Tribeca Film Fest Report #5

The Tribeca Film Festival: It's not just for Tribeca anymore.

Quick geography lesson for those of you not familiar with Manhattan. It's bigger than you think, and it's very much a city of neighborhoods. Tribeca is the neighborhood at the southernmost tip of the island, the TRIangle BElow CAnal Street, and pretty much no one goes down there unless they work on Wall Street, or -- since 9/11 -- to visit Ground Zero. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration: the neighborhood has actually gotten more residential in recent years, but used to be very few folks actually lived down there.

The first Tribeca Film Festival -- which took place six months after 9/11, and the dust literally had not yet settled; you could still choke on it blocks from the World Trade Center site -- was resolutely located in Tribeca, which is where festival founders Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal have their production company headquarters. The idea was to rejuvenate the neighborhood, give it something to feel good about in those dark days. And it worked -- people came way downtown to see cool movies in the one multiplex in Tribeca. There was a real party atmosphere on Greenwich Street, home to Tribeca Films, what with the hospitality tent set up on one corner for filmmakers and press, the family street fair on the Saturday of that first festival, and the endless stream of people munching free popcorn and wearing smiles for the first time in months heading to the movies.

That first festival was brief, a mere few days, compact but jam-packed with film and fun. It was a huge success. So what happened? The festival got bigger, so big that Tribeca couldn't contain it anymore. Now in its fifth year, the festival is holding screenings all over Manhattan, many of them -- and most of the screenings reserved for press and industry -- in a Loews/AMC multiplex on West 34th Street, several miles from Tribeca. Now, in another city, several miles might not be much, but there are people in New York who never go below 42th Street, or above 14th Street. Tribeca and West 34th Street are worlds apart.

So the festival atmosphere that was unique to that first Tribeca Film Festival is no more -- the festival is just too spread out; it's just a ton of really cool movies playing exclusively in multiplexes all over the city. Instead, the festival has become another tiny tile in the mosaic that is the ongoing carnival atmosphere of the city itself. Look: On Sunday, in between a couple of screenings, I took a little walk to stretch my legs and get some air. A block away from the AMC 34 is Madison Square Garden, where an NHL playoff game was about to get underway. (I guess the Rangers made the playoffs -- who knew?) It was a wild party scene outside the Garden: thousands of fans of all ages in Rangers jerseys, loud music, food, and general high spirits and bacchanalia. But NYC is noisy enough to absorb even that, and a block away, back at the AMC, there was no indication that one of the highlights of the pro sports year was happening around the corner. Just like all those Rangers fans had no idea Manhattan's biggest cinematic event was in progress nearby.

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MaryAnn Johanson (email me)

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