The Tribeca Film Festival: “New” New York in Old New York

By Judith Zinis

Who needs another film festival?” film producer Jane Rosenthal asked herself in 2001 when she and Robert de Niro were considering a film festival in their neighborhood of Tribeca. One year later, they launched the Tribeca Film Festival. The festival was created to support and develop Tribeca after the devastation of 9/11 described in 2001 as a “ghost town” by the New York Times. According to Martin Scorsese, one of the festival’s early supporters, the festival was developed in four months. Twelve years later, it draws thousands of filmgoers and offers a broad category of films and events as well as an opportunity to explore the neighborhood.

In 2002, 1300 films were submitted; last year the number grew to over 6000 and range from studio to independent films, from feature length to shorts. The films are shown over a ten day period, this year from April 16 to 27. International films that audiences might not have a chance to see elsewhere are also an important part of the schedule as are documentaries. In addition, many of these films first seen at the festival have gone on to win important awards. For example, the Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy film, Before Midnight shown at last year’s festival has been nominated for an Oscar. Moms Mabley: I Got Somethin’ to Tell You directed by Whoopi Goldberg was introduced at last year’s festival and is now shown on HBO.

Awards are part of the festival and are given for Best Narrative Feature, Best Documentary, and Best Short to name a few. Last year, the Best New Narrative Director Award went to Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais for the film Whitewash, a comedy set in northern Quebec. Documentaries can range from an exploration of Bernie Madoff to an examination of the Gucci fashion house. In 2013, Sean Dunne’s Oxyana, won the Best New Documentary Director award. It focuses on the epidemic abuse of OxyContin in a small town in West Virginia. There is even a category for Best Online Feature. The festival provides an opportunity to see excellent films unlikely to be found on the big screen.

Two weeks or two days at the festival can be an educational experience tantamount to a mini film class. Besides showcasing films, the festival offers direct access to filmmakers, actors, and writers through the series, Tribeca Talks. Directors such as Clint Eastwood and Ben Stiller are placed in conversation with other directors. Eastwood spoke with filmmaker Darren Aronosky, who directed Black Swan. “After the Movies” where the film’s director discusses his or her film is another opportunity to interact with filmmakers. In addition, there are talks that address the film industry as well as the creative process. Last year at a Tribeca Talks, director Paul Verhoeven (Total Recall, Basic Instinct) provided the first four minutes of a script and had the audience attempt to complete the story.

For pure entertainment, Tribeca Drive-In screens films such as Beetlejuice and The Birds outdoors at Brookfield Place (World Financial Center Plaza). In addition, there’s the Tribeca Film Festival Family Street Fair. Several streets are closed to traffic and various activities are offered that any family member might enjoy: kite flying, cooking demonstrations, arts and crafts, and even dancing. This year’s street fair occurs on April 26 on the last weekend of the festival. Another event is the Games for Change Festival which focuses on games for social good. As a result, a Games for Change arcade is open to the public with a Games for Change arcade.

Not only is the Tribeca Film Festival worth seeing, the neighborhood is worth exploring. Tribeca, which refers to the “triangle below Canal Street,” is bordered by Canal Street, West Street, Broadway and Vesey Street with half the area designated as historic districts. The neighborhood may be the most expensive zip code in Manhattan; however, a visitor will find “old” New York in “new” New York. Unlike Soho, which is a tangle of narrow streets packed with stores, galleries, and restaurants, Tribeca maintains ties to its industrial past. The streets are wide, sometimes cobblestoned, and above the restaurants, galleries and stores, 19th and early 20th century architecture fill the eye. The James White Building on the corner of Broadway and Franklin Street made of cast iron and built in 1881 is worth a look. A sign on the side of the building advertises the Civil War photographer Mathew Brady. Not far away on Hudson Street is the Powell Building, a Renaissance revival in brick and terracotta. A link to Tribeca’s industrial past is the former New York Mercantile Exchange from 1886, a gabled brick building at 6 Harrison Street. Film and architecture come together at the Hook & Ladder Company No.8 at 14 North Moore Street where Ghostbusters was filmed.

Tribeca has been reclaimed but not dominated by gentrification, so a visitor can enjoy the modern amenities but still feel like a local. Grab a coffee and take a stroll around the neighborhood. Good coffee can be found at Blue Spoon Coffee Company, La Colombe, or Laughing Man Coffee and Tea.

Lower Manhattan has a long history of embracing artists and Tribeca has its number of interesting art galleries. Located in the Pearline Soap Factory at is the Tachi Gallery showcasing modern and contemporary art. Five or six blocks over is Apexart, a non-profit visual arts organization. On Franklin Street, R & Company exhibits finely crafted museum quality designs from furniture to jewelry to pieces of sculpture.

Enjoy the art of being a flaneur and find one-of-a-kind shops. At 255 Broadway is a most unusual men’s wear shop intriguingly named The Liquor Store. J. Crew clothing is housed in what once was a local liquor store and maintains the original fixtures and bar. Also on Broadway is Calypso, housing elegant and colorful women’s clothing. Roberta Roller Rabbit is a unique boutique filled with textiles, children and women’s clothing a few blocks over on Duane Street. Several unusual bookstores are located in Tribeca: The Mysterious Bookshop dedicated to all types of mysteries and The Artists Space Book and Talks selling books selected by artists.

There are more restaurants than shops in Tribeca, so enjoying a meal before or after a film can be a diverse and tasty experience. Robert de Niro has several well-respected and atmospheric restaurants. The Tribeca Grill is noted for its wine list. Another De Niro restaurant right next door is Locanda Verde described as an “Italian Tavern.” Some very well known chefs have restaurants in Tribeca. Bouley is the American chef’s David Bouley’s French influenced eatery and Nobu is perhaps the city’s most respected Japanese restaurant. An old favorite, the Odeon recreates a Paris bistro from the 1930s and offers a menu of French favorites. Several hotels provide opportunities for rest and even entertainment. The Tribeca Grand Hotel’s sumptuous interior offers a brunch with music. The Greenwich Hotel is an oasis of calm where one can sip tea or champagne in the late afternoon seated in comfortable couches or under the trees of its interior courtyard.

Tribeca also offers natural environments to rest the body as well as the eyes. Not far from Tribeca Cinemas is Duane Park. The park is one of the first established in New York in 1797. Although small, it offers benches for resting and you can feast your eyes on a variety of architectural styles in the surrounding streets. A pleasant afternoon could be spent crossing Greenwich Street and walking to the waterfront that is, to West Street, part of the Hudson River Park that runs from Battery Place to 59th Street. After watching skateboarders launch themselves in the air at the Tribeca Skate Park, go north with the Hudson on your left and make your way to the two and half acre Washington Market Park at the edge of Tribeca. This large neighborhood park has basketball and tennis courts, a gazebo, and beautiful flowerbeds.

Whether you stay for a day or for the whole ten days of the festival, you will have a remarkable experience seeing film, exploring lower Manhattan, and strolling along the Hudson River.