The Tribeca Film Festival is back on track. For 2022 it offered both theater screenings (through June 19) and at-home TFF App-viewings too (through June 26). Images of Black life were everywhere, in feature ﬁlms, documentaries, shorts, series, including …
For Aisha Osagie (Letitia Wright, “Black Panther”), a Nigerian immigrant seeking asylum in Ireland, deportation is always on her mind. Living in constant fear, she’s caught in a maze of red tape, social services and immigration camps. Afraid to go home. Afraid to look forward. Writer/director Frank Berry (“Michael Inside”) takes a page out of the Ken Loach (“I, Daniel Blake”) ﬁght-the-system playbook, as he explores the plight of those who’ve left dangerous circumstances and sought refuge among Europe’s working class. Not much in the protagonist’s life goes right. Two steps forward, three steps back. Phone calls back to the motherland indicate certain death if she goes home. Aisha’s only glimpse of hope is a white security guard Conor (Josh O’Connor, “The Crown”), who is smitten.
The Big Payback (****)
Reparations is a buzzword that spikes intense feelings. Actress Erika Alexander (“Living Single and John Lewis: Good Trouble”) and documentarian Whitney Dow (“Two Towns of Jasper”) have honed their take on the subject with their narrative podcast: “Reparation: The Big Payback.” In Evanston, IL, the astute city alderwoman Robin Rue Simmons makes it her mission to discuss, fund and systematically return the wealth of the nation to the local descendants of African slaves whose ancestors worked unpaid for 400 years. Watching her build community consensus among Black and white folks and put theory into action is a marvel in grassroots activism. This very enterprising doc about a results-proven activist provides a very doable blueprint for getting things done.
The Cave of Adullam (***) “I thought black boys needed discipline. Instead, they needed love.” That realization changed the way Jason Wilson, a Detroit martial arts sensei, mentored troubled youth. The Black boys who attended the martial arts program at his academy “The Cave,” are taught how to be disciplined and express their deepest feelings. Teaching them how to battle on a mat is a metaphor for ﬁghting through the painful parts of their lives. Those combat skills help them cope with family, school and conflict resolution issues. Documentarian Laura Checkoway has the presence of mind to be invisible. When the camera follows Wilson and his mentees (Tamarkus, Gabe, Daniel, and Kevin), you’re the ghost in the room at school, prisons and homes. As the boys wrangle their anger and fear and Wilson points them towards their inner selves, watching these traumatized kids heal becomes a cleansing experience.
Jazz Trumpeter and flugelhorn player Roy Hargrove isn’t as famous as Miles Davis, but his command of his instruments is nearly equal. Both made their trumpets sing, improvisd on the cuff and were style icons. Both fought drug addiction demons, too. The key differences are Hargrove’s more mellow nature and his status as the hip-hop generation’s ultra-cool jazzman. White suits, Air Jordans, funky sunglasses.
Doc maker Eliane Henri marks her directing debut with a travelogue bio that follows Hargrove on his last tour in beguiling European settings, like Italy’s gorgeous Sorrento. The perfect blend of technique, spiritualism, anecdotes and live performances capture his essence. Rifts with his abrasive manager Larry Ragman Clothier provide drama. Recollections from Herbie Hancock, Christian McBride and Erykah Badu ﬁll in the cracks. Evocative cinematography (Robert Benavides), soulful jazz music and judicious editing (Joseph Marconi) load the senses with beautiful visions, beguiling sounds and a steady rhythm.
Hargrove’s warm, bohemian persona endures even as he faces grave illness and death: “When we die, we go and chill with God. I’m not afraid.” This very captivating look of his life will give viewers a craving for the bewitching music he left behind.
Kaepernick & America (***) Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been headlined news ever since he took a knee during the anthem before an exhibition game in San Diego on Sept. 1, 2016. The mystery behind the world-class athlete and that iconic gesture is explored in depth, analyzed and debated by many in this revealing documentary. Audiences learn that this biracial man, who was raised by white parents, reflects on his experience as a black person, assesses key issues and puts his thoughts into words and action. All under the public’s eye, where some call him a hero and others a traitor. Directors Ross Hockrow and Tommy Walker, cinematographer Scott Beer and art director Eric Baldetti stick to a very basic doc format. Kaepernick, his metamorphosis and the social issues on view make this documentary signiﬁcant.
Lots of community programs claim to lift residents out of poverty, but this one actually did. Dancer Steven Melendez was once the blessed recipient of New York Theater Ballet’s Project LIFT’s generosity. NYBT’s initiative saved and centered him when he was a seven-year-old kid living in a Bronx homeless shelter. He studied ballet and became an international star. Years later, the very grateful and accomplished Steven is turning Bronx kids onto the art form that gave him a career.