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The curtain rises on the Tribeca Festival, and New York, too

Tribeca Festival co-founders Jane Rosenthal and Robert De

Tribeca Festival co-founders Jane Rosenthal and Robert De Niro opened the annual event Wednesday. This year's festival, celebrating its 20th anniversary, will feature a mix of virtual and in-person screenings throughout New York City. Credit: Composite: AP

The 20th Tribeca Festival is aiming not just to rebuild itself after its 2020 edition was largely scuttled by the pandemic, but also to help revitalize its hometown.

This year’s Tribeca, which opened Wednesday with Jon M. Chu’s adaptation of the Lin-Manuel Miranda musical "In the Heights," will be spread throughout all five boroughs of New York City with a mix of in-person and virtual screenings, ultimately culminating in a full-capacity premiere at a newly reopened Radio City Music Hall. For a festival founded in the wake of 9/11, coaxing New York back to life is a familiar role.

"Our founding mission felt more poignant, more important than ever," Jane Rosenthal, who started the festival with Robert De Niro, said in a recent interview. "That original mission of the festival was to use the power of film and storytelling not just to entertain but to rebuild our city — emotionally more than anything else."

Tribeca, which this year is being held two months later than usual, will be one of the biggest film festivals yet this year to go forward with a mostly in-person event. But instead of the usual theaters that are home to the festival, its primary venues this year will be outdoor screenings dispersed around the city. There's still a virtual component to the festival but the emphasis will be the energy generated by perhaps the largest cultural event held in New York in more than a year.

"Eighteen months ago, we all had to isolate," says Rosenthal. "Now that we’re coming out of it, I talk to so many people who are in some ways struggling to come out. It’s been interesting the emotional toll this has taken on so many of us, not to mention the families that lost loved ones and all the front-line workers."

Tribeca, which includes 56 world premieres and programming across television, videogames, podcasts and virtual reality, had to start planning its 2021 incarnation — its 20th year — last August. Permits needed to be filed. Selections needed to be made. Organizers had to try to guess how health restrictions and vaccinations would evolve as they put the festival together. The rules of the road, as Rosenthal says, kept changing. Ultimately, they gambled that an in-person festival would be possible.

Films will have fewer showings than normal. Seats will be distanced from one another. But premieres will be rain-or-shine.

Fewer seats mean the Tribeca Festival, which has dropped the "film" from its name this year because of its multimedia program, will hope to sell more virtual tickets, as well as all-access passes starting at $999. That includes anniversary screenings of "Fargo," "The Royal Tenenbaums," "The Five Heartbeats" and Charlie Chaplin’s "The Kid." Steven Soderbergh’s "No Sudden Move" will premiere as the festival’s centerpiece, playing outdoors in the Battery. Tribeca will also feature programming timed to Juneteenth, and hand an award to Georgia political powerhouse Stacey Abrams.

Running through June 20, Tribeca will conclude with an untitled Dave Chappelle documentary by Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar, makers of the Oscar-winning "American Factory." It will be the first time Radio City Music Hall opens its doors since the pandemic began. The historic Art Deco hall in midtown will be filled to capacity with vaccinated attendees, and without masks required.

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