Year One of the Tribeca Film Festival was easy enough to
peg. New York icon Robert DeNiro comes to the rescue of his longtime
neighborhood in the wake of 9/11, puts together a mass-appeal showbiz event,
and helps ease the economic devastation surrounding Ground Zero.
It worked like a charm. More than 150,000 people flocked south of Canal
Street for the inaugural festival.
"Our goal was this: How many people can you bring downtown?" says Jane
Rosenthal, DeNiro's partner in the 15-year-old production company Tribeca Films
and the co-founder of the festival. And while that remains the prime
directive, the challenges are different for this year's event, which begins
tomorrow and runs through May 11.
With more than 200 films - twice that of last year - this eruption of
cinephilia comes across as several festivals at once. "When it's your sophomore
outing in anything, you're clearly trying to establish yourself," Rosenthal
says. "This is still a very new festival." Yet, if it's still trying to define
its identity, the event is one that prefers to err on the side of abundance.
It's a "both/and" rather than an "either/or" proposition.
The glitter factor remains important, with invitation-only premieres of
mall-friendly Hollywood productions such as "Down With Love" (with Ren�e
Zellweger and Ewan McGregor) and "The In-Laws" (with Michael Douglas and Albert
Brooks). And, just to add some crackle, MTV, VH1 and Infinity Broadcasting are
throwing a free May 9 concert in Battery Park, with headliners Norah Jones and
But with at least two-thirds of the invited filmmakers expected to attend
their screenings, there is ample occasion for more intimate encounters. Al
Pacino, no less, will screen his rarely seen film "Chinese Coffee" in a special
May 8 program, to be followed by a conversation with the actor-director. (The
next morning, Pacino leads a Shakespeare workshop, followed by a screening of
another one of his personal efforts, "Looking for Richard," his take on
"Richard III.") Other auteurs on the panel docket include Neil LaBute and Julie
Though even the ultra-hip Prada store in SoHo will host such events, most
screenings and related programs will be centered at the United Artists Battery
Park Theaters, a 16-screen multiplex.
That's only a fraction, however, of what the festival offers. "We're
definitely different," says Peter Scarlet, the fest's executive director, who
came to New York after a stint running the fabled Cinematheque Francais in
Paris. Scarlet briskly reels off a half-dozen or so programming coups. These
include premieres of restored versions of Sergio Leone's "Once Upon a Time in
America" and "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," and a behind-the-scenes look at
"The Night of the Hunter," using extensive audio recordings made by actor
Charles Laughton on the set of the only film he ever directed. There's a novel
project from France, "La Trilogie," in which director Lucas Bevaux shot three
separate movies in different genres - a thriller, a romance and a melodrama -
at the same time, with the same cast. "And I think we're the only festival ever
that's had two new films from Afghanistan in competition," Scarlet adds, also
mentioning an unusual entry from Honduras called "Calixto, the Landlord." This
political parable, 15 years in the making, will garner posthumous attention for
its director - Sami Kafati - as a one-man national film industry (he died in
1996 while "Calixto" was being edited).
Between the glitz and the subtitles, there's a surplus of movie-movies and
independent spirit. A mini-festival of family films surveys more than 40
titles, from plentiful short subjects to the premiere of "The Lizzie McGuire
Movie" starring Hilary Duff in a screen version of the popular Disney TV show
for tweens. A slate of midnight movies boasts two documentaries devoted to the
Ramones, the quintessential New York rock band. And 22 features and
documentaries, shot entirely in New York City, have their own themed category:
What else but "New York, New York."
That's enviable exposure for debut filmmaker Jennifer Elster, whose
"Particles of Truth" (screening May 8- 10) is nearly a "poster film" for the
festival: a psychological drama that doubles as a high-definition video
postcard of TriBeCa. "I live and work in TriBeCa. We shot in TriBeCa. I was
born and raised in New York. So this is very sentimental," says Elster, a
former stylist for photo and video shoots who has worked with such rock and
roll figures as David Bowie and Marilyn Manson. "This is a scarred part of the
city. I'm really proud to have the film playing here."
Elster, who also plays the lead role of a young artist with a tortured
family history, is emblematic of what the festival strives for. Not only does
she represent the fresh energy crucial to the vitality of artistic communities
- such as TriBeCa - but her work subtly evokes the realities of a post-9/11
cityscape, and the sometimes difficult necessity of making new connections.
"I'm interested in compassion," she says. "I think New Yorkers are rooting for
us, for TriBeCa. This is a festival New Yorkers want to see work out."