This month’s Tribeca Festival was historic on several fronts.
It was the first in-person first North American film festival to return since the COVID-19 pandemic. And on its final night last weekend—fittingly Juneteenth—its world premiere of Dave Chappelle’s new documentary, This Time This Place, reopened the fabled Radio City Music Hall, shut since March 2020 because of the pandemic.
Kicking off the program at Radio City, Jane Rosenthal—who founded the festival in 2001 with actor Robert De Niro and Craig Hatkoff to spur the economic and cultural revitalization of lower Manhattan after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center—told the almost 6,000 members of the audience, who had to provide proof of vaccination to be there, “We’re fully vaxxed and social squeezed together. . . It seemed right to end (the festival) at Radio City Music Hall, the biggest indoor theater in the world.”
Introducing the documentary, Steven Bognar—who made the film with Julia Reichert—said, “We live in a small town in Ohio. We have a neighbor. His name is Dave. We see him at the grocery store.”
Addressing the audience, Chappelle, who, like the filmmakers, lives in Yellow Springs, Ohio, said, “I literally just knocked on their door the same way Black people do when they’re having barbecues. ‘Hey, I’m having a barbecue. Can I borrow some hotdogs, neighbor?’”
Chappelle asked the filmmakers if they would document his socially-distanced, outdoor comedy shows, held in a local cornfield. These were at first only meant to take place over one weekend, but eventually 60 were held, featuring Chappelle’s pals Tiffany Haddish, Kevin Hart, Chris Rock, Jon Stewart and Michelle Wolff, among others; all are featured in the film. Wolff actually lived during the pandemic with Chappelle and his family; she movingly discusses her professional concerns in the film, receiving advice from Chappelle.
After the screening, Chappelle said, “I love New York City. I made my name in New York City. I met my wife in New York City and had two of my three children there. I’m so proud to be the opening night of Radio City.
“I drove around today. I was shocked to see streets full again. People living their lives and peeing, like they do in the summertime,” he continued, adding, “I’m so grateful we all survived this, and I’m so sorry for any of you who lost someone or lost something due to this pandemic. But, man, let’s get up, let’s get up.”
Following the screening and Chappelle’s remarks was a concert emceed by DJ Clark Kent featuring performers from the greater New York metropolitan area, Redman, Talib Kweli, De La Sol, Ghostface Killah, A$AP Ferg, Q-Tip and Fat Joe.
Also screened on Juneteenth before the Radio City event, in Battery Park in lower Manhattan, was the world premiere of a new documentary, The One and Only Dick Gregory, which will debut on Showtime on July 4.
At a panel discussion of the film after its screening, Lena Waithe, one its executive producers, said Gregory “represents what we can be. He was never a pessimist. He believed in the promise we’ve been given, and inspires us to live even more victoriously.”
One of Gregory’s children, Dr. Christian Gregory, said he felt “Dick Gregory himself”—who died in 2017 and was approached about the documentary by filmmaker Andrew Gaines in 2015—“really directed (the documentary). He was aware of it and he was excited about it.”
The 12-day-long 2021 Tribeca Festival—reimagined and rebuilt from the ground up because of the pandemic—was celebrated by its organizers with a 20th anniversary short film featuring what they call “real life city dwellers with some noticeable public faces.”
The festival hosted over 250 events, including screenings, performances and talks, that attracted over 100,000 attendees who were accommodated in a COVID-safe and socially distanced fashion at six venues.