EW senior writer Dade Hayes explores how New York's Tribeca Film Festival, starting April 25, is taking a page from Cannes by going for cred AND glitz

By Dade Hayes
April 25, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

United 93 is a logical choice to kick off the Tribeca Film Festival tonight (April 25): Director Paul Greengrass’ moderately budgeted docudrama about the doomed Sept. 11 flight suits an event borne out of the ashes of tragedy in lower Manhattan.

But two of the festival’s other world premieres in its 13-day run — Poseidon and Mission: Impossible III — are likely to be splashy, full-on Hollywood affairs. These tabloid-worthy events will be followed in mid-May by an equally frothy slate of premieres on cinema’s most hallowed ground, the Cannes Film Festival. Continuing its recent run of glitz, Cannes will screen The Da Vinci Code, X-Men: The Last Stand, and DreamWorks’ animated film Over the Hedge (which will have just screened at Tribeca).

Is this kind of programming really in step with film festivals, those espresso-spiked bastions of low-fi indies like Transamerica and The Son’s Room?

Yes, actually. Along with the indie cred conferred by cofounders Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal, Tribeca takes pride in being a ”people’s festival,” with street fairs and outdoor drive-in screenings and a healthy ration of family films. Titles screening this week, on the eve of their wide-release commercial openings, include RV, GOAL! The Dream Begins, and Akeelah and the Bee. Sundance faves like Wordplay and Madeinusa are on tap, as well as a wealth of music docs, from the Pixies’ loudQUIETloud to the Wu Tang Clan’s Rock the Bells. In part due to construction but also as a way of reaching out beyond downtown, screenings will take place all over Manhattan, an uptown creep that was first manifest last year with the premiere of The Interpreter at the Museum of Modern Art. The broad reach is a noteworthy step for 5-year-old Tribeca, which in prior editions was so starved for any vestige of Hollywood spark that it ushered in the likes of Thunderbirds and Raising Helen.

As for Cannes, last year’s klieg-lit premiere of the final Star Wars installment really wasn’t such a departure; the festival has been friendly to studio sci-fi flicks for years (Wargames even screened there in 1983). And premieres in recent years of The Matrix Reloaded, Troy, and Shrek 2 have sent the star wattage into the stratosphere, which feeds the publicity machine, keeps the festival buzzworthy, and, in turn, allows organizers to go out on a limb with competition selections. It’s sort of the George Clooney-Steven Soderbergh philosophy — a few Ocean’s Elevens pay for a lot of passion projects.

We’re also talking about high-profile summer movies here, which still have a want-to-see factor for the toniest of festival-goers, even if the films wind up being unwatchable (see: Matrix Reloaded). And let’s keep in mind that Cannes has remained the destination for international moviegoers by artfully blending the high and the low. In 1977, Arnold Schwarzenegger staged a bodybuilding demonstration on the beach in Cannes to promote Pumping Iron. Later, the festival gave two awards to Car Wash (yes, that one), but also gave the Palme d’Or to the Sardinian realist film Padre Padrone. Now, which movie do you remember?

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