The 18th Tribeca Film Festival begins tonight at Harlem’s storied Apollo Theater, eight miles uptown from the fest’s post-9/11 birthplace.
Opening-night title The Apollo, an HBO documentary about the fabled mainstay of 125th Street, helped dictate the choice of venue, which is hosting its first Tribeca event. But there is also something apt about the festival simultaneously celebrating a proscenium theater built in 1913 at the same time it showcases virtual reality, embraces television and leans into inclusiveness across the board. A Critics Week sidebar is a new, Cannes-like addition to the offerings, but at the same time the hand-wringing on the Croisette over what to do with titles from Netflix seems all but irrelevant at this restlessly polyglot affair.
“No question we’re ambitious, but look at how the industry is changing,” co-founder Jane Rosenthal told Deadline. “Netflix just had a black-and-white, Spanish-language film up for multiple Oscars. Everything is evolving.”
As a producer as well as a festival overseer, Rosenthal said the existential questions hit close to home. (Her longtime producing and festival partner, Robert De Niro, shared his thoughts on streaming ahead of his upcoming Netflix release, The Irishman, with Deadline’s Anthony D’Alessandro.)
“Everybody’s going back and forth,” Rosenthal said. “The economics are just so completely different now. … I question if films we’ve made like About a Boy, Meet the Parents or Wag the Dog, would even be features today” as opposed to limited series.
Paula Weinstein, EVP of festival parent Tribeca Enterprises, said the festival’s home base means it can never sleep. “We live in New York, as Jane always says. … We want to be alive and curious and expanding.”
The roster of features is indeed expanding, with 111 features on this year’s slate, an uptick from recent years, when the total stayed comfortably in double digits. Notable titles include documentaries like After Parkland, You Don’t Nomi, a look back at Showgirls; the Jared Leto-directed A Day in the Life of America; and narrative films including Buffaloed, Plus One and Charlie Says. Anniversary screenings are planned for a newly recut version of Apocalypse Now (with Steven Soderbergh quizzing Francis Ford Coppola after the screening) as well as Reality Bites, This is Spinal Tap and The Simpsons. The burgeoning TV vertical includes world premieres of HBO’s Chernobyl and new seasons of Starz’s Vida and TVLand’s Younger, as well as a farewell event for Mr. Robot and a 25th anniversary reunion of In Living Color.
Conversations are also on tap featuring Guillermo del Toro; De Niro paired with Martin Scorsese; David O. Russell and Jennifer Lawrence; and Dennis Leary with Michael J. Fox.
Women are well represented in the slate, accounting for 50% of all directors of competition titles, and 29% of all features were directed by people of color. Weinstein declared it “our most inclusive film program to date.” On the heels of last year’s full-day Time’s Up event, this year Tribeca Celebrates Pride day will mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots with a range of activities.
At an opening-day lunch Wednesday at a Greek restaurant in Tribeca, De Niro, Rosenthal and festival staffers took a low-key approach to unfurling this year’s offerings. “We’re legal now,” De Niro joked of the 18th birthday.
While the usual blitz of red-carpet premieres will be a familiar site across Manhattan through closing night on May 4 (featuring Danny Boyle’s Yesterday), the city is not the same cinephile redoubt it once was, at least physically. Once the Ziegfeld — the grand-scale, single-screen theater on 54th Street — faded out in 2016 and turned into an event space, another major option for filmgoers and film presenters disappeared. “There are no big venues,” Rosenthal said. “Theaters have shrunk. … We’ve lost 7,500 seats below Canal Street” as exhibitors install larger seats and emphasize food and drink options rather than seating capacity.
At the same time, though, the transformed landscape means the festival can in some ways serve an even bigger purpose, Rosenthal noted. “There’s a lot of noise out there, and it can be hard to actually hear each other,” she said during the luncheon. “That’s how we started this festival, trying to bring people together.”