Keeping with one of its themes this year on female empowerment, the Tribeca Film Festival opened last night with a doc about one of the city’s 1970s comedy trailblazers, Saturday Night Live‘s Gilda Radner, with the CNN film Love, Gilda. 

It’s the second time that Tribeca has opened with a documentary about one of Gotham’s institutions, 2015’s opener being the SNL time capsule feature Live From New York!

However, Love, Gilda delves into the intricacies of Radner’s life from her childhood weight problems to her segue from Toronto’s comedy scene to SNL, and ultimately how she was determined to keep laughing as she battled ovarian cancer before her death in 1989. Much of this is bolstered by director Lisa D’Apolito’s access to a significant amount of Radner’s archives including footage, photos, taped and written diaries.

Radner was a beacon for future female sketch comedians, as expressed by Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph and Melissa McCarthy in the doc. Though Tina Fey wasn’t in Love, Gilda, last night in between quips, Tina Fey broke down in tears while introducing the film at the Beacon Theatre over how much the ’70s/80s comedienne meant to her growing up as a female of “visibility”.

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“I can personally attest, and I feel comfortable speaking for Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph and Rachel Dratch when I say that seeing Gilda as a kid,” said Fey, “[She was] so authentically herself and so regular in so many ways. She was not a piece of casting, she was who she was on TV. We all saw that and said, ‘I want to do that, and it’s possible because I see her doing that.”

“It was an early example for me of how important representation is, for everyone from every walk of life. Gilda was our equivalent of Michelle Obama. And that is why Lisa’s film feels like a miracle to me: It felt like I was getting to spend time with someone that I never knew, that I very much would have wanted to spend time with,” said Fey.

“I watched the film on my phone in 15 minute intervals over the last couple of days, just what every filmmaker wants to hear. In taxi rides, and rebooting it at stop signs when there was wifi,” said Fey joking, but then turning serious, “but I realized I was parceling it out. It was emotional for me, because we know how it ends, and I didn’t want it to end. I didn’t want the film to end.”

Expounding on why the fest was drawn to the doc, Tribeca Enterprises EVP Paula Weinstein told Deadline last night at the Tavern on the Green afterparty, “It’s a film about an artist in New York who overcame her personal demons from childhood and found a way to express it in humor.”

“It’s about survival, resilience and breaking down boundaries and accepting oneself and being the best version you can be,” added Weinstein.

SNL alum Laraine Newman became quick friends with Radner as they were the first females cast on the late night NBC series.  “We saw Jane Curtain’s audition (together),” Newman told Deadline.

“What’s interesting about (her character) Rosanne Roseannadanna — we have these ‘girls behaving badly movies’ right now, like all this Amy Schumer stuff, and Roseannadanna was a predecessor to all that. Women never talked about bathroom humor,” said Newman.

Laraine Newman
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Love, Gilda explains how Radner, in a move to solidify her voice and ideas in sketches, would take over the typewriter and transcription of sketches while working alongside John Belushi and his peers in the National Lampoon stage shows. However, on SNL, Newman said “Women got complete support. It’s so funny how many people want to make this polemic about sexual harassment and a boy’s club. There was none of that. Lorne (Michaels) was a big supporter of women’s humor. There just happened to be ten male writers and three female writers, and meritocracy –whatever was funny– went into the show. No political barring on who was male or female.”

Added former SNL scribe Alan Zweibel about Radner’s comedic prowess, “You’d say ‘Nadia Comaneci, can you be her?’ and she started doing somersaults and talking in Romanian and I would just follow her and write that.”