The annual festival marks its sixth year with stars and growing pains

By Missy Schwartz and Gregory Kirschling
May 11, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

Last year the Tribeca Film Festival turned five, and finally seemed to be hitting its stride. The world premiere of United 93 brought just the right gravitas to the event, which was cofounded in 2002 by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, and Craig Hatkoff to help revitalize downtown Manhattan after 9/11. And several movies — like the Oscar-nominated doc Jesus Camp and the broadcast-network satire The TV Set — were well received. ”The fifth year was a real milestone for us,” says Rosenthal. But it also set a newly buzzy standard for the still-young gathering, which organizers found difficult to match this time around. Admits Rosenthal, ”[Year] 6 was hard.”

Still, if the latest fest — which ran from April 25 to May 6 and attracted around 500,000 movie lovers — was a bit less talked-about, it was by no means a bust. Tribeca 2007 had the usual mix of splashy premieres — Spider-Man 3 had its Stateside bow in Peter Parker’s home borough of Queens — and indies searching for audience love. Sarah Michelle Gellar came to support her romantic dramedy Suburban Girl, costarring Alec Baldwin, and The Air I Breathe, an ensemble drama á la 21 Grams. Entourage‘s Kevin Connolly was on hand for his feature directorial debut, the Leonardo DiCaprio-produced vigilante flick Gardener of Eden. And after wrapping Ugly Betty‘s season finale, America Ferrera flew in to promote her gritty, bilingual kidnapping tale Towards Darkness (which she also exec-produced). ”It wasn’t just a room full of agents and acquisitions people,” she said of the festival’s low-key feel, ”but residents of the city taking part in a [love] of film.”

That may be Tribeca’s greatest strength — at least until it proves to be a vital marketplace. In 2006, even strong word of mouth failed to translate into a Sundance-style buying frenzy, and 2007 is unlikely to change that. (At press time, no major distribution deals were locked down.) THINKFilm’s theatrical head Mark Urman notes, ”They’ll get there. It takes about 10 years for a festival to mature.” Who knows? Maybe next year will prove to be lucky number seven.