Fest for the Eyes: This Year’s Tribeca Film Festival Features a Stolen Banksy, a Melodramatic Picasso, and a Young Mapplethorpe

There’s also Jessica Chastain as a Brooklyn artist who traveled west to paint a portrait of Sitting Bull.

From top left: Ondi Timoner's Mapplethorpe; Jill Magid's The Proposal. From bottom left: Susanna White's Woman Walks Ahead; Kenneth Biller's Genius (2018). Courtesy of the Tribeca Film Festival.

The Tribeca Film Festival is upon us once again, and this year’s iteration offers a small smorgasbord of films for art lovers. A cross-section of enticing art-related fare—including features, documentaries, and a TV miniseries—will highlight the annual event, which is set take over downtown Manhattan April 18–29.

Viewers will be introduced to a Palestinian taxi driver who aims to exploit the fame of anonymous street-art hero Banksy. They will meet a 19th-century woman who traveled from Brooklyn to North Dakota to paint legendary Sioux chief Sitting Bull. They can watch the story of Robert Mapplethorpe’s life in New York or get to know a conceptual artist who devises a morbid route to gain access to a secluded archive of a famous Mexican architect.

Below are five promising ways to satisfy your art fix at this year’s festival; follow the links in the title of each film for scheduling information.


1. Woman Walks Ahead

Michael Greyeyes and Jessica Chastain in Woman Walks Ahead. Photo Richard Foreman.

Brooklynite Caroline Weldon (1844–1921) took up the cause of the Native Americans, traveling to North Dakota in 1889 to befriend the legendary Lakota Sioux leader Sitting Bull, eventually becoming his secretary and interpreter. A member of the National Indian Defense Association, she opposed the government’s seizure of large portions of the Great Sioux Reservation.

In Woman Walks Ahead, Jessica Chastain depicts Weldon, who, in the film’s rendition, sets out from Brooklyn specifically in order to paint Sitting Bull. Along the way, she becomes aware of the government’s oppression of native people. Her portraits of Sitting Bull ended up at the North Dakota Historical Society, in Bismarck, and the Historic Arkansas Museum, in Little Rock, where you can still see them. Michael Greyeyes plays Sitting Bull while Sam Rockwell and Ciarán Hinds fill out supporting roles.


2. The Man Who Stole Banksy


The mysterious and famous street artist Banksy has been silver-screen gold ever since he directed Exit Through the Gift Shop, the Oscar-nominated 2010 documentary about fellow street artist Mr. Brainwash.

In this documentary, narrated by musician Iggy Pop, a Palestinian bodybuilder and taxi driver known as Walid the Beast aims to cash in on the anonymous English artist’s fame by stealing one of his works. Specifically, he attempts to cut down a wall in Bethlehem’s Occupied Territories on which Banksy painted a mural back in 2007. The Man Who Stole Banksy is the feature debut of Italy’s Marco Proserpio, who has music videos and short films to his name.

Banksy has long made it his job to call attention to the plight of  Palestinians; he released a faux-travel promo video in 2015, suggesting that you “make this the year you discover a new destination.” In 2017, punning on the Waldorf Hotel, he opened the Walled-Off Hotel in Bethlehem, just under Israel’s West Bank Separation Wall, developed in secret and with each room featuring décor by Banksy himself.


3. Mapplethorpe

Matt Smith as Robert Mapplethorpe in <i>Mapplethorpe</i>. Photo Nancy Schreiber.

Matt Smith as Robert Mapplethorpe in Mapplethorpe. Photo Nancy Schreiber.

Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe hit the New York art scene like a depth charge when he descended on the city in the late ‘60s. Along the way, he would meet rocker Patti Smith, who recounted their relationship in her National Book Award-winning 2010 memoir Just Kids. His beautiful black-and-white portraits, figure studies, and floral photos, as well as his provocative BDSM-themed images, retain their magic, and their aesthetic challenge, to this day.

Mapplethorpe follows the photographer from his early days through his death from complications from HIV/AIDS, at just 42 years old, in 1989. It explores his burgeoning ambitions (in an early scene, he describes himself as “a modern Michelangelo”), his growing attraction to men, and the arrival and ravages of the AIDS crisis.

Playing Mapplethorpe is Matt Smith, known for his work in Doctor Who and The Crown. In the role of Smith is Marianne Rendón, of the television series Impostors.

There’s plenty of reason for high expectations of this for this film. Director Ondi Timoner has twice taken home Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize, in 2004 for the documentary Dig! and in 2009 for the documentary, We Live in Public. Her short films Amanda Fucking Palmer on the Rocks and Library of Dust were included in the Tribeca festival in 2012 and 2014, respectively.

Notably, the film has the support of the Mapplethorpe Foundation, whose president, Michael Ward Stout, told Indiewire that the foundation was “impressed with [Timoner’s] vision for the project and her strengths as an artist.” Smith declined to support the project or to explain why, according to Indiewire.


4. The Proposal

Still from Jill Magid’s The Proposal (2018), photo: Jarred Alterman.

This documentary brings together celebrated conceptual artist Jill Magid and Pritzker Prize‑winning Mexican architect Luis Barragán in an exploration of an artist’s legacy, how aesthetic love can parallel romantic obsessio, and the dangers of possessiveness.

Rolf Fehlbaum, the Swiss head of furniture company Vitra, bought the entirety of the architect’s archive for his fiancée, architectural historian Federica Zanco, in lieu of an engagement ring. She has kept it under lock and key in Basel ever since, typically refusing access to scholars and denying permission even to print photographs of his buildings, which are all in Mexico. In a New Yorker article, Magid described her reaction to the lockdown, saying, “It intrigued me as a gothic love story with a copyright-and-intellectual-property-rights subplot.”

Magid got the architect’s family’s permission to exhume his remains and to have a portion of them compressed into a diamond. The Barragán diamond would be used for a different kind of proposal—a request for Zanco to open up access to the archives, or perhaps return them to Mexico. The film follows that quest.

Magid, whose work often questions structures of power and authority, has had solo exhibitions at museums including New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art, Mexico City’s Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, Berkeley Museum of Art in California, and Tate Liverpool. The author of four novellas, she has been included in the Whitney Biennial and the Liverpool Biennial, among others, and is included in collections such the Whitney and the Fundación Jumex, in Mexico.


5. Genius: Picasso


National Geographic and Fox’s Genius series returns with a season two devoted to perhaps the 20th century’s most important artist, Pablo Picasso. The towering painter is played by fellow Spaniard Antonio Banderas, whom executive producer Ron Howard says was the ideal actor for the tole. “Antonio was the natural choice,” Howard told the Hollywood Reporter. “He, like Picasso, has a no-holds-barred approach to life that will add to the genuineness that we’re looking for.”

The Genius debut season, which featured Geoffrey Rush as Albert Einstein, won 10 Emmy nominations, so this will be one to watch. Season two dives into Picasso’s personal life without shying away from his notorious treatment of women, which Banderas says was a challenge. “Playing the dark side of him is hard,” Banderas told CBS News, “because he is my idol.”

Among the other stars in the series are Alex Rich, playing the young Picasso, and Samantha Colley as artist-muse Dora Maar. Clémence Poésy plays artist and author Françoise Gilot, who was mother to Claude and Paloma Picasso. Poppy Delevingne plays Marie-Thérèse Walter, another lover and muse who was mother to the artist’s first daughter.

An April 20 screening will be followed by a conversation with Banderas and the rest of the cast.

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