Tribeca 2021 Preview: Sisters Racing Their Way into History, Nigerians Fighting for LGBTQ+ Rights, & More


Slated to run from June 9-20 with a mix of online screenings and live in-person events at outdoor venues, Tribeca Film Festival is celebrating its 20th edition with a feature lineup that is 60 percent women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ directed. We’ve assembled some of the titles we’re most looking forward to, including a doc about sisters blazing a trail on the track and an investigation into LGBTQ+ discrimination in Nigeria.

These are just a handful of the films we’re excited about. Other features on our radar include Geeta Malik’s “India Sweets and Spices,” a coming-of-age story about a college freshman whose evolving sense of identity clashes with her parents’ values, and Nana Mensah’s “Queen of Glory,” a drama that follows a Ghanaian-American woman whose life takes an unexpected turn when her mother dies, leaving her the owner of a Bronx bookshop. Another noteworthy title comes from Heather O’Neill, whose doc “No Ordinary Life” spotlights five pioneering frontline and combat camerawomen.

Here are some of our most anticipated titles out of Tribeca 2021. We’ll be rolling out interviews with directors throughout the fest.

“Sisters on Track” (Documentary) – Directed by Corinne van der Borch and Tone Grøttjord

What it’s about: A coming of age story set in New York, “Sisters on Track” is about hope, belonging, and the metaphorical and literal sisterhood of young athletes Tai, Rainn, and Brooke Sheppard. 

Why we’re excited: We’re suckers for sports movies about girls, and “Sisters on Track” highlights three young athletes who also happen to be sisters. Tai, Rainn, and Brooke Sheppard received national media attention in 2016 with their first-time wins at the Junior Olympics, a feat that landed them on the cover of Sports Illustrated Kids as “SportsKids of the Year.” Offering an intimate look inside the Brooklyn family’s life, “Sisters on Track” sees the girls pursuing their dream of attending college and revisits the hardships they’ve experienced along the way, including living in a homeless shelter with their single mother.

This isn’t just an inspirational, feel-good story that oversimplifies the barriers the trio of sisters have encountered. As the girls’ track coach, Jean Bell, told the filmmakers, “As a Black person, you have to be excellent in order to be considered average.” “In the film, we can see that this message is passed on to Tai, Rainn and Brooke. In order to have opportunities, they have to live with the pressure of performing on a high level in all aspects of life; track, school, behavior,” director Tone Grøttjord shared in a soon-to-be published interview with us. “Not all kids have the same hurdles before them, and many of these unjust hurdles are the result of society, representing the overall systemic problems that affect some more than others. I hope that the film can help bring this discussion into classrooms and relevant forums in a constructive way.”

“On the Divide” (Documentary) – Written and Directed by Leah Galant and Maya Cueva

“On the Divide”

What it’s about: “On the Divide” brings us into the lives of three Latinx people in McAllen, Texas, whose different beliefs end up coming to a head at the last abortion clinic in the U.S./Mexico border.

Why we’re excited: Filmmakers Leah Galant and Maya Cueva decided to make a feature-length project about abortion access in the Rio Grande Valley while making “The Provider,” a short film about a traveling abortion doctor in Texas. They learned that the Rio Grande Valley region only had one abortion clinic and wanted to share stories from the area, a place that is “often misrepresented and neglected by mainstream news coverage,” as Galant told us.

Not only does “On the Divide” promise to spotlight an oft-overlooked community, it is committed to providing a nuanced take on the abortion debate — something that will surely become more contentious with the Supreme Court’s decision to hear a case concerning a Mississippi abortion ban. “I want people to understand that the issue surrounding abortion is not a black and white issue,” Cueva said. “Many people fall in the gray area with how they feel on the issue, and we need to start having conversations about abortion beyond the debate of pro-choice vs. pro-life. I think it’s important that we focus on the people that will be directly impacted if access to choice is stripped away — especially as Roe v. Wade could be overturned.”

“The Conductor” (Documentary) – Directed by Bernadette Wegenstein; Written by Bernadette Wegenstein and Stefan Fauland

What it’s about: In this exhilarating documentary, Leonard Bernstein’s protégée Marin Alsop reveals how she smashed the glass ceiling to become an internationally renowned conductor.

Why we’re excited: “The Conductor” is a true underdog story. At the age of nine, Marin Alsop decided she wanted to pursue classic music conducting — “a profession that basically did not only not invite her in, but closed every door on her,” director Bernadette Wegenstein told us. Alsop’s unlikely road to success saw her teaching herself the art form in secret and forming her own orchestra to learn.

“Marin not only showed the world that she can do it, but she also helped so many other women and other outsiders in this profession to become conductors,” Wegenstein emphasized. “She changed history. Seeing someone who is not a white (European) cis-man conductor in front of an orchestra was utterly unheard of in the history of classical music. In America it wasn’t until the late 19th century that women were allowed to be members of an orchestra, not to mention they weren’t allowed to be openly gay either.”

Alsop hasn’t just defied the odds — she’s helped open the door for others, and shone a light on just how brutal, and impenetrable, the world of conducting is. As Wegenstein explained, “I love Marin Alsop’s story because it shows what goes into changing a particular history or canon, and how harsh a culture can be, especially a somewhat hidden one like conducting.”

“The Legend of the Underground” (Documentary) – Directed by Giselle Bailey and Nneka Onuorah

What it’s about: A timely documentary uncovering rampant discrimination in Nigeria while exploring the lives of several non conformist men who must choose to live imperiled lives there or flee to the U.S.A. 

Why we’re excited: Director Giselle Bailey described “The Legend of the Underground” as “a story about human revolution — people fighting to be free of social and internalized stigma create a cultural revolution that not only frees themselves but their society.” The documentary sees gender-fluid youth working to address discrimination and expand awareness about gender identity, sexual orientation, and civil rights in Nigeria. In addition to exploring what’s going on in Nigeria, “The Legend of the Underground” follows Nigerians who have moved to the U.S. and struggle with guilt about the freedoms they enjoy stateside, and what responsibility they have — if any — to those back home.

Besides being educational, “The Legend of the Underground” will also offer much-needed visibility to LGBTQ+ folks. “Until I went to pride one year and saw a Nigerian flag next to a rainbow flag I didn’t know that multi-faceted types of gender expression existed in Nigeria. I found home in some people that I’d met that were a part of this underground community. I was able to merge two sides of myself, Nigerian and genderfluid. I felt a responsibility to use the space and voice I have to tell a story to let people know there are more like you that exist,” Nneka Onuorah explained. “It’s important to be able to see yourself represented to know you are not alone.”

“LFG” (Documentary) – Directed by Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine; Written by Andrea Nix Fine

“LFG”

What it’s about: Academy Award winners Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine take us inside the U.S. women’s national soccer league and their continuing fight for equal pay in an effort to create real change in women’s sports. With Megan Rapinoe, Jessica McDonald, Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’Hara, Christen Press, Sam Mewis, and Julie Foudy. 

Why we’re excited: “LFG” is a call to arms. The doc follows the U.S. women’s soccer team’s fight for equal pay against their employer, the U.S. Soccer Federation, but it’s not just a portrait of this particular team or this particular sport. “This isn’t really a sports film – but rather a story that is at once a testament to their incredible talent, but also about a group of women who stand together to fight a fight that women everywhere will say ‘been there, felt that,” director Andrea Nix Fine told us. The significance of Megan Rapinoe and Co.’s battle extends far beyond the soccer field. They are furthering the cause of pay equity.

As Nix Fine shared, “LFG” brings the audience inside the lawsuit, but aims to make the team’s “journey personal to all women.” She explained, “Women directors, women athletes — we work in industries that feel pretty comfortable telling you what you are good at and what you deserve. When I learned on day one of filming that ‘LFG’ — or ‘Let’s Fucking Go’ — was the team’s rallying cry, I knew it had to be the title, and one that women everywhere would embrace. That set the tone.”



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