Film festivals are fun. They are also a lot of work and wildly exhausting (listen to the episode of Problematic Fave with Valerie Complex to hear us talk all about film festival life). Surprisingly, I have never been to the Tribeca Film Festival. It was my first time. Yes, consider my Tribeca cherry popped.

Having any sort of festival with multiple locations in a dense metropolitan area is a journey, but the fest does the best with what it has — and it doesn’t hurt that New York City is the backdrop. My overall review of the fest: fun but it took me a while to get used to the lay of the land and how spread out it was.

The biggest appeal for me this year was most definitely the documentaries. Not to say that I didn’t appreciate the narrative features in Tribeca’s lineup. There were great feature narratives like the Tim Story-directed horror comedy The Blackening (out in theaters now, by the way) written by Tracy Oliver and Dewayne Perkins and the Shining-esque and very queer Bad Things directed by Stewart Thorndike and starring G.L.O.W. alum Gayle Rankin, Barbie‘s Hari Nef, and the one and only Molly Ringwald. There’s also the memorable feature Mountains from writer and director Monica Sorelle which paints a moving portrait of the Haitian community in Miami.

I also had the opportunity to watch the Bill Oliver-directed Our Son, a Kramer vs. Kramer-type drama starring Billy Porter and Luke Evans as a couple going through a divorce, proving that messy divorces see no sexually identity or gender. The film was satisfyingly sad.

There were also world premieres from some directors I’ve always kept my eye on like H.P. Mendoza, whose worthwhile indie fare includes the films Colma: The Musical and Bitter Melon. Mendoza’s latest, the quirky-enough The Secret Art of Human Flight bowed at the fest alongside Shelly Lo‘s Smoking Tigers, which was the 2022 winner of Tribeca and AT&T’s Untold Stories program, which provides financing and support to filmmakers from underrepresented backgrounds. And going off the Asian representation of it all, I managed to get to have a VR experience with Michaela Ternasky-Holland‘s Reimagined Volume II: Mahal, which placed me in an other world of Filipino mythology surrounded by Apolaki, Mayari, Tala, and Hanan, the four immortal children of the recently passed creator god, Bathala. It was an amazing VR world of Filipino culture that could easily be the Avatar: The Last Airbender for the Filipino community.

I loved all of these narrative-driven works of fiction, but I leaned more into the documentaries because I’m at that age.

Of the documentaries that populated my viewing schedule, Breaking The News has stuck with me the most.  The documentary examines media, news, and the changing landscape of how we consume information through the lens of The 19th, the all-inclusive, women and queer-led and non-profit news agency. I am obsessed with this documentary because it’s basically doing what I kind of wanted to do with DIASPORA. The very engaging Breaking The New gives me hope that honest and fair journalism is still capable of existing. It also made me Errin Haines’s number one fan.

Then there’s Sav Rodgers‘s docu Chasing Chasing Amy which is definitely in line with DIASPORA’s Problematic Fave podcast. A very heartfelt and personal film for Rodgers, Chasing Chasing Amy cleverly takes us on his journey of identity and love for film via Kevin Smith’s cult classic Chasing Amy — which definitely does not play well in 2023. However, the film was groundbreaking at the time and life-changing for Rodgers and it is told very well in this docu.

Perhaps I enjoyed a lot of this year’s documentaries because they challenged and interrogated predominantly white institutions. Produced by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and directed by Sam Pollard, The League tells a story of the Negro Leagues in baseball and how their contributions to the sport still resonate today. It’s yet another story of Black trailblazers that have seldom come into light.

Hulu’s Anthem directed by Peter Nicks debuted at Tribeca but is available on the streamer now. The Ryan Coogler-produced docu follows composer Kris Bowers and Grammy-winning music producer Dahi as take a muscially-driven road trip across the country to create a new sound and in turn, find what our country’s national anthem would sound like if written in today’s time. It’s a very interesting documentary. If anything, it tells us that writing a national anthem isn’t as easy as you would think.

Also on my must-watch list was Invisible Beauty co-directed by the film’s subject: the legendary Bethann Hardison, one of the high-power models in the fashion industry — and yes, the mother of Dwayne Wayne of A Different World (Kadeem Hardson). Nonetheless, if you don’t know about Hardison’s contribution to diversity and inclusion in fashion and beyond, this film, co-directed by Halston‘s Frédéric Tcheng is a must-watch.

Speaking of fashun, Happy Clothes: A Film About Patricia Field was exactly that, putting a spotlight on the woman responsible for giving Sex and the City its fashion voice and, in turn, influencing an entire industry when it came to style and costume design. That’s great and all, but it was her early punk rebel days that interested me more.

Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed added to the history of toxic behavior in Hollywood as it spotlighted how the industry essentially made Rock Hudson hide his true self his entire career. Jeanie Finlay‘s Your Fat Friend makes us lean into the word “fat” without shame as Aubrey Gordon steps into the spotlight for the first time after being an influential voice in the often ignored fat community.

Two specific films that cleverly and successfully blurred the lines of documentary styles and feature storytelling included Sean Devlin‘s Asog, an ambitious and tells a story of colonization, climate change and the power of community set in the Philippines. Carried with an effortless charm and determination by trans actor Jaya, whose real-life hometown of Tacloban City was devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan.  Asog has been in the works for about five years and uses real-life people whose life has been impacted by the typhoon. It mindfully and successfully weaves reality and fiction together to create an eye-opening film which was so impressive that Adam McKay, Alan Cumming, and Joel Kim Booster signed on as executive producers.

Also toying with the narrative feature-documentary space was Chris Moukarbel‘s Cypher, a film that follows the life of musician Tierra Whack in the wildest way possible. The film felt like it was plucked from the DNA of the irreverent artist’s real life but the risky, hyper self-aware film has this creepy flair that satisfies.

Tribeca Film Festival was a wonderful journey and the documentaries were the winners for me. Yes, I am in a documentary era, but they are blatantly speaking more to the social and cultural landscape that surrounds. I appreciate a metaphorical, artsy fartsy take on the myriad of issues facing the world, but sometimes I just want to know facts without having to deal with a complex narrative that requires too much character development. So yes, it was the documentaries for me.