This year, Tribeca Film Festival programmers pared down the lineup by 20% in order to better showcase quality films. The efforts seems to have paid off; the 16th Annual Tribeca Film Festival, which runs from April 19 to 30, features a robust slate of thought-provoking documentaries, international spectacles, and narrative work from some of American's finest indie filmmakers. Here's what we can't wait to see.

The Reagan Show

DirectorsPacho Velez, Sierra Pettengill
Section: Documentary Competition

Cnn_the_reagan_show_3'The Reagan Show'Credit: CNN Films

Before Ronald Reagan, the notion of POTUS as performer simply did not exist. The actor-turned-40th President of the United States set a new precedent: with a camera crew that followed him inside the White House, he married politics with broadcast television, creating a sensationalized news cycle that he fed with picture-perfect PR. But when the cunning Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev entered the scene, he gave Reagan a run for his money. Pacho Velez (Manakamana) and Sierra Pettengill's (Cutie and the BoxerThe Reagan Show tells the story entirely through archival footage that is by turns hilarious, revealing, and eerily prescient. —Emily Buder 


Directors: Josephine Decker and Zefrey Throwell
Section: Viewpoints

Tff17_flames_ashley_connor_1'Flames'Credit: Tribeca 2017

Josephine Decker is on our radar: she was a guest on the No Film School podcast for her participation in the experimental SXSW omnibus collective:unconscious and we included her forthcoming feature Movie no. 1 in our list of 27 Most Anticipated Movies of 2017. When we made that list, little did we know that her new documentary would hit Tribeca before the feature; we are going to be first in line. Decker co-directs Flames with Zefrey Throwell, and the movie documents the rise and fall of their own romantic relationship in a docu-fiction hybrid. Are we surprised that Decker would have a relationship with a fellow artist that’s worthy enough to film? Not at all. We’re hoping that the documentary displays signs of her inventive approach to fiction work and breaks out of personal documentary cliches. Liz Nord

The Sensitives

Director: Drew Xanthopoulos
Section: Documentary Competition

Tff17_sensitives_drewxanthopoulos_1'The Sensitives'Credit: Tribeca 2017

When we spoke to the Tribeca Film Festival programmers just after the lineup was announced, they described Drew Xanthopoulos' film as one of the most cinematic documentaries they'd ever seen. That's partly owing to the fact that Xanthopoulos is an accomplished cinematographer in his own right. Here, he one-man-bands a complex story, following multiple families that struggle with severe chemical and electrical sensitivities. If that sounds nebulous, that's because it is. These conditions are largely undiagnosed and misunderstood, but their effects are undeniable; many victims report being "allergic" to the environment, such that they must sequester themselves from the outside world. One pair of twin siblings, for example, lives in a sterile "plastic bubble." The Sensitives promises to be an enigmatic exploration of one of modern medicine's most bewildering mysteries. —Emily Buder


Director: Brian Shoaf
Section: US Narrative Competition

Tff17_aardvark_1'Aardvark'Credit: Tribeca 2017

We’re as excited about this film as we are to interview first-time director Brian Shoaf. How did this playwright get Zachary Quinto, Jon Hamm, and indie darling Jenny Slate to star in his debut feature? In Aardvark, Slate plays therapist to Quinto’s introvert, whose famous brother (Hamm) has unexpectedly shown up in town. Each of these actors has a penchant for wry, subtle humor and all the pre-festival buzz indicates that this will be a quirky drama that successfully finds that crowd-pleasing balance of laughter and tears. —Liz Nord


Director: Max Winkler
Section: US Narrative

Flower_tribeca_max_winkler'Flower'Credit: Tribeca 2017

It's a tall order to breathe fresh air into the coming-of-age canon, but Max Winkler's Flower is poised to do so. The film stars Zoey Deutch as a sexually precocious seventeen-year-old whose obsession with older men turns into a practice of extortion. David Gordon Green, Danny McBride, and Jody Hill executive produced the dark comedy, which also stars Tim Heidecker and Adam Scott. The script, written by YA author Alex McAulay, was featured on the 2012 Black List alongside Whiplash and Hell or High Water. According to its synopsis, Flower takes wildly unpredictable narrative turns. We can't wait to find out what that entails. —Emily Buder


Director: Rainer Sarnet 
Section: International Narrative Competition

November4'November'Credit: Tribeca 2017

Welcome to the world of Estonian folklore, where werewolves lurk, spirits roam, the plague threatens, and a young girl named Liina is ready to die in the name of love. Nothing in this village is taboo as the residents fight the odds to survive the cold winter with the aid of kratts, farmers’ helpers created out of old tools, hay, and animal bones and brought to life by the devil himself. Shot in stunning black and white, November is a beguiling mash-up of Estonian pagan and European Christian mythologies that ultimately grapples with the existence of the soul. —Emily Buder

For Ahkeem

Directors: Jeremy S. Levine and Landon Van Soest
Section: Viewpoints

For_ahkeem'For Ahkeem'Credit: Tribeca 2017

We don’t see many stories of young black girls on film, but when we do, they tend to be powerful. Think about how Beasts of the Southern Wild shook up the independent film world and beyond. That’s part of why we’re excited to check out For Ahkeem, which focuses on a 17-year-old student in North St. Louis, near Ferguson, Missouri, where fellow black teenager Michael Brown had been shot and killed by police during production on the film. The documentary, which has already screened at the prestigious Berlin International and HotDocs Film Festivals, looks to be an intimate coming-of-age story, but its sociopolitical backdrop gives the story gravity. The team behind the work also gives it real promise: Emmy award-winning directing team Jeremy S. Levine and Landon Van Soest, editor Lily Henderson (named to Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film” list last year), and 2016/2017 Sundance Creative Producers Fellow Iyabo Boyd. —Liz Nord

A Gray State

Director: Erik Nelson
Section: Spotlight Documentary

Tff7_a_gray_state_2-ea107a62-3a7a-4849-b7e2-c83bfa833dc5'A Gray State'Credit: Tribeca 2017

Last week, Alec Wilkinson of the New Yorker profiled dystopian filmmaker and army veteran David Crowley, whose body was found in his Minnesota home alongside that of his wife and young daughter. Crowley, who seems to have suffered from mental illness, left behind plans for an elaborate libertarian movie called Gray State, which imagined near-future America as a police state threatened by bands of resistance fighters. Erik Nelson's A Gray State, executive produced by Werner Herzog—Nelson, in turn, produced Grizzly Man—examines the hundreds of hours of footage and detailed notes Crowley left behind, attempting to piece together what spurred the alleged murder-suicide and the raging alt-right conspiracy theories that swirled in its wake. — Emily Buder

Abundant Acreage Available

DirectorAngus MacLachlan
SectionFeature Narrative

Abundant-acreage-available-movie-4_2'Abundant Acreage Available'Credit: Tribeca 2017

Executive produced by Martin Scorsese, this nuanced film from Junebug scribe Angus MacLachlan is the story of two siblings (Terry Kinney and Amy Ryan) reeling from the death of their patriarch on the family's isolated tobacco farm. When three elderly brothers show up claiming to be the farm's previous owners, the siblings are forced to reckon with their own family legacy—and the one they intend to create for themselves. You can expect a contained, dialogue-heavy character piece that's reminiscent of a classic play. This is MacLachlan's sophomore film; his directorial debut, Goodbye to All That, screened at Tribeca in 2014. —Emily Buder

Blackout (VR)

Creators: Alexander Porter, Yasmin Elayat, James George and Mei-Ling Wong
Section: Storyscapes

Blackout_scatter_1'Blackout'Credit: Tribeca 2017

Tribeca has been at the fore of publicly presenting immersive and VR projects since the inception of its Storyscapes program, and as the industry has grown, so has the quality of projects exhibited. It stands to reason, then, that the team who brought us Storyscapes festival award-winner Clouds in 2014 would be back with an even stronger piece this year. We have high hopes for Blackout, whose producers followed up Clouds with a VR documentary that premiered at Sundance this year (hear them discuss it on the No Film School podcast), and which sounds to be an elevation of the interactive documentary format. This time, the team uses their volumetric filmmaking process to capture the real-time commentary and experiences of passengers on a New York subway, giving audiences an immersive glimpse into the world’s most diverse city—edited live and with an evolving cast that creates an entirely new narrative each time the project is experienced. Liz Nord