Women-Led Narrative Films Shine At Tribeca Festival: Boca Chica, Öte, Smoking Tigers


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The 22nd annual Tribeca Festival comes to a close this week in New York, giving airtime to several narrative-driven films centering on the stories of women and girls, reestablishing the power of perspective taking in art and bringing stories to light that exist on the margin.

Founded in 2002 by Robert DeNiro, Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff in the wake of the World Trade Center terrorist attack, the Tribeca Festival was born out of a desire to boost morale and fuel economic and cultural growth in and around lower Manhattan. With programming spanning curated celebrity-led conversations, live music, video gaming and tech innovation, immersive events, over 600 screenings with approximately 150,000 attendees confirm what Tribeca Festival knows: film is a powerful medium for storytelling.

“Narrative-driven films centered on the stories of women and girls are always important because they are universal stories,” said Gabriella A. Moses, director of Boca Chica, a coming-of-age film centering on the layered experiences of a 12-year-old girl named Desi played by Scarlet Camilo and set in the Dominican Republic. “Women mother the culture and voices of the world and have long been disenfranchised and underrepresented. I think with the shift of seeing more women telling stories from behind the camera, the gaze is shifting and the focus is clearer.” Boca Chica is Moses’ directorial debut and the recipient of the Nora Ephron Award at this year’s Tribeca Festival.

Beautifully juxtaposing the realities and expectations of a young girl approaching womanhood in the Dominican Republic – where the social norm presents the sexualization of very young girls as a path to survival – the story of Boca Chica explores themes of identity, family, codependency and truth through the lens of key character narratives woven into Desi’s story, written by Mariana Rondón and Marité Ugas. Artistic shots of the costal landscape accompanied by the musical score created by Aneudy Lra and Krency Garcia a.k.a “El Prodigo,” emotion and meaning permeate sonic waves, centering on Desi’s poetic realizations through the vehicle of rap lyricism.

“From a legislative standpoint globally, women’s voices are being finally represented and elevated by the press and public through social media,” said Moses. “It’s time to give a voice to these issues through the narrative form while people are listening – especially with current events like the Iranian women’s revolution, Roe v. Wade being overturned and other legislation like a 2021 bill being passed that finally eliminated all legal grounds for child marriage in the Dominican Republic, my mother’s home country and the birthplace of so many of my stories.”

Enter Öte which means “beyond” in Turkish, a film exploring the story of Lela, played by Iman Artwell-Freeman, a Black woman from New York City traveling alone through Turkey to Armenia. Written and directed by Esra Saydam and Malik Isasis and produced by Eda Çarıkçı, the film follows Lela through spontaneous encounters and unsuspecting characters who lead her on a journey of self realization, romance and adventure through the incredible landscapes and people of Turkey.

“I think it was important to have a Black female lead like Lela go through this journey, because it resonates with so many Black women who have traveled in this way or desire to travel solo,” said Iman Artwell-Freeman. “I think it’s important to show her going through this beautiful country, and not feeling threatened, “exoticised,” or in danger, humanizing her experience in a way that was an exploration of self – showing that solo travel is something that can be explored and celebrated.”

Directors Isasis and Saydam created the story and film with pointed intention. “On a personal level, our protagonist Lela’s spirit carried parts from both of us, on a social level, she was our merging point as co-directors (Malik is Black and I’m a woman),” said Esra Saydam who is based in Istanbul, Turkey.

“In Öte, we wanted to show that a Black American woman backpacking in the rural areas of a foreign-speaking country would be okay. She would be safe and she could actually enjoy her time even in a border village between Turkey and Armenia – thousands of miles away from her home. We didn’t want her to go through some big dramas or terrors, we wanted her to have a liberating experience – however, while doing this, we never denied the possibilities of perils or some stares a solo-traveling woman of color might be subject to in any part of the world.”

Based in Brooklyn, Isasis’ perspective as a Black American filmmaker comes with clarity and honesty. “Stories focusing on women and girls have always been important – the difference now is that technology has made it so much easier to counter anti-woman/anti-Black narratives we see in media and social media,” said Isasis. “My goal as a Black artist is not only to see myself but those in my community. We live in a settler-colonial state, and we are so integrated and associated with our intergenerational trauma that it often dehumanizes us further. We are not just our trauma. We too can be in fantasy, science fiction or just a road movie.”

Directorial debut by So Young Shelly Yo, Smoking Tigers goes on a journey with a first-generation Korean American girl played by Ji-Young Yoo who struggles to find herself in the wake of a split between her parents and the start of a new school year wrought with wealthy and privileged peers. In 2002, Smoking Tigers was awarded a $1,000,000 prize at Tribeca Film Festival sponsored by AT&T Presents: Untold Stories program. This year Smoking Tigers won Best Performance and Best Screenplay in a U.S. Narrative Feature as it deeply explored the intimacy of sibling connections, parent-child relationships and what the true meaning of support looks like.

With film festival season in full swing worldwide, the Tribeca Festival maintains a position of noteriety in the U.S. for emerging filmmakers, actors, producers and creatives both in front of the camera and behind the lens. Films from Tribeca Festival 2023 are now available to stream directly at home.

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Lisa Holden
Lisa Holden
Lisa Holden is a news writer for LinkDaddy News. She writes health, sport, tech, and more. Some of her favorite topics include the latest trends in fitness and wellness, the best ways to use technology to improve your life, and the latest developments in medical research.

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