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Tribeca Film Fest rolls out red carpet – TFF carves out identity as next-gen new-media festival

Producer Jane Rosenthal, Susan Zuccotti and Zuccotti family cut the ribbon during the Opening Night Ceremony at ‘The First  Monday In May’ World Premiere — 2016 Tribeca Film Festival — Opening Night at John Zuccotti Theater at BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center on April 13 in New York City. (AFP)
Producer Jane Rosenthal, Susan Zuccotti and Zuccotti family cut the ribbon during the Opening Night Ceremony at ‘The First Monday In May’ World Premiere — 2016 Tribeca Film Festival — Opening Night at John Zuccotti Theater at BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center on April 13 in New York City. (AFP)

NEW YORK, April 14, (Agencies): The 15th annual Tribeca Film Festival kicked off fashionably with the premiere of Andrew Rossi’s “The First Monday in May”, a behind-the-scenes documentary about the mounting of an ambitious fashion exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the museum’s annual star-studded Met Gala.

The film is an intimate and lively look at the highest aspirations of fashion, revealing everything from Anna Wintour fretting over seat assignments (Where to put Anne Hathaway?) to Rihanna’s eye-popping budget for performing at the ball.

The opening night, held Wednesday at the festival’s customary Westside outpost at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, drew an especially well-heeled crowd eager for a documentary antidote to “The Devil Wears Prada”. Among the fashion luminaries in attendance were Wintour, Vogue’s Grace Coddington and designer Zac Posen.

Rossi, a filmmaker who has profiled other New York institutions including The New York Times (“Page One”) and Le Cirque restaurant, said Tribeca was a fitting place to unveil “The First Monday in May”.

“The Metropolitan Museum and Vogue are tremendous powerhouses in the creative life of New York City, certainly occupying more of the uptown world,” Rossi said. “So Tribeca, which is a festival founded to celebrate the arts in New York, for them to embrace the film and present it as opening night is a great honor.”

This year’s Tribeca bows amid a controversy. When Tribeca programmed a screening of an anti-vaccination documentary, “Vaxxed”, by the discredited British doctor Andrew Wakefield, it prompted an uproar from science researchers and filmmakers.

Festival co-founder Robert De Niro, who has an 18-year-old autistic son, said including the film was his decision. The festival quickly retracted “Vaxxed” from its program, but on Wednesday De Niro said he partially regrets that decision.

“I think the movie is something that people should see,” he told the “Today” show in an unusually passionate interview.

De Niro expressed bitter disappointment in filmmakers who threatened to pull out from the festival over the film, and he promised to find out who had.

Considerable scientific research has found no connection between vaccinations and autism, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has emphatically stated that “vaccines do not cause autism”. But De Niro insisted on “Today”: “There’s something there that people aren’t addressing”.

The ordeal has threatened to overshadow one of Tribeca’s more ambitious editions. Over the next 12 days, the festival has some 100 films to unveil, a robust multimedia program including numerous virtual reality exhibits, a host of television show premieres and numerous staged celebrity conversations.

“At Tribeca we keep an eye on tomorrow,” festival co-founder Jane Rosenthal at a press luncheon Wednesday. “We love stories in just about any form, from a Harold Lloyd silent film captured on a 35 millimeter hand-cranked camera to a virtual reality adventure shot with multiple GoPros to a video game in which the viewer is in the driver seat determining how the narrative unfolds.”

“The First Monday in May” is a fitting opener. It mostly follows Met Costume Institute curator Andrew Bolton as he frantically puts together what would be a blockbuster exhibit, “China: Through the Looking Glass”, and strives for equal standing amid the Met’s more traditional art forms.

But for many, the film will be most sought out for its rare look inside Wintour’s annual Met ball, one of the biggest nights in fashion. The Hollywood Reporter called it “catnip for fashionistas”.

Rossi said he viewed his film, shot with what he called “a crackling cinema verite approach”, a kind of hybrid between the 2009 Vogue documentary “The September Issue” and Frederick Wiseman’s 2014 portrait of the exalted London museum “National Gallery”.

The biggest challenge, Rossi said, wasn’t getting access to the many personalities of “The First Monday in May”, including Baz Luhrmann, Wong Kar Wai and Wintour. More difficult, he said, was getting the Met to allow him and his cameramen freedom to follow their subjects in the museum’s hallowed halls.

“It was absolutely necessary to say, ‘We can’t be on a tripod the whole time,’” Rossi said.

At this year’s 15th Tribeca Film Festival, attendees can lose themselves in a virtual-reality psychedelic dance party, learn about living in a wireless future, or watch the complete 712-hour miniseries of “O.J.: Made in America” — oh yeah, and watch some movies, too.

Don’t call it simply a film festival — call it a “storytelling” festival, say TFF organizers of the event running April 13-24.

Originally founded in 2002 to reenergize a moribund Lower Manhattan in the wake of 9/11, Tribeca has gone through many iterations over the years (i.e., red-carpet magnet, VOD acquisition market, documentary launchpad). But it may have finally carved out an identity of its own as a next-gen new-media fest.

“It’s not just defining what Tribeca is now,” says Paula Weinstein, exec VP of Tribeca Enterprises. “It’s illuminating where storytelling is going”.

Tribeca still shows about 100 feature films, which matches previous years, but the festival’s multi-platform programming has exploded. This year, TFF is launching its inaugural TV program, Tribeca Tune In, an expanded lineup of more than 32 virtual reality and interactive projects, and the Digital Creators Market, a bazaar for new digital and online talent.”It might feel like something we’ve done overnight, but it’s been gestating for a long time,” says Tribeca fest director Genna Terranova.

She points to such initiatives as the TFI Interactive conference, launched in 2012 to celebrate digital storytelling; the Storyscapes program of interactive works, which began in 2013; and even its celebration of the finale of TV’s “Friends”, back in 2004.

“Films are not going away,” says Terranova, who notes feature film submissions were up this year. “But it’s like a Venn diagram with more overlapping areas and the convergence of these different worlds.”

This year’s festival is a testament to the industry’s increasing “cross-pollination,” says Terranova, referring to the premieres of the TV series “Animal Kingdom”, based on the 2010 Australian feature film; Morgan Spurlock’s “Vlogumentary” doc; and nonfiction filmmaker Whitney Dow’s digital installation “Intersection of I”.

TFF’s inaugural Digital Creators Market, developed with the help of CAA, is a direct response to this hybridity in the marketplace. According to Jesse Uram, an agent in CAA’s Digital Talent and Packaging group, the next generation of great filmmakers is liable to start out in the online world, so it’s vital for the industry to have a market “to respond to the ever-evolving definition of a creator,” he says. “The space is growing up. The content, positioning and process needs to, as well.”

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