Tribeca warms to changes

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NEW YORK -- Al Gore pumped up the political heat and star power at the Tribeca Film Festival's opening news conference Wednesday as he unveiled a selection of eco-themed shorts drawn from the SOS Short Films Program that are playing the fest.

While the festival's screenings got under way, organizers also discussed Tribeca's growth as a film market, which next year could include screenings for Tribeca films at the Cannes market in May.

At the curtain-raiser, director Rob Reiner, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Live Earth concerts producer Kevin Wall and Tribeca co-founder Jane Rosenthal joined Gore onstage at the BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center. They announced nine global warming-themed shorts for Tribeca's opening night and plans for 51 more from a host of international directors.

In addition to the Tribeca Film Festival, the SOS films will be shown at the Live Earth concerts around the world July 7, either on stage screens during band transitions or by broadcast partners.

Bloomberg introduced "An Inconvenient Truth" star Gore as "the hottest leading man of the moment, an Oscar winner (and) matinee idol."

Said Gore: "This is not going to be a political event ... at all. It's not only nonpartisan but nonideological. It's just focused on awareness and pointing people toward solutions."

Rosenthal said: "We are filmmakers not scientists. However, film is about culture, and filmmakers can be agents of cultural change."

Several people onstage reacted strongly to the suggestion that politicians or commentators could trigger a backlash against filmmakers who address environmental issues, even though, as Gore said, the "tipping point" has almost been reached in popular support for their ecological efforts.

Bloomberg, who recently proposed 127 programs to reduce his city's impact on global warming by 30%, cited what his father told him about the Joseph McCarthy political witch hunts of the 1950s. "If we didn't learn something from that, shame on us," he said. "Freedom of speech is what our country is built on. It's meaningless unless you have the courage to stand up and exercise that right."

Added Reiner: "Vice President Gore has been schlepping that slide show around for 20 years, and finally someone's listening to him! The world is catching up with Hollywood in respect to the environment and global warming. We're thrilled about the convergence of Hollywood and policy, and we're not fearing any backlash."

Meanwhile, Tribeca execs are exploring market screenings for some of their features at Cannes. While that won't occur next month, Rosenthal said, "We definitely have hopes of doing it in the future.

"What we're finding is people start to make deals at Tribeca, but unlike other festivals where there's the frenzy of (completing) the deal, they finish the conversation in Cannes. The chance to offer some of our filmmakers an additional platform (in France) is something we're looking into."

As for the festival's current role as a market, Rosenthal noted that it took years for a film like 'sex, lies, and videotape' to come out of Sundance. "You can help it happen, but you can't make it happen," she said. "It has to evolve."

Tribeca co-founder Robert De Niro was not present at the conference but spoke about the festival's future in an interview Sunday. "I hope it becomes part of a tradition of New York and finds its own level of respect," he said, "and that people still respect it as they do now."

De Niro championed bigger events such as the upcoming "Spider-Man 3" premiere and last year's "Mission: Impossible III" screening taking place alongside the large slate of international, low-budget films. "They help the visibility of the festival, and there's no downside to that," he said. "It's (important) not to be snobbish about certain things -- that's not what the intention of the festival was. It was born out of 9/11, (and they) give a feeling of community."

Fest director Peter Scarlet noted that about one-fifth of this year's Tribeca features were directed by women, one-sixth are centered in the Islamic world and one-sixth are from Latino filmmakers. "We tend to be on the lookout for films all over the world that explore ways we can interact other than lopping each others heads off," he said, citing the 9/11 widow's docu "Beyond Belief" as one of his favorites.

At the conference, director Reiner previewed "Spinal Tap," a mini-sequel to the seminal 1984 mockumentary "This Is Spinal Tap." The short reunites actors Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer as the eponymous band and Reiner as documentarian Marty DiBergi, who claims he "coined the term 'global warming.' " The band also will reunite at Wembley Stadium for a Live Earth concert. The new short film will be available at LiveEarth.MSN.com today.

Other notable shorts in the program include the cycling docu "One Less Car" from Tribeca alumni Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, whose documentary "Jesus Camp" was acquired by Magnolia Pictures after its Tribeca premiere last year and scored a Oscar nomination. Music video director Sophie Muller helmed "Sunny Day," which encourages Los Angelenos to line dry their clothes.

An announcement of filmmakers for the remaining 51 shorts, which will include Abel Ferrara, Amy Berg, Kevin Macdonald and Aardman Animation, is expected within the next few months.
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