It happens every spring. The Tribeca Film Festival opens its 12th edition Wednesday night with, as usual, something for everyone. Films for geeks. Films for freaks. Films for kids. Films that might not even be films. Robots. Cat videos. Jerry Lewis.
Founded in 2002, the festival has never devoted itself to strictly indie films, or to being totally Cannes-on-the-Hudson. So the menu this year reflects the usual smorgasbord -- and a much-anticipated closing-night presentation of the restored "The King of Comedy," starring Lewis, and Tribeca's co-founder Robert De Niro.
"The King of Comedy" has risen in stature among Martin Scorsese's films, but was close to appalling back in 1983 -- De Niro's Rupert Pupkin wasn't just psychotic, he was a terrible comedian. But its dynamics may have changed. Because comedy has changed. And not necessarily for the better.
"Never mind comedy," said comedian Sandra Bernhard, who played Rupert's mad-as-a-hatter accomplice, Masha. "The culture is a complete disaster, and 'King of Comedy' is like frosting on a cake. It was shocking when we made it, because it had the impact of great acting and a great script, but not only did it all come to pass, it did so in a less sophisticated and wonderful way than we predicted."
She doubts the film will be shocking -- "or scary" -- but says its impact has been widespread. "Almost every young comedian I meet, and all the generations in between, are like: 'Oh my god, 'King of Comedy' my favorite movie,' and for good reason. It hit every chord."
Of local interest is "Big Shot," a documentary directed by Kevin Connolly ("Entourage") about John Spano, the onetime owner of the Islanders who was exposed as a fraud, and spent several years in prison.
"Big Shot" is the festival's opening gala film Friday night, and was a natural project for a hard-core Islanders fan. "Being from Long Island, it was very important to me to highlight the importance of this organization to Long Island," Connolly said. "Without any disrespect to any other organization, he didn't do this to some Mickey Mouse franchise. This was a big deal. The Islanders did things that won't be done again."
What he didn't want to do was demonize Spano. "My favorite show is 'Dateline,'" Connolly said. "Having said that, I didn't want to make a 'Dateline' episode on John Spano. Not to say that it was a victimless crime. But in the post-Madoff world, John seems not as terrible." Either way, it's a great story.
And Tribeca knows it. "What we do is try to appeal to very different audiences with great stories. and a lot of great stories are sports stories," said Genna Terranova, its director of programming. She and a team culled 89 feature-length movies from 6,000 submissions, among them some of the season's hotter domestic titles: "Before Midnight," with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy; Neil Jordan's vampire saga "Byzantium," with Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton; the provocative "Adult World" with Emma Roberts and John Cusack; writer-director Jenee LaMarque's debut "The Pretty One," a twin-driven drama starring Zoe Kazan; and "Trust Me," written and directed by actor Clark Gregg and co-starring Amanda Peet, Sam Rockwell and Felicity Huffman.
In addition to what have become festival traditions -- the Tribeca Drive-In (April 18-20), the Family Festival Street Fair (April 27), Tribeca/ESPN Sports Day (April 27) and Family Screenings (April 21 and 27) -- 30 countries and some of their more innovative filmmakers are represented this year.
If there's a dominant theme at the festival this year it may well be the biopic. Gore Vidal, Elaine Stritch, Wilt Chamberlain, Muhammad Ali, Richard Pryor and director Michael Haneke are all subjects of full-scale portraiture. So are some relative unknowns, including the subject of "The Genius of Marian," a remarkably innovative use of nonfiction to depict a woman suffering from Alzheimer's. Others to look forward to? "At Any Price," from director Ramin Bahrani, with Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron, a whole "Midnight" section of horror excess, and those robots we mentioned who, as part of Tribeca's transmedia effort ("Storyscapes"), will be interviewing people, and making their own film. No word yet on whether they're planning their own festival.
WHEN|WHERE Wednesday night through April 28 at various Manhattan venues.
TICKETS tribecafilm.com/festival; 646-502-5296 or toll free at 866-941-3378; $16 for evening and weekend screenings, $8 for all late-night and weekday matinee screenings.
MORE INFO Information on venues and further details can be found at tribecafilm.com.