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Tribeca Film Festival 2012 Gets Underway

Tribeca Film Festival Logo - H 2012

At breakfast event, programmers talk about the identity of the festival, now in its second decade.

The Tribeca Film Festival kicked off Wednesday morning with a breakfast event at the 92Y Tribeca intended to introduce the lineup of 89 feature films and 60 shorts, panel discussions and industry parties.

Festival founder Robert De Niro took the microphone first, joking that he was "changing things up this year" by deciding not to give a long speech. The crowd laughed. He meant it, leaving the stage after his most fleeting cameo appearance since his appearance on a 30 Rock episode last year.

The spotlight turned to the programmers of the festival, which is entering its second decade, a mark that was repeatedly emphasized. "What is the Tribeca Film Festival?" That's a question the programmers say they are asked often. Famous as a cultural event that was initiated in the wake of 9/11, the festival resists an identity -- and the programmers embrace that. Talking about the 2012 slate of films, Geoffrey Gilmore, chief creative officer of Tribeca Enterprises, danced around making his own characterization, except to use two words that are favorites of festival programmers everywhere: balance and diversity. "We are passionate about this year's program," he said.

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This year's lineup of features is split into three categories: "Spotlight" films, including Morgan Spurlock's Mansome and Julie Delpy's 2 Days in New York; "Viewpoint" films, intended to showcase those pushing boundaries such as Justin Benson's Resolution and Daniel Schechter's Supporting Characters; and "Cinemania" films, comprising various international favorites including Magnus Martens' Jackpot and Ron Morales' Graceland.

The festival got 5,950 submissions this year, the most in its history, up nearly 6 percent from the year before.

On the other hand, the programmers still suffer the curses and enjoy the advantages of being the young sibling on the festival circuit, without the distribution sales of Toronto nor the glamour of Cannes but perhaps the freedom to do things slightly differently. Asked by one journalist whether the Tribeca will ever have the prestige of Sundance, Gilmore defended his festival by saying it was "already viewed as an essential stop on the circuit," that Tribeca wasn't trying to program for the industry and that it is "developing a strategy to get to a new generation." He pointed to his graying hair and added that film festivals can only survive if they could reach new, younger audiences.

To that end, the programmers emphasized that the short films can be viewed online, though one Italian journalist complained that the VOD system wouldn't accept her credit card without a U.S. ZIP code.

Economics also was a theme of the opening-day breakfast event.

Genna Terranova, the festival's director of programming, said filmmakers are being forced to be more resourceful with low budgets, and he singled out crowd-funding platform Kickstarter as being "hugely influential and absolutely growing" in respect to the films being shown at this year's festival.

The programmers also accepted the notion that many of the films being showcased this year were initiated at the start of the economic recession. "There is anxiety [inherent in these films]," Terranova said. "The economy is there. It's become a fabric of our lives. It is there if you want to look."

The Tribeca Film Festival runs through April 29. The many indie films are being bookended by two big commercial movies: Opening night features the world premiere of The Five-Year Engagement, starring Jason Segel and Emily Blunt, from Universal Pictures, which is having an event at the festival that celebrates its 100-year anniversary; the closing-night film will be Marvel Studios' much-anticipated The Avengers, directed by Joss Whedon and starring an ensemble including Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner and Samuel L. Jackson.

E-mail: eriq.gardner@thr.com

Twitter: @eriqgardner