Now in its 12th year, the Tribeca Film Festival is one of the premiere artistic showcases and industry marketplaces for independent cinema. Sundance might still be the place to go to discover new talent on the cheap, Toronto is the festival to generate Oscar buzz, but Tribeca has an eclectic mix that both reflects the soul of native New Yorkers and what the city means to the rest of the world as a cultural international capital. In between tonight’s opener — the music documentary Mistaken for Strangers about the National — and the closing night’s special screening of Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy — New Yorkers will enjoy 89 feature-length films from more than 30 different countries, including 53 world premieres.

New York is constantly changing, neighorhood by neighborhood, and the festival has evolved as well. This year’s slate includes an emphasis on new technology — a Vine contest, transmedia projects, and a choose-your-own-adventure video game starring Ellen Page — as well as a deep roster of documentaries about high-profile people. “For me, it ended up being docs on people who use their voices in a creative way and were able to effect change,” says Genna Terranova, the festival’s director of prograaming. “Like Moms Mabley, who came before everybody, and Richard Pryor and Elaine Stritch. They said what they thought and pushed themselves into our culture and our consciousness.”

That’s New York, isn’t it?

Click below for 13 movies, many of them world premieres, that might end up defining Tribeca 2013.

Adult World (World premiere)

Directed by Scott Coffey

Cast: Emma Roberts, Evan Peters, John Cusack, Armando Riesco, Cloris Leachman, Shannon Woodward

Emma Roberts plays a floundering upstate New York post-grad who splits her time between a dead-end job at a local sex shop and her professional pursuit of a reclusive writer played by John Cusack, who she thinks can help craft her talent as a poet. “He’s bitingly funny as this poet who really doesn’t want anything to do with the young ingenue,” says Terranova.

Almost Christmas (World premiere)

Directed by Phil Morrison

Cast: Paul Rudd, Paul Giamatti, Sally Hawkins

What’s better than Christmas in New York? Paul Rudd and Paul Giamatti as an odd-couple pair of Québécois con-men who venture to the Big Apple with the perfect get-rich scheme: selling suckers Christmas trees. What a bunch of hosers, eh? If your two favorite Hollywood Pauls aren’t enough or a lure — what’s wrong with you!? — there’s also the return of director Phil Morrison, whose last film was the delightful Junebug that introduced so many of us to Amy Adams.

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Lil Bub & Friendz (World premiere)

Directed by: Juliette Eisner and Andy Capper

Cast: Lil Bub, Mike “The Dude” Bridavsky, Ben Lashes, Grumpy Cat, Nyan Cat, Keyboard Cat

Kitty porn has its own Internet stars, and none shine as bright as Lil Bub, the adorable physically-challenged feline with the face that’s launched a million memes. His owner, Mike Bridavsky, took some time off from posting photos and videos of Lil Bub in space to track down his biggest online frenemies, including the late Keyboard Cat.

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (World premiere)

Directed by Chiemi Karasawa

Cast: Elaine Stritch, Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Cherry Jones, Nathan Lane, James Gandolfini, John Turturro

There’s nothing I can write that will better encapsulate this documentary about the glorious Broadway legend — and Jack Donaghy’s mother — than the feisty 87-year-old’s own words: “I’ve got a certain amount of fame. I’ve got money… I wish I could f–king drive! Then I’d really be a menace.” She is simply everything you want her to be.

Directed by Whoopi Goldberg

Cast: Moms Mabley, Harry Belafonte, Joan Rivers, Sidney Poitier, Eddie Murphy, Kathy Griffin

Goldberg went the Kickstarter route to help complete her directorial debut, a documentary about Moms Mabley, the pioneering comedienne who shattered taboos on the stage and in her own life. Her career started in vaudeville in the 1920s and stretched for five decades, eventually playing the “dirty old lady” for white mainstream audiences of The Smothers Brothers and other popular primetime variety shows. But though her humor was often raunchy, it was also sly, full of jokes that different folks — white and black — could laugh at for different reasons.

Sunlight Jr. (World premiere)

Directed by Laurie Collyer

Cast: Naomi Watts, Matt Dillon, Norman Reedus, Tess Harper

In this gritty drama from Sherrybaby director Laurie Collyer, Naomi Watts plays a Florida convenience-store employee whose relationship with her disabled boyfriend (Matt Dillon) gets increasingly complicated after she gets pregnant and harsh reality begins to impose on their romance. “Laurie Collyer is able to find these stories that are lesser-told but are all too common across the country,” says Terranova. “It’s great to bring these characters to life with such big-name actors; it really sort of elevates the story and brings into our consciousness.” PS: Norman Reedus sighting!

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Trust Me (World premiere)

Directed by Clark Gregg

Cast: Clark Gregg, Saxon Sharbino, Amanda Peet, Sam Rockwell, William H. Macy, Allison Janney

Everyone’s favorite S.H.I.E.L.D. agent recruited a cadre of indie superheroes to fill his sophomore directorial effort, in which he also stars as a failed actor turned loser talent agent who thinks he’s finally found salvation in the form of a promising child actress. This being a Hollywood black comedy, the nastiest bits are aimed at the industry.

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Gasland Part II (World premiere)

Directed by Josh Fox

Cast: Josh Fox, John Fenton, Calvin Tillman, Lisa & Bob Parr, Deborah Rogers, Lisa Jackson, Dennis Kucinich

Not many documentaries receive or even warrant a sequel, but Josh Fox’s 2010 Oscar-nominated exposé of the environmental hazards associated with hydraulic fracturing, a.k.a. fracking, created a media sensation — and an aggressive response from the energy industry. Now he’s back to chronicle the state of the national conversation he helped spark and examine the long-term consequences of the new technology. “The main stream media can give us the story to a point, and then you have documentary filmmakers [like Fox] who really get under the skin of a situation and show you things you’d never thought you’d see,” says Terranova.

Some Velvet Morning (World premiere)

Directed by: Neil LaBute

Cast: Stanley Tucci, Alice Eve

Classic LaBute: Velvet’s tranquil morning is interrupted when Fred walks into her brownstone and tells her he’s finally left his wife to be with her. Of course, she hasn’t seen him in four years… and now happens to be sleeping with his married son. Alice Eve, who will appear in the upcoming Star Trek sequel, plays the younger Velvet in this tense two-hander, opposite Stanley Tucci. “This is a pretty powerful role,” says Terranova. “Anytime you’re working with Neil LaBute’s material, you have to present and sharp, and I think she does a great job.”

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Before Midnight (New York premiere)

Directed by: Richard Linklater

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Xenia Kalogeropoulou, Ariane Labed, Athina Rachel Tsangari, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick

Greece is the word as Celine and Jesse’s romance continues to flower 18 years after the adorable couple met randomly on a train to Vienna in Before Sunrise. Since its world premiere in January at Sundance, critics have swooned — some deigning to call Midnight the best of the trilogy! New Yorkers can weigh in this week before the movie officially opens on May 24.

Directed by Mira Nair

Cast: Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson, Liev Schreiber, Kiefer Sutherland, Om Puri, Shabana Azmi

Mira Nair’s adaptation of Mohsin Hamid’s best-seller, about a successful Pakistan-born Wall Street climber whose life is pulled apart after 9/11, played Venice and Toronto last year. But it will carry ever greater weight at Tribeca, not only because the festival was founded to revitalize the city after the 2001 attacks but because of the recent marathon bombings in Boston. “A lot has changed in 12 years, but we can always look to great filmmakers to recontextualize things for us,” says Terranova, “and I think it’s great that we have this movie playing here as a nice sort of full circle.”

Directed by Daniel Algrant

Cast: Penn Badgley, Imogen Poots, Norbert Leo Butz, Ben Rosenfeld, Isabelle McNally, Kate Nash

Dan Humphrey really sings, hallelujah, hallelujah. Badgley plays a young Jeff Buckley in the days leading up to a 1991 tribute concert to his absentee father, Tim, a man he never knew. “I think people will be really surprised to see him breaking away from the Gossip Girl kind of role to something like this, where he really embodies this role of a musician,” says Terranova. “He sings in this and he’s quite good.”

Directed by Sam Fleischner

Cast: Andrea Suarez, Jesus Valez, Azul Rodriguez, Tenoch Huerta Mejía, Marsha Stephanie Blake

A true New York story about an autistic boy from Queens who escapes into the city’s subways after some trouble at school. His mother, an undocumented immigrant, searches desperately for him after he goes missing for 11 days — and as Hurricane Sandy looms toward the Big Apple.

The 12th annual Tribeca Film Festival will take place in Lower Manhattan from April 17 – April 28, 2013.

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