Vincent Schilling

Indian Country Today

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Tribeca Film Festival. Originally spelled TriBeCa as an abbreviation for the lower triangle neighborhood of Lower Manhattan, the Tribeca Film Festival was created after the 9/11 attacks. Actor Robert De Niro, producer Jane Rosenthal and New York real estate mogul Craig Hatkoff wanted to bring life back to the areas of Canal Street, West Street, Broadway, and Chambers Street.

The festival boasts an annual attendance of approximately 150,000 people with an average showing of 600 films and 23 juried categories and award designations.

Due to COVID-19, the festival saw partial re-openings with a substantial amount of content available to people virtually.

As the Native Nerd and certified Rotten Tomatoes critic, I dove in. My first in a series of articles on Tribeca is based on my favorite aspect of any film festival, the short film programs.

This year Tribeca hosted several short film programs as well as offered them on demand after their premieres. I watched more than 50 short films in every category.

Here are my top 12 favorites in no particular order, though I will tell you my all-time favorite at the end of this article. I won’t rate them on a scale of one to 10 like my Native Nerd reviews, but I will give each film a descriptive adjective on why I selected it.

“Change the Name”

The most “hope for the future-inspiring” short film at Tribeca

Directed by Cai Thomas

Change the Name - screen capture, Tribeca Film Festival website

Showcased at the Tribeca program titled: Queen Collective Shorts

Synopsis: Student activists and educators from Village Leadership Academy campaign to change the name of a park from a slaveholder to abolitionists Anna Murray and Frederick Douglass in Chicago's North Lawndale neighborhood.

“Change the Name” certainly has meaning in the Native community or for those familiar with mascots on sports teams. In this film, director Cai Thomas tells an inspirational story following the path of fifth grade students at Village Leadership Academy who seek to change a park’s name from Douglas, (a slave owner) to Douglass (after the the family of Frederick and Anna Douglass). Their path is not an easy one, but amazing to watch as the children unite in a beautiful collaboration to make change.


The most eye-opening short film at Tribeca

Directed by Ryan White

Coded - screen capture, Tribeca Film Festival website

Showcased at the Tribeca program titled: Shorts: Acting Out

Synopsis: Coded tells the story of illustrator J.C. Leyendecker, whose legacy laid the foundation for today's out-and-proud LGBTQ+ advertisements.

I was sincerely blown away by the story of J.C. Leyendecker, a gay illustrator who literally mentored Norman Rockwell. The director Ryan White does an exceptional job of showing how a gay man that could never reveal who he truly was, had to work in near secret to share his views to an unsuspecting homophobic world. An amazing short film as well as heartbreaking, inspiring, exciting and yet, joyous when taking into consideration how far the world has come in embracing the beauty of the LGBTQIA2S community.


Most emotionally-moving

Directed by Jon Mateo

Blush - screen capture, Tribeca Film Festival website

Showcased at the Tribeca program titled: Animated Shorts Curated By Whoopi G

Synopsis: Blush follows an astronaut’s journey after he crashes on a desolate planet. When a visitor arrives, the traveler discovers a new life and realizes the universe has delivered astonishing salvation.

Director Jon Mateo created a sweet and moving animated short film about an astronaut who meets a delightful friend on a small planet somewhere in space. I smiled the entire time at this film that in all senses of the word was truly delightful. I smiled and cried, as the message was one of genuine effort.

“Game Changer”

The incredibly important Tribeca short film “everyone in the gaming industry needs to watch”

Directed by Tina Charles

Tanya DePass in "Game Changer" (Tribeca)

Showcased at the Tribeca program titled: Queen Collective Shorts

Synopsis: Tanya DePass, a lifelong Chicagoan and African-American gamer, is determined to make the gaming industry more inclusive for everyone, including people like her.

I was blown away when I discovered director Tina Charles is a 2-time Olympic Gold Medalist and 8-time All-WNBA player, WNBA MVP, and current player for the Washington Mystics. But now you can add an exceptional short film maker to her resume’. “Game Changer” is brilliant, in that Tanya DePass, the woman that coined the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseGaming expresses her desire to create games with diverse characters. As a Native man, I can sincerely relate. I am inspired by Tanya and the director as well as all the people striving for change in the gaming industry. It is a brilliant film.

“How to fall in love in a pandemic”

The best short film at Tribeca to watch with a romantic partner (or potential partner)

Directed by Michael-David McKernan

How to Fall in Love in a Pandemic (Tribeca)

Showcased at the Tribeca program titled: Shorts: Let's Fly Away

Synopsis: A romance accelerates against the backdrop of the pandemic as two filmmakers are forced to move in together after two weeks of knowing each other.

This was an awesome mini “rom-com” that was also a true story. I can’t reveal too much without giving away the plot, but two filmmakers unexpectedly have to spend a considerable amount of time together after COVID locks the world down. The filmmakers were funny, endearing and seriously likable. A lovely film.

“Joe Buffalo”

The most “gut-wrenching and intense short film you don’t want to miss” at Tribeca

Directed by Amar Chebib

Joe Buffalo (Tribeca)

Showcased at the Tribeca program titled: Shorts: Go Big

Synopsis: Joe Buffalo, an indigenous skateboard legend and Indian residential school survivor, must face his inner demons to realize his dream of turning pro.

I also watched this at SXSW and the intensity of emotion of “Joe Buffalo” has not waned one bit. Considering the awareness brought to light by the hundreds of Native children discovered at residential schools, the film is even more profound. I am inspired by Joe, I identify with him so much as a native man, and I appreciate his honesty in this film. Directed by Amar Chebib, who did an absolutely exceptional job. As beautiful and inspiring as the film is, it is also thought-provoking in terms of the haunting qualities found within the confines of systemic racism.

“The Last Marriage”

The most “hilariously fun” short film at Tribeca

Directed by Johan Tappert and Gustav Egerstedt

The Last Marriage (Tribeca)

Showcased at the Tribeca program titled: Shorts: Straight Up With A Twist

Synopsis: A comedy about how meager, everyday life continues even after the zombie apocalypse.

Yes, yes, yes, bring on the zombies anytime, anywhere and anyhow. But throwing into the mix the confines of a marriage that is struggling to hold onto it’s sanity after zombie life has become mundane? That’s where the genius of this short film lies. Absolutely, simply brilliant and completely hilarious. P.S. I really want to know what is behind those chained walls.

“Miss Panama”

The short film at Tribeca showcasing the most resilience and strength of a community of people

Directed by Lamar Bailey Karamañites, Pascale Boucicaut and David Felix Sutcliffe

Miss Panama (Tribeca)

Showcased at the Tribeca program titled: Shorts: Acting Out

Synopsis: When Gloria Karamañites became Miss Panama, she didn’t just win a pageant. She made history.

After watching this film, I realized just how little I knew about Black Panamanian history. When Gloria Karamañites became Miss Panama in 1980, the world changed for Black communities, the populus majority in Panama. The film is empowering, informative and inspiring. A truly great film.

“The Queen of Basketball”

The most “joy-filled and inspirational” short film at Tribeca

Directed by Ben Proudfoot

The Queen of Basketball (Tribeca)

Showcased at the Tribeca program titled: Queen Collective Shorts

Synopsis: She is arguably the greatest living women’s basketball player. She’s won three national trophies; she played in the ‘76 Olympics; she was drafted to the NBA. But have you ever heard of Lucy Harris?

Holy moley, I never knew this story. This is a film for any sports buff, women’s history buff, or anyone else that wants to feel great about the trajectory of a human beings rise into acclaim. Lucy Harris’ story needs to be taught in every school. She was a several time school champion, an Olympic champion and was even asked to go as a woman into the NBA. The film is a delight as are the narrations by Harris herself. Though there are some heartbreaks in the story, it is an overall tale of the brilliance of Lucy Harris. A tremendous job by the director Ben Proudfoot.

“There Are Bunnies on Fire in the Forest”

The most “funny, laugh-out-loud” short film at Tribeca

Directed by JLee MacKenzie

There Are Bunnies on Fire in the Forest (Tribeca)

Showcased at the Tribeca program titled: Animated Shorts Curated By Whoopi G

Synopsis: A young girl (Revyn Lowe) gets in big trouble for kissing her friend (C. Craig Patterson) on the cheek at school during the COVID-19 pandemic.

JLee MacKenzie delivered one of the funniest short films I watched. Are you listening, Robot Chicken? Nickelodeon? MacKenzie is a riot and his film simply made my day. Little Revyn kisses her friend and goes off on a rant with her teacher, it somehow evolves into bunnies that are on fire in the forest and I literally just could not stop laughing.

More JLee MacKenzie, please more. We need more of your films immediately.

“Rise Up”

The “uplifted by the spirit of children, while there are tears in my eyes” short at Tribeca

Director: Bryan Buckley

Rise Up (Tribeca)

Synopsis: Who is the definitive modern role model for mankind? Is it a politician? A writer? A scientist? Twelve remarkable children from around the world give their answers.

This film with several amazing young people sharing their most heartfelt thoughts and hopes for the future is sure to inspire you. I had oodles of tears falling down my face when watching this beautiful, beautiful film. These children are not only role models for their peers, they are role models for all of the world. Creator bless all of their beautiful little hearts.

“Virtual Voice”

The most “brilliantly crafted” and “my number one favorite short film” at Tribeca

Directed by Suzannah Mirghani

Virtual Voice (Tribeca)

Showcased at the Tribeca program titled: Acting Out

Synopsis: Suzi (Suzannah Mirghani) is the voice of her generation—the virtual voice, that is.

Ok, here it is, my number one favorite short film at Tribeca.

Truth be told, I can’t really explain my initial reaction to this short film because it used Google's virtual voice, a doll with a series of superimposed social media posts to include graphics, filters from Snapchat and Instagram, YouTube clips, and every aspect of social media. So in the fullest of revealing truth, I sat there watching with my mouth gaping open because I was sincerely mesmerized by the intuitive insight displayed by the filmmaker Suzannah Mirghani.

It is flawlessly brilliant in the way it reflects the epitome of our society today, without using a single person from society. It is a direct demonstration that social media — though it is supposed to be social, doesn’t in fact even need human beings or actual humanity to exist.

I absolutely loved this film. It is one of the most phenomenal things I have ever seen. Excellent choice Tribeca.

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