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Tribeca FF 2010: The Circus Comes To Town

Do you remember when you were a little kid and you heard that the circus was coming to town? For me, it is a warm and still excitable feeling. Well, as a jaded adult, such simple pleasures are not supposed to create a sense of excitement (been there, done that) but the arrival (sound the trumpets!!!) of the Tribeca Film Festival this week is cause for circus-like jubilation.

OK, let's get the jaded criticism out of the way.....the Tribeca Film Festival, formed 9 years ago as a stimulus for the downtown area near the fallen World Trade Center Towers, is hardly in Tribeca anymore (for you non-New Yorkers, Tribeca stands for "Triangle Below Canal Street"). The main screening venues are in the East Village and Chelsea neighborhoods, several miles from the hole in the ground (still) known as Ground Zero.

So, while the original raison d'etre for the Festival (to get way downtown Manhattan up on its feet again culturally and economically) no longer really exists, the event itself is cause for rejoicing if you are a lover of independent and international cinema. The truth is, New York needed and deserved a big-tent, three-ring circus film event.

The New York Film Festival, held in October, has retained its original structure of being a somewhat snobbish, boutique event showing no more than 30 films in total (that may change with the addition of a few new screens at Lincoln Center next year). For the biggest film event in a city known for its love of cinema to present only two dozen films always seemed a bit too restrained, and frankly, allowed the Toronto International Film Festival, with its 350 plus films, to assume the mantle of the most important film event in North America.

In its first years, the Tribeca Film Festival seemed to overextend its reach and programmed a good number of marginal films and some out and out stinkers. Of course, this will happen at any event (including Cannes, Berlin and Venice) but Tribeca was taken to task in those first years for being too greedy for world premieres and less concerned about the quality of what they had snagged. This has changed in the last two years, with the program slimmed down to under 100 features, more carefully programmed for their audience appeal and auteur credentials.

But what distinguishes Tribeca from all the other New York film events is its embrace of popular movie culture along with the enigmatic independent product. Not embarassed to point to its populist roots, the Festival offers some mainstream Hollywood films, family-friendly programming and even sports documentaries to appeal to those who would never be caught dead in an arthouse cinema. In addressing the wide palette of interests and tastes of its audiences, Tribeca has become an important and decidedly populist cultural extravaganza.

Stay tuned to this blog site for the high and the low of what will be an exciting 12 days of film premieres, special events, seminars and a real New York City cultural happening.

Sandy Mandelberger
Tribeca Dailies


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