Tribeca Documentaries Tackle Urgent Subjects
8th June 2022

Timely topics including abortion, freedom of the press, the opioid crisis and the Boy Scouts of America bankruptcy case serve as the subject matters of four documentary features premiering at this year’s Tribeca Festival.

In “Battleground” director Cynthia Lowen follows three women in charge of anti-abortion organizations, who are devoted to overturning Roe v. Wade. While the efforts of pro-choice women determined to safeguard access to safe and legal abortions are also featured in the doc, Lowen felt it necessary to focus on “anti-choice actors.”

“In 2019 I went down to Alabama and originally was filming with several pro-choice advocates in the state about the abortion ban,” Lowen says. “But I quickly realized that to really understand what was happening at the local clinic and state level I needed to take a step back and get this bird’s eye view of the power structures that were in play that were enabling the anti-abortion movement to be so successful, even though they represent the minority of what Americans believe and want.”

“Battleground” reveals that pro-choice advocates are not just old, white men, but instead savvy young women, even Democrats, who throughout the years have been very strategic and organized in their pursuit to overturn Roe. With the news that the Supreme Court may soon overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling legalizing abortion, the docu is poised to become an instruction manual of sorts for the pro-choice movement.

“Giving a window into the anti-abortion movement I hope will be really useful and catalyzing for pro-choice audiences,” says Lowen. “Getting an inside look at the (pro-life) organizational strategies will be an urgent wake up call for pro-choice people and will help them in responding, confronting, and meeting what we are now realizing are very formidable opponents.”

If Roe is overturned, at least 26 states will ban abortion, 13 of which have trigger laws that go into effect immediately. Two-hundred clinics will face closure and 36 million people of reproductive age will lose access to abortion.

“This film is meeting the world at this absolutely watershed moment in American history,” says Lowen.

Another five alarm fire documentary heading to Tribeca is Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s “Endangered.” The HBO doc investigates threats, intimidation and violence directed at journalists around the world working to expose corruption and abuse by governments and corporations. The film, which was executive produced by Ronan Farrow, follows four journalists based in the United States, Mexico and Brazil. The directors’ decision to focus on the fourth estate in democracies as opposed to autocracies was a deliberate choice.

“It’s very easy to just pick on autocracies and say, ‘Oh look how sad it is over there,” says Ewing. “But if you go to countries that have democratically elected leaders and you see what’s going on with their freedom of the press, I think that’s more relevant to American audiences.”

Grady adds, “We thought looking at various democracies and how they deal with their press would be a very fascinating way to show the differences and similarities democracies share, because authoritarianism is growing worldwide, and it is affecting free speech everywhere.”

Journalist -filmmaker Darren Foster began working on “American Pain” –  an investigation of America’s most prolific and notorious opioid kingpins –  in 2016 when the opioid crisis was not a part of the news cycle.

“When we first went out to pitch (the project) in 2016 there was hesitation because I think people couldn’t see the full story,” says Foster. “Now it’s clear that this story is where rubber hits the road – when a prescription drug became a street drug, which (led) to the worst drug crisis in American history.”

CNN Films and HBO Max eventually signed on to distribute the film, which focuses on the rise and fall of Chris and Jeff George, twin brothers and bodybuilders, who operated a franchise of pain clinics in Florida. Foster combines cinema verite with undercover footage, wiretap recordings, and interviews with key players including the George brothers to tell the story of a pill mill empire that attracted clients from around the country, and spawned a prescription drug trafficking network with an estimated street value of over $500 million.

“I knew if I was able to capture the essence of who these characters were, it would be a story about the opioid crisis like you’ve never seen before,” says Foster.

Irene Taylor’s “Leave No Trace” is another ripped from the headlines docu premiering at Tribeca. The film examines a century-long cover up by The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to conceal pedophiles in their ranks. “Leave No Trace” also explores the organization’s secret “perversion files,” which would eventually lead to the financial downfall and bankruptcy of the organization. In all, more than 82,000 men have come forward to expose the abuse they were subjected to, leading to the largest sexual abuse settlement in history.

Taylor discovered the case back in February 2020 when her friend – journalist Nigel Jaquiss – told her about the bankruptcy filing.

“I could see that there was a good business component, but I was really compelled by the human story behind the case,” says Taylor. “My job was to craft a narrative to explain how something so good went bad.”

In the ABC News Studio docu, Taylor interviews several survivors of Boy Scout abuse.

“My hope is that this film serves the victims,” says Taylor. “I also hope it puts organizations like the Boy Scouts – organizations that take care of children – on notice.”

 

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