—LG (Due in theaters May 24)
It may come as no surprise that Werner Herzog regards former Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev as a tragic figure of history—a bold reformer who took the first steps to thaw the Cold War only to get runover by the very same forces he set in motion. In Herzog’s latest documentary (co-directed by his longtime collaborator Andre Singer), he sits down with the 87-year-old statesman who, despite his ill health, still possesses a scalpel-sharp mind and a frisky sparkle in his eyes as he recalls some of the most momentous events of the 20th century. It’s always a treat to hear Herzog’s grave Teutonic accent, and for the most part he turns out to be a fairly thoughtful interviewer even if he fails to so much as bring up the name “Putin.” But it’s his subject who sticks with you, especially when he mists up talking about his late wife and the love of his life, Raisa. B—CN (Due in theaters May 3)
What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali
It makes a perfect sort of sense that Muhammad Ali should be the one to narrate his own story. After all, the three-time heavyweight champ and civil-rights crusader was a poet—a poet who just so happened to be his own muse and also his favorite subject. Training Day director Antoine Fuqua’s stirring new documentary almost exclusively uses archival footage of the loquacious icon talking, boasting, shouting, and jiving to trace the arc of his one-of-a-kind career which was so incident-packed that it’s broken into two parts. The epic slugfests with Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, and George Foreman (not to mention the U.S. draft board) are all here. But the cruelest irony is saved for last, when the man who for so long led with his braggadocio rather than his clenched right hand is virtually silenced by Parkinson’s. Still, even then, his halting words manage to pack a knockout punch. B—CN (Due to air on HBO May 14)