Tuesday, May 6, 2003
New York A combination of pain, passion and hometown pride inspired Robert De Niro and his business partner, Jane Rosenthal, to organize the first Tribeca Film Festival after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
They had just 120 days to do it. The result, which surprised everyone involved: More than 150,000 people showed up last year, watched about 150 films and pumped an estimated $10 million into hard-hit lower Manhattan.
"It was a good idea. We had some good movies, some good talent," Rosenthal, co-founder of Tribeca Films, said recently. "People like to go to the movies in times of despair. People like to go to the movies in times of war and crisis. People like to be entertained."
But will people feel as compelled to come back a second time, now that some emotional distance and time have passed?
Organizers hope so, as they seek an identity and a continued audience for the fledgling festival.
This year's event, which began Saturday and ends May 11, runs nearly twice as long as the first and is a hodgepodge of about 200 features, documentaries and shorts, with the weekends at the beginning and end devoted to family films and activities.
Like last year, there's a free rock and comedy concert scheduled for Friday night in Battery Park, featuring Norah Jones, Robbie Williams and The Roots.
And there are big Hollywood pictures like last year, when "Star Wars -- Episode II: Attack of the Clones" premiered.
Today, there's the world premiere of "Down With Love," a romantic comedy starring Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor that parodies the Doris Day-Rock Hudson films of the late 1950s and early '60s.
Two remakes will make their world premieres at the festival's end: "The In-Laws," starring Michael Douglas and Albert Brooks, and "The Italian Job," starring Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron and Edward Norton.
There are documentaries on topics including yoga ("Ashtanga, NY") and sumo wrestlers ("Sumo East and West"), and features about a deadly virus (Danny Boyle's "28 Days Later") and a dastardly girlfriend (Neil LaBute's "The Shape of Things").
There are restored classics including "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" and "Once Upon a Time in America," and films from first-time directors competing against each other for the festival's top prizes.
The jurors are as eclectic as the films they'll be judging. They include Queen Noor of Jordan; actresses Whoopi Goldberg, Parker Posey and Candice Bergen; directors Michael Moore and Barbara Kopple; fashion designer Miuccia Prada; and Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com.
Bezos, who's on the committee judging documentaries, said he's looking for films that take the viewer into someone else's world.
"In a great documentary, you step into the lives of people whose experiences are totally different from your own," he said. "An effective documentary creates empathy and understanding of its subjects, even if they initially seem foreign or alienating."
That's true of two documentaries that are especially timely in light of the U.S.-led war in Iraq: "Baghdad On/Off," which chronicles exiled Iraqi filmmaker Saad Salman's attempt to return to Baghdad in September 2002, and "Forget Baghdad: Jews and Arabs -- the Iraqi Connection," about Jews who immigrated to Israel from Iraq.
Offering films that provide an understanding of other cultures was one of the main goals of festival executive director Peter Scarlet, who takes over at Tribeca after 19 years with the San Francisco International Film Festival. Half the films on the schedule are from outside the United States.
"I always look for films that have an angle on something that's happening in the world that maybe we don't know about, that we're not on top of," Scarlet said.