The sixth annual Tribeca Film Festival has opened in New York with its usual fanfare, hosting the U.S. premiere of "Spiderman 3," the latest installment of the international hit movies based on the comic book character. But beyond the flashbulbs, red carpets and celebrities, the film festival has quickly established itself as one of the world's top venues for documentaries and foreign films. From VOA's New York Bureau, correspondent Barbara Schoetzau has the story of this year's festival.
The Festival was founded after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center by actor Robert de Niro and associates to revive New York's struggling downtown Tribeca area. It has since taken on a life of its own as a sprawling and wide ranging film festival, mixing movie stars and political figures with foreign filmmakers and documentary producers. The Festival is known for presenting a broad array of films: classics, upcoming hits, animated films, hard-hitting documentaries and this year -- a first -- a silent film accompanied by live music. A mini-festival of sports films is also new to the 2007 program.
Festival director Peter Scarlet says he wants audiences to expect the unexpected. "I think since the very beginning this festival has been doing things that people had not seen at a film festival before and there's more than ever of that this year, from the world premiere of "Spiderman 3" to D.J. Spooky doing his remix of D.W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation to a brand new silent film called "Passio" with music by Avro Part that is being performed live at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. You don't see those at your ordinary film festival," he said.
After some criticism last year about the size the festival, this year Tribeca cut back to 154 films from 43 nations and territories. Last year over 250 films were shown. Audiences will be able to sample films from Armenia, Croatia, Iran, New Zealand, Peru and Tunisia and Uzbekistan to name a few.
At least five of this year's selections were filmed on location in Afghanistan. "Beyond Belief" follows two widows of World Trade Center attack victims to Kabul, where they fund a project to help Afghan widows. Susan Retik, one of the U.S. women, says they discovered women with difficulties greater than their own. "Looking at these women in Afghanistan and learning their stories and how terrible it was to be a woman and, specifically, a widow. I just felt that maybe I could reach out and help one woman. That's really how it started," he said.
A broad range of documentaries and narrative films explores issues from sex slavery to the war in Iraq to genocide in Darfur. The hottest topic at this year's Tribeca Festival -- literally -- is global warming and the environment. The Festival opened with a series of short films on the topic introduced by former Vice President Al Gore.
"We are close to that tipping point where the climate crisis is concerned, where people in every profession will say 'Okay, let's solve this,'" he said.
Despite attention from the international media, the festival has stayed true to its initial impetus to focus on the local community. There are family-oriented programs, movies for children, a street fair and an outdoor Drive-In theater.
Actor Ed Burns, a local resident, says the community welcomes the Festival. "(At) a lot of other festivals, you really get the sense that they are not happy that you are there because they think you are going to take over these small towns. Tribeca, it's a very different atmosphere. And I think the Festival started with a very charitable heart," he said.
The Tribeca Film Institute provides programs and training for aspiring young filmmakers across the city and, this year, launched a program to coincide with the Festival to educate teenagers about the art of filmmaking.