Last Updated: December 7, 2011By

The festival which Robert de Niro and Jane Rosenthal launched to help revive the namesake neighborhood after the September 11th attacks is 8 years young this year (the Tribeca Film Center had been founded by them in 1989). I remember attending the inaugural concert in Hudson River Park in 2002, at which De Niro gave his impassioned speech and lighted paper balloons floated above us. The Tribeca Film Festival has kept the same vitality since, giving emerging filmmakers a chance to be seen and heard and for world cinema to take center stage (because while American films figure predominantly on the screenings roster, TFF ’09 also features films from Iran, Nepal, Honduras, and Israel, to name a few).

This year TFF ’09 also enhanced their press and publicity outfits considerably, featuring a shiny new press hub christened the DIRECTV Tribeca Press Center, where I sit now, typing on one of many brand glistening new Mac workstations (the screens are huge) with the extra thin keyboards which make typing a breeze (my Dell laptop seems antediluvian by comparison). Only last year, the press room looked makeshift with stacks of boxes setting the theme of the room. Today the posh DIRECTV press center looks the part: an appropriately modern press and business hub which doubles as interview studios. The publicity staff behind the desk gave me a welcome and an introduction to the various materials strewn on tables around the room, as well as refreshments, screening guide, etc.

And what of the movies, you ask? This year Tribeca boasts a lineup of 86 features films from 33 different countries, including 48 world premieres. Locals like myself will have already seen films like “Rudo y Cursi” or “Salt of this Sea” during advance or special screenings, although both will now have their New York premiere at Tribeca, with cast and filmmaker in the room to present them and interact with the public. Highly anticipated this year will be Spike Lee’s new documentary “Kobe Doin’ Work,” Steven Soderbergh’s “The Girlfriend Experience” and Woody Allen’s film starring Larry David “Whatever Works.” 

In addition to the three previously named films, I also name “Shadow Billionaire,” “Blank City,” and “Entre Nos” as part of this year’s TFF ’09 MUST-SEES (see sidebar for the complete list). Alexis Manya Spraic’s “Shadow Billionaire,” presented in the world documentary competition, about Larry Hillblom, the enigmatic and reclusive (aren’t they always reclusive?) billionaire and founder of DHL who disappeared after crashing his WWII seaplane in the South Pacific. The film centers on the epic battle that took place after his disappearance to divvy up his estate among a cast of relatives and characters which includes teenage prostitutes from Saipan.

The downtown New York avant-guarde scene is revisited by French director Celine Danhier in “Blank City,” another doc that will have its world premiere here. Danhier cuts interviews with Jim Jarmusch, Lizzie Borden, Bette Gordon and John Lurie with film clips from works that were born under that era’s banner of “No Wave Cinema” and “Cinema of Transgression” (incidentally, a story of CBGB will also be presented at Tribeca also this year). Although the 70s New York downtown arts scene is on its way to suffer from overexposition, judging from the myriad films about this period released in the last four years, “Blank City” gives us another take as it specifically looks at the filmmakers who provided the visual cues to the gritty and blissfully self-destructive soundtrack of 1970s downtown. Dahnier told Rania Richardson of DOWNTOWNEXPRESS.COM, “The films captured the time so well; the music, the spirit and the attitude. They had such a brutal sincerity that I loved, she says.” 

“Entre Nos,” by Paola Mendoza and Gloria La Morte (Colombia, USA) is about an adoring mother who totes her two children from Colombia to New York to indulge her husband’s whim. But when he abruptly abandons the family, she has to rely on her own imagination and courage to survive odds during their first summer in the States. 

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