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A still from Crocodile GennadiyCourtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

What to watch: Tribeca Edition

Fiery music docs, James Franco on amphetamines and a new Shia LaBeouf project to unspool in New York

Countercultural types who first migrated to Tribeca in the 60s might scoff at the surge in Lululemon-clad stroller pushers, $19 eggs benedict, and die-hard Swifties camped outside the “Shake It Off” chanteuse’s $20 million penthouse, but the ‘Triangle Below Canal Street’ still has Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Film Fest to thank for its continued artistic relevance. Founded post-9/11 to revitalize Lower Manhattan, the event has long championed risk-prone, young talent and innovative depictions of that concrete jungle where dreams are made of. From documentary pioneer Albert Maysles’s final film to an intimate chronicle of Mary J. Blige’s London-inspired reinvention, here’s why we’re psyched for the 14th edition of this Empire State staple.


Years ago, Hollywood’s most industrious selfie shutterbug James Franco snatched up the rights to this true-crime memoir, and it doesn’t take a PhD in Francophilia to figure out why. The story of a fading novelist (Franco) who turns to a high-profile murder trial and an Adderall addiction to overcome his writing hang-ups, Diaries taps into cracked-out creativity, BDSM and harrowing daddy issues. Following in the Truman Capote tradition of tormented scribes writing about grisly murders (In Cold Blood), the film’s protagonist is weighed down by the kind of salacious backstory that Franco’s General Hospital alter ego would kill for.


His music credentials were impressive (the first million-dollar DJ in the US). His celebrity connections, endorsement deals and sneaker collection were beyond exhaustive, but sadly, so was his history of addiction. As I Am delves into the life of the late mash-up pioneer Adam Goldstein (DJ AM), who died less than a year after surviving a 2008 plane crash alongside Blink 182’s Travis Barker, which had left him physically and psychologically battered. Jon Favreau, Diplo, Mark Ronson and many others remember a compassionate friend who truly raged against the dying of the light.


Children’s TV often drives its wholesome tween talents to the brink of X-rated rebellion (see: Bynes, Amanda; Cyrus, Miley; Lohan, Lindsay). But Palo Alto co-stars Nat Wolff and Emma Roberts, both erstwhile Nickelodeon royalty, seem to be bucking that trend. Nat Wolff, aka the scene-stealing, blind bestie in The Fault In Our Stars, takes the lead in this Harold and Maude-esque dramedy about a disaffected teen who sets his sights on Roberts while befriending the retired CIA assassin next door (Mickey Rourke). Quirky hijinks ensue, obvi.


Whether you fancy yourself a ballet purist à la Black Swan or a Save The Last Dance reformist (Julia Stiles’s ballerina was wooed by the school’s resident hip hop hunk), ballet movies usually involve some clash of biblical proportions. Expect no less from Les Bosquets, French paste-up artist JR’s first-ever foray into ballet. Inspired by his photographic portraits of youths from Montfermeil’s ghetto, where the 2005 French riots began, JR’s Pharrell-produced short has tension to spare: a classically trained ballerina performing opposite Air Jordan 1-outfitted street dancer Lil Buck. And a soundtrack that marries orchestral composer Hans Zimmer with Woodkid’s drum-beating experimentalism. The personal is political in JR’s step up revolution.


Whether your name is Bruce Wayne or Gennadiy Mokhnenko, taking the law into your own hands remains a thorny proposition. Especially for the latter, an ex-firefighter who’s been roaming the streets of Mariupol, Ukraine, since the fall of the Soviet Union, luring homeless, drug-addicted youths into his van. Given the utter neglect of orphanages and hospitals, Gennadiy takes it upon himself to…abduct the kids, lock them up and help them through detox. This shocking, Terrence Malick-funded doc, directed by Sundance winner Steve Hoover, explores activism in its most extreme manifestation, with the recent Ukrainian uprising (and violence) providing a chilling backdrop.


Think of the iconic Maysles brothers as the antitheses to Michael Moore. The late directing duo of such documentary classics as Grey Gardens (about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ endearingly kooky relatives) and Gimme Shelter (about a disastrous Rolling Stones tour) never set out to prove a point or convince viewers of anything. "As a documentarian, you are an observer, an author but not a director; a discoverer, not a controller,” they once said. In Transit is a final testament to what the empathetic Albert did best: capture life as it is. His last project pieces together interconnected vignettes about long-commute train passengers travelling the US in search of adventure, relief and redemption.


It’s been nearly three years since red carpet baghead/Dazed heartbeat enthusiast Shia LaBeouf shook up his bad boy image with Sigur Rós’ dreamlike “Fjögur Píanó” video. LaBeouf revealed unusual vulnerability, fully giving himself over to a naked ballet routine, a turbulent romantic rollercoaster and a psychedelic drug trip of lollipops and butterflies. That was his first collaboration with director Alma Har’el, a Tribeca 2011 prizewinner for Bombay Beach. LaBeouf is now executive producing the music video maven’s latest work-in-progress, LoveTrue, described as “weaving three challenging relationships, while examining non-fiction performance as a documentation of truth and a purveyor of memory.”


The R&B royal recently teased her ambitious musical reinvention on an episode of Empire (playing an old friend of – gasp! – villainous patriarch Lucious Lyon!), and proved she could still rock the cropped top and slacks look on stage at SXSW. Now we get this fascinating portrait of the Yonkers soul queen’s journey across the pond to reset her dial to deep house in the lead-up to her 13th studio album, with the help of London’s shape-shifting purveyors of rhythm and blues. She even stops by Amy Winehouse’s dad's to let him know how much of a fan she’s always been. If this is Mary still searching for the real love, we want more.


Any cartoonist worth his punch line will tell you The New Yorker wouldn’t be The New Yorker were it not for its 80+ years of single-panel cartoons. These clever, Manhattan-centric snapshots of changing American mores are such an institution that Seinfeld and The Simpsons have both weighed in on their offbeat antics. Director Leah Wolchok chronicles the history of this ragtag bunch of pen-packing misfits, while wondering what drives many of them to endure routine rejection and being sent back to the drawing board. Thankfully, these cartooning legends know how to have a good laugh.


A New York fest would be incomplete without its requisite mafia movie, given the Big Apple’s illustrious legacy as a corruption plagued backdrop of choice (The Godfather, Goodfellas and every other one). Executive produced by the OG himself, Marty Scorsese, The Wannabe tells the gritty tale of a neighbourhood outcast (Boardwalk Empire’s Vincent Piazza) and his main squeeze (Patricia Arquette) who are desperate to fit in and obsessed with mafia kingpin John Gotti in early 90s New York. Having assembled an all-star cast of familiar mob mugs and Gotham gangster lore, it would appear as though director Nick Sandow made the festival an offer it simply couldn’t refuse.

The Tribeca Film Festival runs from 15-26 April