Documentaries shine in Tribeca Film Festival’s first weekend

Actor Robert De Niro, left, and director Martin Scorsese attend "Tribeca Talks - Director Series - Martin Scorsese with Robert De Niro" during the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival at the Beacon Theatre on Sunday, April 28, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP)

Actor Robert De Niro, left, and director Martin Scorsese attend "Tribeca Talks - Director Series - Martin Scorsese with Robert De Niro" during the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival at the Beacon Theatre on Sunday, April 28, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP)

The first weekend of the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival saw the premiere of many powerful documentaries telling unconventional stories of unconventional people from drag queens to an elderly couple who owns a gay porn shop.

In 2002, Robert DeNiro created the festival, which takes place in the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan, to bring life back to the community after the 9/11 attacks. Every year since, everyone from high-brow directors to indie filmmakers has been showcased at the festival as it continues to be an important display of culture and diversity. This year was no different.

Though the festival includes shorts, animations, feature and international films, the documentary category shone brightest in the first weekend.

A much anticipated premiere was drag queen and “Rupaul's Drag Race” winner Trixie Mattel’s documentary “Moving Parts.” This documentary gives a more personal look into the life of Trixie (aka Brian Firkus) and shows that his life isn’t all glitter and glam. Though we see see many high points—like Firkus recording an album, starring in his own TV show with his best friend Katya, winning “Rupaul’s Drag Race: All Stars,” going on a 40-show world tour—we also see many low points. We see Firkus help Katya handle a breakdown while filming their show and deal with the impact that has on her business-wise and personally. 

Firkus also opens up about his difficult childhood and shares how he got the name “Trixie” from his abusive stepdad who would call him that when he was being “too feminine.” He goes on to say that he doesn't remember when the abuse started but that it ended when his stepdad put a gun to his head in a drunken rage. On the red carpet for the premiere, Firkus said that despite the hardships from his childhood, he doesn’t see himself as a victim.

“Move forward. Whatever happened in the past—I think it's your own decision to play it over and over again,” Firkus said. “Move forward. Be your own success story.” 

Another documentary that premiered the first weekend was “Circus of Books,” which told the story of an aging Jewish couple who owns a gay porn bookshop in West Hollywood. The Netflix-produced movie was directed by the couple’s daughter, Rachel Mason, giving the movie a certain charm that can only come from a parent-child relationship. Mid-interview Mason got in mini-arguments with her mother or went on a sentimental tangent with her more laid-back father.

The mother, Karen Mason, started as a journalist while her husband, Barry Mason, worked as a special effects artist and inventor. The documentary tells the story of how they went from these careers to owning a gay porn shop. The movie also highlights how important the store was for the gay community in the late ‘70s in West Hollywood, as it was a place that accepted them for who they were and who they loved.

“Changing The Game” was another important documentary featured at Tribeca, which told the story of three trans high school athletes in three different states.

One of the athletes featured is Andraya from Cromwell, Connecticut, who tells her story of feeling respected and represented on the track team. The documentary also shows the harassment she faces at meets from parents who misgender her and hurl transphobic insults at her because they see it as unfair for her to be on the women’s team.

Two-time state champion for women's high school wrestling in Texas, male athlete Mack is also featured. In stark contrast to Connecticut, athletes in Texas have to play on the team of their assigned gender at birth. This has caused uproar in the community because it has been impossible for any girl to beat Mack, since he is stronger as a man. Though Mack’s case has been up for debate, nothing has been done to change the rules that even Mack wants desperately to change, despite his winning record.

Outside of the ring, the movie also touches on Mack’s conservative grandparents learning to be accepting of his gender identity.

“Mack was never a girl, we made him one,” his grandmother said while looking at old pictures of Mack with teary eyes.

One other documentary premiered is under the “This Used To Be New York” category, three movies that show the ever-changing landscape and culture of the city.

The documentary “Other Music” tells the story of the most influential indie and underground music store of the same name located in Tribeca. 

The movie was filmed during the last weeks of the store being open in 2016 and included reflections of the store’s importance to underground music culture from employees, owners, actors like Jason Schwartzman and artists including Ezra Koenig from Vampire Weekend.

The small and intimate record shop was known for spotlighting forgotten or unknown artists and genres and being a cultivator for the weird, the different and the other. Even though the store has been closed for three years, the energy and liveliness that came out of this shop could almost be felt through the screen. 

In the first weekend of Tribeca there were also notable feature premieres such as “Burning Cane,” highly anticipated by audiences because the director is the youngest ever featured in the festival. The director, Phillip Youmans, is a freshman at New York University and finished up filming for this movie around the time he finished high school. The film focuses on a community in southeastern Louisiana and the hardships they face with marriage, family and religion.

There were also director’s talks featuring Guillermo del Toro and Martin Scorsese, who discussed their film careers and their creative process. 


Gladi Suero is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at gladi.suero@uconn.edu.