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Tribeca Film Festival Keeps Focus on International Movies

  • Juliette Fairley

Movie fans in New York City continue to line up to catch a glimpse of their favorite movie stars and buy tickets for major movies debuting at the Fourth Annual Tribeca Film Festival. But as the 13-day festival winds up, much of its emphasis remains on international films and documentaries.

Movie star Robert DeNiro is the driving force behind the festival in the artsy downtown New York neighborhood of Tribeca, which borders on the site of the World Trade Center. Mr. DeNiro says he helped found the festival to restore downtown Manhattan after the September 11 World Trade Center attack.

Robert DeNiro
"We were always thinking of doing a festival but once 9/11 happened we thought this was a time to do if ever there was a time. We're trying to improve it every year," he said.

Co-founder Jane Rosenthal says putting together a film festival on short notice was a daunting task.

"Three years ago, we hastily launched a film festival in 120 days. And to be candid, we weren't sure if anyone would show up but they did," she said. "The past three festivals have attracted nearly one million visitors and help lift the economy of lower Manhattan and also our broken spirit."

Organizers say the festival has generated $125 million in revenue. And critics say the Tribeca festival now rivals the popularity of other more established film festivals such as Cannes, Sundance and Toronto. Its success is attracting big name sponsors like American Express, PRADA, General Motors and Apple Computers. Even better, Jane Rosenthal says the films shown at Tribeca are making a mark in the world of cinema.

"We've been invited to a number of other countries to bring the best of the TFF [Tribeca Film Festivals] to other countries," she said. "We went to Milan last year with PRADA and hope to bring additions to the festival to other countries acting as New York City's cultural ambassador of film."

This year, the Tribeca Film Festival is putting the spotlight on 158 feature-length films, 59 world premieres and 250 foreign films from 45 different countries. Tribeca is rapidly becoming known as a showcase for international films and documentaries. Foreign filmmakers like Ciro Guerra from Colombia view Tribeca as a chance to present their movies to appreciative audiences.

"The filmgoing population here is very interested in world cinema and very risky and cinema that takes chances and experiments with the form," the filmmaker said. "They want some thing more edgy. So they told me to go to New York and to go to Tribeca."

Guerra's movie, The Wandering Shadow, is about two fringe characters who survive with low level jobs.

"They meet on the street and they have a very tough life but because of their friendship they find a chance for redemption," he said. "It is a very human movie. It is a story about forgiveness, friendship, reconciliation, about dignity."

Ciro Guerra says the characters he created exist outside of the system.

"These people are shadows, like ghosts walking the street like they don't exist. But they do exist and they have a lot to say," he said.

Keif Davidson has done a documentary about child labor and silver mines in South America The Devil's Miner. The American filmmaker is attracted to international topics.

"The movies' about a 14-year-old silver miner. His name is Basilo Vargas. He's been working there four years. The film is told through his words and point of view," he said.

Mr. Davidson says what started out as a documentary about the religious beliefs of the miners quickly became an advocacy film about the prevalence of child labor in Bolivia's silver mines.

"We're working with aid organizations, which we hope will help bring awareness as well as Care International, as their offices are in the United States. You can find more information on how to help at our website at www.thedevilsminer.com." he said.

With all the fanfare around international films screening at Tribeca, you would think American Filmmakers would be jealous, but that's not the case.

Phil Bertelsen directed Rock the Paint, a film about interracial male bonding between two teenage American boys, one black and one Jewish. The story takes place in Newark, New Jersey.

"I try not to get caught up in the competition," he said. "I like to see good films. It's an inspiring atmosphere rather than a competitive. I get to meet filmmakers from around the world and that's inspiring."

Andrew Herwitz, a film sales agent, says New York's large immigrant community and film-loving population have contributed to Tribeca's success.

"As a festival located in a city, there's a lot of moviegoers who embrace foreign films and want to see films from other parts of the world, and because they aren't able to see them in movie theaters," he said. "It's a great opportunity to see them. Many of them won't be available easily for moviegoers."

The festival continues until May 1 and features panel discussions as well as international delegations from Shanghai and Sarajevo.

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