"Holy shit, its Tiny Fey!" screamed a stock broker looking New Yorker on 54th St. in Midtown this evening (Wednesday), walking by the Zeigfeld theater with a female companion on a warm Spring night. A large crowd of onlookers were watching the half-block long red carpet arrivals for the Tribeca Film Festival's opening night screening Michael McCullers's "Baby Mama," starring Fey and Amy Poehler. As the couple watched the arrivals for a moment, an older woman wandered up to the scene. Studying the crowd for just a moment, she asked nobody in particular, "Does anyone know what's going on here?" After a few moments in which not a single person responded to her she turned and made her way toward 5th Ave. and wandered off. With a mix of enthusiasm and slight disorientation the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival officially kicked off on Wednesday night.
Earlier in the day, with some of New York's political finest in attendance, including the state's new Governor David Paterson and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, TFF co-founder Jane Rosehthal ushered in the latest edition of the fest in the neighborhood where the event was born in the shadow of the former World Trade Center. "For the next 11 days, we will see the world through the lens of our filmmakers," Rosenthal said this morning at, speaking to a crowd of reporters and photographers that was noticeably smaler than in previous years, perhaps due to the absence of co-founder Robert DeNiro, who was away filming a new movie. Unfazed, Rosenthal touted this year's 121 features and 79 shorts that includes 54 world premieres and 30 North American premieres.
"Our festival, like our city, is incredibly diverse," Rosenthal said, emphasizing the theme of "diversity," which was echoed by most of the speakers today.
"This is what New York is about, art and creativity," noted Mayor Bloomberg, who went on to praise the event for focusing on diversity through its Tribeca All Access (TAA) program, which also receives city support. He also gave the event credit for revitalizing downtown, which is once again a hotbed of pricey real estate and crowded restaurants.
"Thank you for helping to keep New York City the cultural capital of the world," praised Bloomberg.
The festival's continued committment to diversity was again on display with the launch of the 5th annual TAA program for filmmakers of color, which kicked off on Monday at Battery Park. Participants gathered for a welcome lunch and then made their way to the National Museum of the American Indian for afternoon panel discussions.
At a session moderated by the Black Filmmaker Foundation's Warrington Hudlin, a group of industry insiders pondered why it is that films with diverse casts, or international stories sometimes do not travel overseas. Perhaps the work is sometimes pigeonholed as "art house" overlooking a wider appeal, noted Hudlin. "I want to make sure we don't use language to disempower ourselves," he said, "I worry that the work that we do, do we use language that puts a limit on us." Adding to the conversation, manager Victoria Frederick explained that she prefers the term "indie," which refers to a projects financing, "I like that better than calling it art house," she concluded. TAA events continue through the end of the week downtown.
Meanwhile, Tribeca Film Festival events are split between the vast majority of screening in and around the Union Square area of Manhattan, while special festival events are anchored in the well heeled TriBeCa neighborhood of the city. Fest organizers seem to be going the extra mile to serve guests and audiences in these two key neighborhoods, but it may take a couple of years of stability before attendees get settled into the new rhythm of the large New York City fest.
Outside the Tribeca FIlm Festival's temporary press office on 13th St. earlier this week, a local woman who was walking her dog approached the door trying to get more information on the festival and its screening locations. Sounding a bit confused about why a festival named for Lower Manhattan's TriBeCa neighborhood was taking place primarily in and around Union Square, she looked puzzled as she lingered for a moment. Offered a schedule of screenings, the woman reconsidered, "Oh, nevermind, I am not going to attend anyway," she said, ordering her dog to continue on its walk, quickly heading back down University Place.
indieWIRE's coverage of the 2008 Tribeca FIlm Festival continues through May 4th in our special New York CIty section.