Tribeca Film at Three Years

This year, New York cinema is honored to continue downtown boost

This May marks the third year of the Tribeca Film Festival, the brainchild of neighborhood resident Robert De Niro, his business partner Jane Rosenthal, and Rosenthal’s husband Craig Hatkoff.

This year’s festival offers more than 150 feature films and documentaries, as well as 100 short films and premieres from major film studios.

As well as introducing some great films, an array of discussion panels, special fund raising events and a live televised awards ceremony takes place between May 1-9.

And of course, celebrities, celebrities, celebrities.

For nine days, Tribeca will be the star-studded tiara on a jewel-draped Manhattan with expected appearances by Martin Scorsese, Sharon Stone, Norman Lear, Peter Jennings, and Billy Crudup, among others.

“New York, and in particular Tribeca, is at the crossroads of world cinema,” said Peter Scarlet, the festival’s director. “I think we have a remarkably diverse and strong program this year.”

Scarlet is relying on his stewardship last year, his first as festival director, to enhance this year’s programming.

“People came up to me last year and said…‘Thank you for showing films like this – we wouldn’t have a chance to see them in New York,’” he said.

Many people are finding his selection of films intriguing.

Last year about 350,000 people attended festival events bringing nearly $50 million to the downtown area, according to festival statistics. That was quite a boon to a neighborhood still suffering from the economic aftermath of September 11.

In fact, back in 2002 film festival organizers expedited the festival’s founding to assist the neighborhood which had become practically deserted at night.

By all accounts, those efforts have been successful. Both film lovers and makers have responded enthusiastically to the festival, with film submissions totaling about 3,200 this year, a 25 percent increase over last year. There are films from more than 40 countries, including two from Iraq and another two about Afghanistan.

Closer to home, the prestigious New York Film Critics Circle has agreed to judge the two new sections on New York feature films and documentaries.

The New York documentary section features a film by well-known photographer Bruce Weber, a collage that somehow incorporates his five purebred dogs with home movies of director Luchino Visconti, Audrey Hepburn, and Ava Gardner.

Other highlights of the festival will be a tribute to veteran film and television director Garry Marshall, which will include a world premiere May 2 of his latest film, “Raising Helen,” starring Kate Hudson, John Corbett, and Joan Cusack.

A film by acclaimed director Jim Jarmusch, called “Coffee and Cigarettes” was more than a decade in the making. Two other documentaries, one about the New York Fire Department and the other about the Statute of Liberty, Martin Scorsese’s “Lady by the Sea,” presented by festival sponsor American Express, hope to raise money for those two institutions hard-hit by 9/11.

The popular Family Festival, to be held May 1-2 and 8-9, promises to keep families entertained with its centerpiece screening of “A New York Minute,” starring Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen. Other movies in the series include “Captain Sabertooth” and “The Blue Butterfly.”

The Family Festival includes a street fair on May 8 with performers, arts & crafts, face painting, games, storytelling, puppet shows and workshops. A Scholastic Book fair features fictional characters for children to meet.

“If you have a family, and you live in Tribeca, and you’re despairing what to take your kids to during the year, at least there are nine days this spring when that won’t be a problem,” Scarlet said.

Karen Barwick, who has two young sons, said the Family Festival, which she has attended the past two years, is one of the best in New York. Her children love the Scholastic Book tent and an event in which they make laminated “movie passes” with their pictures.

“Just being a New York City mom, I do go to a lot of street fairs that are all around the city, and this one is just so much better,” said Barwick, who co-owns a Tribeca toy store. “It’s really well-done with jugglers and performers and balloon makers.”

That view is shared by local businesses, and the Tribeca Organization, formed to help small businesses in the neighborhood ride out the aftermath of Sept. 11. Some stores are changing their hours in anticipation of the festival’s commercial rewards. The retail section of Oser Bikini Bar at 148C Duane St., which specializes in vintage rattan and surfing-related items, is typically open by appointment only. But owner Aileen Oser has decided to keep normal retail hours during the film festival.

“I think the festival’s terrific,” Oser said. “In the past, we had a coffee bar, which we’re re-opening now, and we’re showing surf movies up on the wall. I think it’s definitely in keeping with the Tribeca Film Festival.”

Other Tribeca businesses are also planning something special for the film festival, including sales and promotional events.

“I’m working on maybe trying to do some event to support the festival and make it more of a community thing,” said Kate Obst, manager of Tribeca Issey Miyake at 119 Hudson St., a Japanese clothing store. “It’s kind of still in the works,” she said mysteriously when asked for details.

Ann Benedetto, owner of A Uno Tribeca at 123 West Broadway, a store that sells imported clothing, echoed most business owners’ assertions that the festival brings much needed foot traffic and exposure to Tribeca.

“We find a lot more people who don’t live in the area come into the area,” she said. “There’s a lot of browsing between shows if they’re going to different theaters or before dinner or after dinner, so it does increase traffic – and we appreciate it.”

As for the heart of the event—exciting cinematic offerings—many people are eager to see some new movies.

“One of the reasons for the birth of this festival two years ago was to draw attention to the remarkable work being done in New York,” Scarlet said.

This year, there are films like “Tying the Knot,” which explores the arguments for legalizing same-sex marriage; “Crazy Legs Conti,” about an aspiring champion competitive eater; “My Uncle Berns,” featuring the uncle of Lindsay Crystal, daughter of Billy Crystal; and “Another Road Home” about the Middle Eastern conflict explored through the eyes of a Palestinian maid in a Jewish household.

“The Origins of AIDS” explores a provocative theory about the origins of HIV in the development of the oral polio vaccine in the 1950s.

Films either about the city or created by New York filmmakers will be judged in special documentary and narrative film categories. Six critics from the New York Film Critics Circle have agreed to judge the 25 works.

“I can’t wait for it to start,” said Jonathan Foreman of the New York Post, who is chair of the New York Film Critics Circle. “There’s just so many films that I want to see. And films about New York––I love it.”

Foreman will be judging the documentary film section, along with Jan Stuart of Newsday and Nathan Lee of The New York Sun. Judging the narrative films will be Thelma Adams of US Weekly, David Sterritt of the Christian Science Monitor, and Dennis Lim of the Village Voice.

Though there are a handful of film festivals held annually in New York, the Tribeca festival has a certain distinction for Foreman.

“It’s a very unpretentious festival, and I like that very much,” he said.

One of the highlights of the festival’s New York film section is “2BPerfectlyHonest,” directed by Randel Cole and starring Andrew McCarthy, John Turturro, and Aida Turturro of “The Sopranos” fame. The movie is a morality tale set in contemporary New York.

“Brother to Brother,” a feature film directed by Rodney Evans, imagines a present-day friendship between an artist from the Harlem Renaissance and a contemporary young gay black artist. The film won a special jury prize this year at the Sundance Film Festival.

Festival-goers can also screen a visually sumptuous film called “Homework,” directed by Kevin Asher Green, about a young ballet dancer who is liberated by an older modern dancer. And then there’s an experimental film, “The Time We Killed,” directed by Jennifer Todd Reeves and shot in high-contrast black and white and digital video, which plumbs the psyche of an agoraphobic writer unable to leave her apartment.

The New York film competition should be a real boon to city filmmakers, Scarlet said.

“A prize never hurts––both the cash involved, and the fact that you can then go and say you’re a prize-winner,” he said.

Wrapping it all up on May 8 is “New York, New York: A Moviemakers Muse” in which panelists, including Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini of “American Splendor,” and out lesbian Christine Vachon of Killer Films, Inc. will talk about why they love making movies in New York.

“New York has traditionally just been an amazing subject for filmmakers,” Foreman said. “I’m not a filmmaker, but I get the impression that it’s just an extraordinarily generous place for filmmakers.”

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