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Tribeca Throws a Neighborhood Party

You might not find a true breakout a la Toronto or Sundance, but this fest has carved its own niche.

As it enters its second decade, the Tribeca Film Festival has cemented its place in a city that has no shortage of specialty and prestige festivals. Providing counterbalance to the highest-of-brow fall lineup at the New York Film Festival and the fringe-scouring offerings on view at March's New Directors/New Films, Tribeca, which runs April 18 to 29, is the Big Apple's populist movie party. It tosses into the mix street fairs, sports events and free outdoor screenings alongside flashy red carpets, celebrity-packed parties and foreign art films.

High-profile studio movies bookend this year's festival: Universal's The Five-Year Engagement, a romantic comedy starring Jason Segel and Emily Blunt from Forgetting Sarah Marshall director Nicholas Stoller, opens the fest, and Disney/Marvel's The Avengers screens closing night. While Avengers is a comics-inspired tale about superheroes banding together to defend New York, it nonetheless carries echoes of the festival's creation in the wake of 9/11 with a mission to bring life back to Lower Manhattan. So its organizers, including co-founder Robert De Niro, his producing partner Jane Rosenthal and Tribeca Enterprises chief creative officer Geoff Gilmore, have invited "everyday heroes" from the ranks of the city's first responders.

In between, Tribeca will screen 88 features (including the work of 33 first-time directors) chosen from a record 5,950 entries. At least two dozen titles, including Lee Kirk's The Giant Mechanical Man, already have found distributors, but films looking for buyers include Yossi, Eytan Fox's follow-up to his 2002 same-sex romance Yossi & Jagger; James Franco's experimental Francophrenia, created during the actor's guest stint on General Hospital; and genre pics Unit 7 and Replicas.

And with the opening of the National September 11 Memorial on the tragedy's 10th anniversary last fall, Tribeca and its environs may finally be beyond the mend. "In the 10 years post-9/11, you have five new schools in Lower Manhattan, 35,000 to 40,000 people have come into the Tribeca area and it has become the fastest-growing neighborhood in New York," Rosenthal says. "The plus of the festival is watching the change in the economy and our neighborhood; and now that the memorial has opened, it's slowly becoming less of a construction zone than it was."

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BEYOND MOVIES, THERE'S LOTS MORE TO CHECK OUT: Need a timeout from the official film program? Head to one of the dozens of community events or opportunities for nighttime revelry that bring another 300,000 people downtown

Parties: Vanity Fair holds its annual unofficial celebrity-heavy bash at the State Supreme Courthouse as a pre-opening night event on Tuesday, April 17. On Saturday, April 21, Chanel shepherds the Artist Awards dinner at Odeon. And new venues such as Catch Roof, Hilton's Conrad New York and The Tippler will host premiere afterparties and events throughout the week.

Outdoor Screenings: Film fans can sit outside at dusk to watch movies in the fest's long-running Drive-In series. This year, Jaws, The Goonies and Knuckleball! screen on consecutive nights (Goonies also will involve live music and the festival's first Tribeca Treasure Hunt). But be sure to get your fix, because the Plaza is scheduled for renovation in 2013. (April 19, 20, 21, 8 p.m., World Financial Center Plaza)

Soccer Games: The second annual NYFEST Soccer Day, founded by Sony Pictures Classics exec vp Dylan Leiner and documentary producer Jeffrey Saunders, will kick off just north of Tribeca at Pier 40. Local movie, television and sports companies field teams that compete 5-v-5, and there's also a celebrity match and a youth showcase. (April 21, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Hudson River Park.)

Tribeca Talks: Public-speaker events will take place throughout the city. De Niro, Meryl Streep and Judd Apatow tell stories from "100 Years of Universal" on April 19 at BMCC Tribeca Pac at 199 Chambers St.; Susan Sarandon interviews Michael Moore on April 22 at the same location; and director Jim Sheridan will be interviewed by his daughter Naomi on April 28 at SVA Theatre, 333 W. 23rd St.