Jane and Silent Bob Strike Back

If Hollywood is high school with money, Tribeca’s film industry is Dalton downtown: sophisticated, selective and a little spoiled. For over a decade, Jane Rosenthal, co-founder of Tribeca Productions, has been the head Heather of that extremely ambitious clique. She’s class president, student-council chief and head cheerleader of New York’s downtown movie business. But her power is also due in no small part to her unlikely alliance with her Tribeca Productions partner and J.D. Dean of the class, Robert De Niro. Mr. De Niro is intense, socially awkward and frankly kind of scary, but he’s got that outlaw magnetism that makes everyone in the tri-state area want to get close to him in the same way that all the prep-school kids want to be gangsta rappers.

To get anywhere near Mr. De Niro, though, means getting close to Ms. Rosenthal first.

The Tribeca Film Festival, the five-day event which opens on Wednesday, May 8, has the kind of cachet that has already put Ms. Rosenthal in the Ivy League of New York’s meritocracy. It’s the booster event of the year, as the filmmaking hierarchy does its bit to reinvigorate the streets of lower Manhattan, where the dust and rubble have been carted away but not the lingering sense of loss. It is purposeful, a little self-righteous and has the trademark Tribeca tone of spartan Indie-ism. It’s also the perfect idea for a downtrodden town-and if it does its work, it will become a perennial.

What is it exactly? Well, it’s Cool Chamber of Commerce for sure, full of lectures and ideals. One thing it’s not is a film festival in the Sundance or Toronto sense; it’s not a distributors’ horse-trading operation. And it’s Cannes without the cancan-don’t expect to see Anita Ekberg rising from a fountain.

Ms. Rosenthal’s and Mr. De Niro’s decision to breathe some life into their beat-up burg seems to be predicated on a combination of worthiness, commercialism and powerful pals. The first person they included was Martin Scorsese-Mr. De Niro’s buddy since they filmed 1973’s Mean Streets -who is the third member of the festival’s founding triumvirate. In this crew, he’s the wonky auteur president of the film club, the one who looks at the kids in the cafeteria and sees Godard’s A Bout de Souffle or Jean Vigo’s Zero de Conduite . There was one in every high school: Back in the early 70’s, it was young Joel Silver-the future producer of The Matrix -hectoring the administrators of Columbia High School in Maplewood, N.J., to let him show Forbidden Games and Citizen Kane and hold a “Film Day” in place of classes.

The Tribeca Film Festival is the perfect vessel for Mr. Scorsese to fill with his encyclopedic knowledge of film and the city; judging from press materials, the director is working harder than the festival interns. He programmed Tribeca’s Screening Room and, appropriately, Stuyvesant High School with restored classics, chose a slate of films about New York City, committed to open the festival and will mix at its numerous parties. He’ll also host at least one panel discussion. No wonder Gangs of New York took so long to finish.

Meanwhile, Chazz Palminteri, Mr. De Niro’s A Bronx Tale co-star, is busy mispronouncing that classic Eye-talian dish vitello tonnato in radio ads for the festival. Oliver Sacks, whose book was the basis for Mr. De Niro’s 1990 film Awakenings , will participate in a rather, um, unique panel on how “the entertainment industry takes on the complexities of the brain,” and Awakenings co-star Robin Williams, fresh from his $1,500-a-pop gig at Carnegie Hall, will perform gratis at Friday’s free concert in Battery Park.

And though the participants’ connection to film are sometimes tenuous at best, their friendship with Ms. Rosenthal is not. Juror Richard Holbrooke may behave like a movie star, but he’s a policy wonk, for chrissakes. Nelson Mandela will be presiding over Wednesday’s opening ceremony. Ms. Rosenthal and her husband Craig Hatkoff, a co-founder of the festival, are big Democratic Party fund-raisers.

Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas is legit (God help the person who might claim otherwise), but Ms. Rosenthal’s fellow Heathers-newscaster Perri Peltz and writer Wendy Wasserstein-are only peripherally involved in New York’s film industry. Still, their names pop up on festival panels, parties and press releases.

Other acquaintances of Ms. Rosenthal and Mr. De Niro seem to have been left out of the mix. Miramax not only has its offices in Mr. De Niro’s and Ms. Rosenthal’s Tribeca Film Center, it’s one of the real brand names of the Tribeca film business-and yet the company’s presence at the festival seems strangely low-key. Only two Miramax films will be screened. Though Miramax’s frontman, co-chairman Harvey Weinstein, has supported Ms. Rosenthal and the festival in the press, he won’t be appearing on any panels or sponsoring any parties. A Miramax spokesman said that “Jane and Bob deserve the credit for making this happen.”

Then again, the festival isn’t about the filmmaking industry. If it were, it wouldn’t have been set so close to Cannes, which begins on May 15. And the majority of its marquee film slate wouldn’t have already screened in Toronto or Sundance. This festival is for that ambitious yet strangely provincial culture that persists east of the Hudson.

Below are some of the highlights. For a full schedule, grab the most powerful computer you can get your hands on and try to navigate Tribecafilmfestival.org without losing half your hard drive and all your patience.

Or just head downtown. But do yourself a favor: Don’t get between Mr. Scorsese and the espresso machine.

Wednesday, May 8

Mayor Michael Bloomberg (Bloomberg Media is a festival co-sponsor) hosts the opening ceremony at City Hall-not the restaurant-with Ms. Rosenthal and Mr. Scorsese. Will the Mayor read a proclamation? Look up at Uma Thurman? It’s anyone’s guess. The event is for invited guests only.

But the general public can share in the excitement and spectacle of the moment when the Mayor, Ms. Rosenthal and company make like they’re in L.A. and take a fleet of cars for a three-block ride to the very Left Coast–sounding Tribeca Performing Arts Center, which we don’t recall ever existing before this event. In actuality, it’s located at the Borough of Manhattan Community College on Chambers Street.

There, they’ll see the festival’s kickoff film, About a Boy . Based on the Nick Hornby novel, About a Boy is about a simpering English cad, played with startling conviction by simpering English cad Hugh Grant. People who’ve seen the movie say it’s funny, slick and well-produced … by Jane Rosenthal and Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Productions!

Those keeping score should also note that About a Boy ‘s directors, the Weitz brothers ( American Pie ), are currently at work on Meet the Fockers , a sequel to Tribeca’s Meet the Parents , the movie that made Mr. De Niro the most surprising tough guy in a comedy since Edward G. Robinson made The Whole Town’s Talking for John Ford in 1935.

After the movie, there’s a big bash at the Regent Wall Street-still recovering from Liza’s wedding reception-where expected guests include Frances McDormand, who will co-star with Mr. De Niro in the upcoming City by the Sea ; Barry Levinson, who directed Mr. De Niro in Wag the Dog and is co-producing Tribeca Productions’ Analyze This sequel, Analyze That! ; Daily Show anchor Jon Stewart, who works with one of Ms. Rosenthal’s friends, Comedy Central Films executive Patty Newburger; Whoopi Goldberg, who had a wisely uncredited cameo in Tribeca’s disastrous Rocky and Bullwinkle , the movie in which Mr. De Niro played Fearless Leader, much as David Janssen played “the G.I.” in Albert Zugsmith’s 1961 adaptation of another cartoon, Dondi.

Kevin Bacon will also be there.

Thursday, May 9

The highlight of the festival may be its weird “Panel Discussions.”

Today at noon, Barilla pasta sponsors a “Food in Film” discussion moderated by New York magazine food critic Gael Greene. The single announced panelist is Mr. Scorsese, who, though probably still tired from cleaning up after Kevin Bacon at last night’s Regent Party, should use the moment to tell Mr. Palminteri how to pronounce vitello tonnato . He may also have to dodge questions from Ms. Greene linking food to sex. (Note to Ms. Greene: If Mr. Scorsese starts pounding his chest with his fist, it’s time to change the subject.) Meanwhile, we’re laying odds that Stanley Tucci ends up on the panel too, bearing lost footage from Big Night . The event will conclude with a screening of Roberto Rossellini’s 1966 naturalistic film The Rise of Louis XIV .

Today’s other panel discussions include the aptly titled “Launching the New York Film Industry: How 12 People Created a Billion Dollar Business.” And later that afternoon, documentary maker Barbara Kopple-who spent last summer filming the honest and simple folk of the Hamptons for ABC-joins directors Albert Maysles ( Grey Gardens ) and Nick Broomfield ( Kurt and Courtney ) on a panel entitled “Tell Me the Truth: What Defines Documentary?”

Tell us the truth: Who thought up these crazy-ass panels?

As for movies, festival-goers can’t lose with the slate of classic films Mr. Scorsese chose for the festival. Woody Allen’s Manhattan plays tonight at Pace University. And at the Screening Room, Mr. Scorsese and Mr. De Niro continue to stick by their friend, break-through director and McCarthy-era snitch Elia Kazan-whom they presented with a controversial Oscar in 2000-by screening his and John Steinbeck’s Viva Zapata!

Tonight’s big-money screening is an unapologetic chick flick-so stow your light sabers, boys. The festival will premiere Thelma & Louise screenwriter Callie Khouri’s directorial debut, an adaptation of Rebecca Wells’ bestseller Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood . The Ya-Ya’s, including the increasingly palatable Sandra Bullock and the sublime Ellen Burstyn, have been getting mixed word of mouth. One insider has heard that the film is “unwatchable,” while another filmmaker-a man-said that the script was the best he’d read in a decade.

Friday, May 10

There’s nothing like the smell of panel discussions in the morning.

Early-risers who’ve agreed to participate in the “Changing Careers Breakfast” include Ms. Rosenthal’s friend Ms. Peltz, who will moderate, and born-again producers Lindsay Doran, Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas and Fisher Stevens.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation–

funded “Making Science More Sexy” panel features string-theory physicist Brian Greene, Nova producer Paula Apsell, Cosmos writer and Carl Sagan widow Ann Druyan, and Alan Alda. What has this got to do with movies? Ask Mr. Alda.

At least festival-goers will identify with the title of this next panel, which will be moderated by The Daily Show ‘s Mr. Stewart: “Confusion in a Time of Uncertainty: Life after September 11.”

If it’s anything like last fall’s Independent Film Channel’s panel on the film industry after Sept. 11, expect scheduled panelists actress Susan Sarandon, monologist Spalding Gray and Ms. Wasserstein to hold forth on their views on terrorism, on international politics and on the film industry. The upside is that the two-hour panel takes place in a contained area and attendance is not mandatory. If you do go, bring a carbon-dioxide monitor-and whatever happens, don’t let Tim Robbins up on the stage.

This afternoon is the “In Love, in the Movies” panel moderated by screenwriter and director Nora Ephron. Ms. Ephron recently scolded us about our use of the phrase “utterly surreal” when describing her upcoming play about Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy, with music by Marvin Hamlisch. And then, as if to taunt us, she agreed to guide a panel about romance that features actress Lauren Bacall, Kissing Jessica Stein writer and co-star Jennifer Westfeldt and Paul (Libby Gelman-Waxner) Rudnick-which, speaking of Lillian Hellman, would be a pretty good cast for a revival of The Children’s Hour , with Mr. Rudnick in the James Garner part.

Movies:

Tonight features The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys , the long-awaited picture from Jodie Foster’s now-defunct Egg Pictures. After a year’s delay, it finally made it to Sundance 2002. Ms. Foster has a supporting role, along with Vincent D’Onofrio and Kieran Culkin. The moody flick, set in the 1970’s, hits the Zeitgeist jackpot with a story about Catholic schoolboys and comic books. People who’ve seen it say that it doesn’t quite live up to expectations, but that Mr. Culkin, now 20 and significantly healthier-looking than his waxy older brother Macauley, gives an Oscar-worthy performance.

Thirteen Conversations About One Thing is not a digitally filmed quickie made from the “Confusion in a Time of Uncertainty” panel. Despite its interminably long trailer, the film-which stars John Turturro and Amy Irving-is supposed to be decent, albeit heavy on happiness and love and all the crap they’ll probably still be jawing about over on Ms. Ephron’s panel. The film premiered in Toronto, where it was purchased by Sony Pictures Classics.

Personal Velocity will be sold out. Written and directed by Rebecca Miller, starring Kyra Sedgwick, Parker Posey and Wallace Shawn, the movie about three women and their battles with domineering men won tremendous acclaim at Sundance in January, where it was picked up by United Artists. One Sundance source described it as “amazing and beautiful.”

Festival-going fans of Ms. Posey can also check her out in Party Girl , the 1995 movie that is now a nostalgia trip about downtown Manhattan before it needed a film festival to revitalize it.

Tribeca has also organized an outdoor concert that is free for everyone holding a festival ticket and features Sheryl Crow, Counting Crows (ba-dum-dum!), Wyclef Jean, and comedians Robin Williams and Jimmy Fallon. If you see Vanity Fair editor in chief Graydon Carter doing the huck-a-buck in the front row, then you should start to believe those rumors about him and Ms. Crow dating.

Caveat: Don’t think that this free-outdoor thing means that organizers have a Simon and Garfunkel vibe in mind. These are not laid-back people. If you bought Ms. Rosenthal’s New York magazine admission that she is, “by nature, painfully shy,” then do we have a personal-assistant position to sell you!

By the way, the concert is co-sponsored by MTV, who will “celebrate the vibrancy of New York City through music, film, and comedy” by showing highlights of its upcoming theatrical release, Jackass: The Movie .

Saturday, May 11

Panels:

The “Producing 101 Breakfast” is hosted by Variety’ s Peter Bart, Fight Club and Untouchables (in which De Niro became the most surprising actor to play Al Capone since Rod Steiger) producer Art Linson, Boys Don’t Cry producer Christine Vachon, and Paula Weinstein, a friend of Ms. Rosenthal’s and the producer of Tribeca’s Analyze That . Expect a screenwriter to throw a croissant.

Then the science-education-oriented Alfred P. Sloan Foundation-he was president and C.E.O. of General Motors-brings us “A Meeting of the Minds,” moderated by 60 Minutes ‘ Mike Wallace. The panel also includes Oscar-winning Beautiful Mind scribe Akiva Goldsman, the aforementioned Mr. Sacks and Harold Ramis, who is writing and directing Tribeca’s Analyze That , but who was probably asked to participate based on his performance as scientist Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters .

“Going Global” features The Piano director Jane Campion, and a digital panel includes Madstone Films president Eva Kolodner, director Wim Wenders, Simpsons creator Matt Groening, and Gary Winick, director of Sundance’s big digital find, Tadpole, talking about how they’re going to take over the world while the rest of us are trying to TiVO General Hospital .

The most mysterious panel is the festival’s finale, called “New York, New York, a Movie Maker’s Muse: Conversations with New York Filmmakers.” The panel has yet to be announced, but you’re welcome to pay the $35 and see who you get. Our best guesses include director Martin Scorsese, You’ve Got Mail screenwriter Nora Ephron, A ÊBronx Tale director Robert De Niro and the cast and crew of Analyze That! , the sequel to Analyze This, in which Mr. De Niro discovered his inner potential, much as “Slapsy” Maxie Rosenblum did in Lew Landers’ 1942 classic, Harvard, Here I Come! with Marie Wilson and Arline Judge.

Don’t get your hopes up for suddenly press-friendly Woody Allen, who’ll be too busy packing his swim trunks for his first trip to Cannes.

Movies:

One of the most anticipated films of the Festival screens tonight. Insomnia is director Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to last year’s mindbender, Memento . Insomnia is a remake of a 1997 Swedish thriller and stars Al Pacino, Hilary Swank and Robin Williams. Schadenfreude sufferers will be lining up to see whether Mr. Nolan will fall prey to the M. Night Shyamalan sophomore curse. Early word says that while it doesn’t have Memento ‘s originality (and how could it, really?) that Insomnia is not half bad.

Tonight also spotlights Miramax’s big contribution, Oliver Parker’s adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest -not to be confused with John R. Cherry III’s adaptation of Ernest Goes to Camp with Jim Varney, which isn’t showing. The Oscar Wilde adaptation screened in Toronto to a good response, and sources said that Mr. Parker’s script is terrific. The Importance of Being Earnest stars Reese Witherspoon, who’s duking it out with Spider-man ‘s Kirsten Dunst to become the next ingénue to nab a Best Supporting Actress statue. The rest of the poncy British cast was apparently airlifted directly from the set of 1999’s Shakespeare in Love . It includes Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Tom Wilkinson, and the Weinsteins’ shiksa-mama-fetish-object, Dame Judi Dench.

Also on tap: Lovely and Amazing . In 1996,writer/directorNicole Holofcener made Walking and Talking , the best movie about female friendship in New York since The Turning Point . Now she’s made Lovely and Amazing , a film about slightly older women that bears the most wretched title since Dude Where’s My Car? Good Machine, which last week was absorbed by Universal, produced it, and had been shopping it for over a year. Lions Gate, the Canadian company with great taste in movies but no marketing department to support them, finally picked it up in Toronto. Opinions on Lovely and Amazing are sharply divided. Love it or loathe it, you should check it out at 10 pm tonight.

If you don’t want to see anything made within the past two years, there’s Hatful of Rain , director Fred Zinneman’s harrowing 1957 movie about heroin addiction, starring Anthony Franciosa.

Saturday is the day for festival goers to convince their children not to hate them because they wouldn’t pony up $1,000 a ticket for the benefit premiere of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones tomorrow. How? By taking them to the “Tribeca Family Festival,” designed especially for those between the ages of four to 16.

The movie part of the Family Festival includes the world premiere of Hey Arnold: The Movie , directed by someone actually named Tuck Tucker. There’s a special presentation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone that includes extra footage. Expect it to clock in at eight and a half hours, which should feel like nothing by the time you actually get to see Gangs of New York in December.

The Making of Ice Age features a Q&A with director Chris Wedge. Kids love Q&As.

Once you pry the children from their sticky seats, you can drag them back into the sunlight to the all-day street fair that’s scheduled to clog Tribeca’s broad avenues. According to the press materials, families will be treated to food and favors from local shops, which means the tykes will be noshing on salmon sashimi and taking home $7000 antique bathtubs as door prizes. Celebrities are scheduled to be reading children’s books on the streets . Tip for parents: Avoid the Hugh Grant story booth.

If you don’t see Mr. Scorsese, look for someone zooming around the fair grounds in an Elmo costume.

Sunday, May 12

Long ago, in a galaxy far away, some poor dolt coughed up $1,000 to try her hand at the seating lottery for Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones . Would she wind up next to Susan Sarandon, Denis Leary, or another star whose wild, solipsistic kids forced them to show up, or would she find herself next to a fiscally ambitious Star Wars geek who would, had he not scored a ticket to this screening, currently be etching lawn chair marks on his ass in front of the Ziegfield?

This poor dolt was not us. And we are terribly, terribly jealous.

Face it, even though the movie has its all media premiere on the Tuesday May 7, before the festival even starts, and even though it will probably make you sad sad sad for Anakin as he begins his spiral down to perdition, there’s no question that tonight’s big Tribeca send-off will be really cool.

And the fun begins even before the words crawl up the screen.

At 12:30, “children in Star Wars costume will walk from the Embassy Suites hotel to the Tribeca Performing Arts Center accompanied by the Star Wars Storm Troopers,” before taking their seats.

Don’t blink or you’ll miss Mr. Scorsese make the quick change from his Jango Fett costume into his usher’s uniform before the lights go down.

At press time, tickets for the general public were still available through the Children’s Aid Society.

Tonight’s awards ceremony, at which Mr. De Niro, Ms. Rosenthal, and Mr. Scorsese, along with Reese Witherspoon, Isaac Mizrahi, Helen Hunt-and Richard Holbrooke!-will bestow prizes to whatever films have garnered them the most press, will conclude the Festival.

Don’t expect a swank send-off. As part of Tribeca Films’ other lower Manhattan rejuvenation project, Dinner Downtown, organizers are pointing attendees to the list of restaurants in Chinatown, Wall Street, Little Italy, and Tribeca which have been affected by the events of September 11.

Once there, buy your own damn dinner. The Tribeca Film Festival is over.