Now in its third year, the Tribeca Film Festival is a little older and a little wiser. It’s also a little smaller, even though it’s running a little longer.
In other words, the festival — which begins Saturday and runs through May 9 — is still trying to figure out exactly what it is.
One thing remains the same, though: a focus on the people and neighborhoods of lower Manhattan, the restoration of which was the driving purpose behind the festival’s creation after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“I think we are about community and about the audience and about people who love movies,” festival co-founder Jane Rosenthal said, “whether they are people who love making movies, the filmmakers, or people who like watching movies, the general audience, or the very specific film industry audience.”
To appeal to all those people she’s talking about, the lineup again is eclectic: the first documentaries shot in Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s fall; a screening of “New York Minute,” starring the grown-up Olsen twins; and a drive-in-style showing of the “Friends” series finale.
That something-for-everyone spirit separates Tribeca from older festivals, which can be competitive industry marketplaces where seeing and being seen is as important as seeing the films themselves.
Celebrating the city
In 2002, when planners cobbled the festival together in just a few months, it drew more than 150,000 people and generated more than $10.4 million in revenues for Tribeca businesses. Last year, twice as many people showed up and pumped more than $50 million into the downtown economy.
This year, there are more entries from filmmakers than ever before — 2,500-plus.
“People can plan for us more,” said Rosenthal, who founded the festival with her business partner, Robert De Niro. “The first year, nobody knew — we came out of nowhere. Last year, people could plan but they didn’t exactly know what we were. This year, people are planning for us.”
Executive director Peter Scarlet said people are telling him that that the festival is running more smoothly this time.
“It’s a little less insane. There were something like 22 screenings at a time last year, which was maybe too much for the human consciousness to handle,” Scarlet said.
As in 2003, one of Scarlet’s main focuses is on international offerings. Of the 14 feature films in competition, 12 are from outside the United States; of the 27 competing documentaries, 21 are from outside.
One the international films that’s not part of the competition is “Saddam’s Mass Graves,” by Kurdish-American director Jano Rosebiani, which includes interviews with survivors and relatives of Saddam’s victims. Another is “War Is Over!” which depicts the chaos director Bahman Ghobadi found when he went to Iraq immediately after Saddam’s fall. The two films are being screened together.
The feature competition includes the surreal “A Hole in One,” the first film from writer-director Richard Ledes, starring Michelle Williams as a young woman in the 1950s who wants a lobotomy. Meat Loaf Aday plays her mobster boyfriend.
Ledes, a native New Yorker, said that while it would be great to have a distributor see the film at Tribeca and decide to pick it up, he also hopes his film can help the festival at the same time.
“We think it’s a great opportunity to help make this festival,” he said. “It’s a festival that we feel we can contribute to making it break out and really get the stature of a Sundance. Its freshness, its newness, is very much conducive to this film.”
Also on the schedule:
- Big studio movies. Besides “New York Minute,” there’s “Raising Helen,” starring Kate Hudson and John Corbett, the opening night film.
- Big-name panels. Martin Scorsese will talk about the use of music in his films, composer Howard Shore will discuss his score for the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, which earned him two Oscars, and Sharon Stone and John Cameron Mitchell will talk about sex and the cinema.
- Tribeca Drive-In Theater. Besides the “Friends” finale on May 6, audiences can sit under the stars and watch “West Side Story” May 8. On the night in between, the movie chosen as the guiltiest pleasure in an online poll will be shown.
- Tribeca Family Festival on the weekends, which includes a street fair and screenings of shorts by New York City student filmmakers.
- The first free public viewing of the Declaration of Independence, which is part of the festival’s theme of democracy and freedom.
“Our festival was founded because of what happened when someone was challenging who we are as a country,” Rosenthal said. “It’s about having different voices and hearing different points of view.”