This evening, Tribeca Film will lift the curtain on Met Ball documentary The First Monday in May, and in doing so, launch the 15th iteration of their annual festival. Numbers ending in 0 or 5 are major milestones under our highly arbitrary base-10 number system, and though time is an illusion and nothing means anything, there’s no harm in a little introspection on a momentous occasion such as this one.
That’s just about how Robert De Niro began his remarks earlier today at the yearly programmers’ luncheon, the informal kickoff-before-the-kickoff. At the ritzy Tribeca Mediterranean spot Thalassa, festival co-founder De Niro spoke briefly but warmly about the history of festival and what it means to his cherished city of New York, as a symbol of city-wide healing after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — the first festival took place a mere 120 days after the World Trade Center fell — and as a testament to Manhattan’s commitment to film art. “We wanted to show people it was safe to go downtown again,” De Niro said. There’s been plenty of resilience in the neighborhood — the worst thing that can happen to a person in Tribeca now is overpaying for coffee — but there’s still more ground to cover.
That was the gist of cofounder Jane Rosenthal’s comments when she took the podium directly afterward. The longtime producer and De Niro collaborator laid out a grand vision for Tribeca’s future, detailing plans for VR engagements, multimedia installations, and as always, launching new cinematic talents that New York can be proud of. She mentions recent successes Laura Poitras (the Oscar- and Pulitzer-winning documentarian and journalist behind Edward Snowden doc Citizenfour) and Damien Chazelle (breakout Whiplash director), both of whom got their start at the homegrown festival.
But the undercurrent informing all of her sentiments was accurately summed up in her final comments: “We’re committed to storytelling, and the people who make it happen.” Any film festival worth its salt must chiefly celebrate the art and craft of film itself. At a time when politicking, networking, and general scene-navigating threaten to eclipse what a film festival is really about, it was a heartening sentiment.