Just under two weeks shy of opening night, the Tribeca Film Festival has already made international headlines—and not necessarily in a favorable light. But one misguided programming decision should not eclipse the other gems in Tribeca's lineup. Below, we've highlighted eight buzz-worthy films that deserve to be seen.

AWOL (dir. Deb Shoval)


The story of AWOL, premiering in Tribeca's U.S. Narrative Competition, is one that diverges from both indie and mainstream cliches: it is a rural-set love story about lesbians in and around the military. But the story of the making of AWOL is one that closely follows the indie film template: make a short, get some recognition in the grants world, run a crowdfunding campaign... and then take years to finish the film. This drawn-out process I can certainly identify with, so I'm very much looking forward to writer-director Deb Shoval's expansion on her short of the same name, which debuted at Sundance in 2011. For more on the background of the project, watch the IndieGoGo trailer here. —Ryan Koo

Madly (dirs. Gael García Bernal, Mia Wasikowska, Sebastian Silva, Anurag Kashyap, Sion Sono, Natasha Khan)


The omnibus is back—with a vengeance. Not to be confused with hyperlink cinema, the resurgence of anthology filmmaking is a great contemporary compromise: it embraces our growing affinity for short-form content without sacrificing the theatrical cinematic form. The connective tissue of Madly is one theme: "love, in all its glorious, sad, ecstatic, empowering, and erotic manifestations." Mia Wasikowska steps into the director's chair for the first time for Afterbirth, a short about a mother struggling with postpartum depression; Gael García Bernal explores the effects of pregnancy on a turbulent relationship; and other directors, including indie stalwart Sebastian Silva, grace the screen with their contributions to the collective film. We can only hope that this high-profile Tribeca premiere grants the omnibus form a stamp of legitimacy.  —Emily Buder     

Kicks (dir. Justin Tipping)


A coming-of-age story set in Oakland, Tribeca's opening night selection Kicks is titled after the mission of its 15-year-old protagonist: to retrieve his recently-stolen Air Jordans. Kicks boasts an impressive producer lineup, including recent SXSW panelists David Kaplan and Adele Romanski, and will be released by Focus Features' indie imprint, Focus World. Director Justin Tipping (who previously won a Student Academy Award for his short Nanisays he styled the film after the 1948 Italian neorealist classic The Bicycle Thief. (This combination of gritty urban setting and naturalistic style recalls one of my favorite recent festival successes, Adam Leon's 2012 SXSW winner Gimme the Loot.) —Ryan Koo

LoveTrue (dir. Alma Har’el)


Call me a fangirl. I’ve been excited about whatever the glorious DP-turned-director Alma Har’el might do since I saw her wildly inventive documentary-with-choreographed-dance-scenes Bombay Beach at Tribeca in 2011, where it grabbed the Best Documentary award. I wasn’t the only one impressed; LoveTrue EP Shia LeBouf came on board after having seen Bombay Beach himself. After catching a glimpse of the film when Tribeca showed a sneak preview last year, I knew that my anticipation had not been in vain. Har’el’s evocative take on falling in lovewith an original score by Flying Lotuswill surely defy your expectations of a conventional documentary. —Liz Nord

I Voted? (dir. Jason Grant Smith)

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There may not be a more timely movie at the Tribeca Film Festival than Jason Grant Smith’s I Voted?. The documentary begins by investigating the election of Alvin Greene—an unemployed man who won South Carolina’s democratic nomination to the Senate back in 2010 despite not having a campaign—before delving into the corrupt and flawed nature of our national voting process. With recent cries of foul play coming out of many states' polling venues, it's clear that the issue is under the microscope. The premiere takes place two days after New York’s own primary, and Tribeca visitors will be treated to what promises to be a lively conversation between the director and executive producer Katie Couric. —Jon Fusco

After Spring (dirs. Ellen Martinez, Steph Ching)

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As is the trouble with any humanitarian crisis, it's easy to perceive a human life as a number. That's why we need documentaries. After Spring, executive produced by Jon Stewart, brings us into the human heart of the refugee crisis. Ellen Martinez and Steph Ching capture life inside Jordan's Zaatari Refugee Camp, temporary home to 80,000 displaced Syrians, making it second-largest camp in the world. The documentarians explore the rhythms of daily life, from frustrations involving access to education to the simple struggle to secure food and water. Films like these harbor the greatest power of all: empathy, or the shift in perspective in which we recognize that these refugees could easily be you or me. —Emily Buder

Night School (dir. Andrew Cohn)

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Andrew Cohn’s own Michigan roots inform his deeply American work. I’ve been captivated since SXSW in 2013, after seeing his debut effort (with co-director Davy Rothbart), Medora, about a rural Indiana varsity basketball team. The film went on to win an Emmy for Outstanding Business and Economic Reporting. Cohn is back in the middle of the country with Night School, about three low-income students in Indianapolis working toward their high school degrees after hours. Having followed him on social media throughout the film’s production, I know that Cohn feels a sincere connection to his subjects, and I expect his empathy and level of care to shine through on screen in the film. —Liz Nord

Nerdland (dir. Chris Prynoski)


I am excited for Nerdland because I am a giant nerd. No, I’m not excited about it because of its apparent setting and the prospects of one day visiting such a paradise. (If anything, the title is a bit misleading.) I don’t normally associate our kind with the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, but maybe it’s in that dichotomy that the humor will emerge. Nerdland is the first feature from Adult Swim heavyweight Titmouse, the animation studio behind cult classics like Black Dynamite, China, IL, Metalocalypse, Superjail! and The Venture Brothers. (If you haven’t seen any of these, then, well, you should.) Paul Rudd and Patton Oswalt headline the star-studded cast, which includes Hannibal Burress, Paul Scheer, Mike Judge, Kate Micucci, Riki Lindhome and Molly Shannon. Oh, yeah, and it's written by Andrew Kevin Walker , the guy who wrote Se7en. —Jon Fusco

Be sure to check back for more coverage of Tribeca 2016.