Some things for nothing



Tribeca Film Festival’s ‘escapist’ mission yields many free events 

The Tribeca Film Festival was founded in the wake of the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks, conceived with the mission of lifting up a devastated community. This spring, as the festival readies to kick off its eighth year, some members of its staff see parallels between the frayed nerves of 2009, and those of late 2001.

“If you’ve left New York for a few days recently and then returned, it’s easy to tell that New York feels more depressed than most cities right now,” says executive director Nancy Schafer. “These are tough times, and as we started looking ahead to this month’s festival, we decided that we wanted to confront this feeling that we’ve had a hard year in this city. We want to give New Yorkers a reason to come out of their shell and enjoy a little escapism.”

As part of this year’s “escapist” mission, Schafer says the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival has done more than ever before to draw out New Yorkers who may be struggling through financial hardships.  “Whether you buy a ticket or not, this is an event you should be able to enjoy, and that’s why we’ve set out to organize even more free events that will bring audiences out. This year, it’s about everybody.”

The most impressive — and popular — free event at this year’s festival is the “Tribeca Drive-In,” a special outdoor screening series organized behind the World Financial Center. In years past, the event has drawn massive crowds, who flock downtown just as the sun is setting across the Hudson River.  This year, the Drive-In will be up and running for three evenings. The action-fantasy “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is scheduled to kick off the series on April 23 — a family-friendly event that will also commemorate the 25th anniversary of the characters.

April 24, the Drive-In will present “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Schafer calls this “our night for the grown-up kids — when one generation tries to pass on this classic to the next. It’s also a great way of paying tribute to the late Paul Newman; to honor an artist while showing people a movie that perhaps they haven’t seen in twenty years.”

The Drive-In closes on April 25 with a screening of an official festival selection: “P-Star Rising,” a kinetic documentary about Harlem hip-hop sensation Priscilla Star, who has signed on as one of the stars of the reimagined PBS series “The Electric Company.”

The following weekend, on Saturday, May 2, the annual Family Festival Street Fair will run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. along Greenwich Street. Attendees can expect to see performances from Broadway hits “Shrek the Musical” and “In The Heights,” as well as special presentations from local youth ballet schools, dance troupes, singers, puppeteers and poets.  As in previous years, there will be a Kite Garden and Bubble Garden, where families can construct their own flying devices and test their skills at creating gigantic bubbles.

In conjunction with the Street Fair, New Yorkers can also catch the “Tribeca/ESPN Sports Day” on North Moore St. BMX bikers, the New York Knicks’ “Groove Truck,” the New York Rangers’ “Road Tour Truck” and pro bowl New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis are slated to appear.

For those more interested in getting to meet the talent behind the films, three distinct Q&A “Tribeca Talks” events are free and open to the public. “This year, we’ve tried to focus on expanding the Q&As,” Schafer said. “We have such interesting content coming in through these films, it seems like a no-brainer to expand that interactive experience. Our goal is to have conversations that tie together with the movies.”

The “Pen to Paper” speaker series focuses on the art of screenwriting, and is based at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square. The April 25 edition, “As Good as the Book,” will highlight the challenges of big-screen literary adaptations. On April 26, “Directors as Writers” explores the give-and-take that occurs between e writers who mold the movies and the directors who visualize their text. On April 27, “Writing Big and Small” turns to Brian Koppelman and David Levien (writers of the new Steven Soderbergh film, “The Girlfriend Experience”) for a discussion about how the size of a film’s budget affects the writing process.

The “Industry” speaker series has been curated to aid those in the movie business, and is being hosted at the SVA Theater at 333 West 23rd Street. On April 28, “Tools of the Trade: Alternative Distribution, Marketing 2.0, and Beyond” will discuss new strategies through which emerging filmmakers can connect with audiences. “(Untitled): A Case Study for Digital Workflow,” on April 29, will use Jonathan Parker’s feature film “(Untitled)” to examine how a film’s production decisions impact the film’s final look and texture.On April 30, “Film: A Matter of Choice” breaks down the pros and cons of shooting a movie on celluloid.

If the SVA Theater events are more for industry professionals, then the celebrity events scheduled for the Apple Store in SoHo have been organized with the general public in mind. More than a dozen in-person appearances have been organized between April 22 and May 3 — including director Spike Lee (April 22), actress Natalie Portman (April 24), director Atom Egoyan (April 26) and actor Erica Bana (April 28).

By thinking big and thinking free, Tribeca organizers hope to use this year’s festival as a way of reasserting itself not just as a major industry event, but also as a major happening for New Yorkers. While the city’s economy may have slowed in recent months, Schafer hopes that 2009’s Tribeca Film Festival is the catalyst for a renewed sense of energy and enthusiasm. “This year, we wanted to try and organize a broad range of events; to reach out even more than we have in the past,” she said. “More than anything, the goal here is to remind Tribeca that we are here for them — to represent this community that we hope loves us as much as we love them.”