Fewer Films and Renewed Community Focus Define 2009 Tribeca Film Festival

By Michael O'Connell April 23, 2009, 2:37 PM EDT

During last year's Tribeca Film Festival, a public screening of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" music video drew thousands.

Photo: Alice and Chris for BizBash

The 2009 Tribeca Film Festival officially bowed yesterday with a screening of Woody Allen's latest film, Whatever Works, and an after-party at the Royalton Hotel. This year marks a decidedly low-key iteration of the eight-year-old festival, with just 85 movies premiering. (Previous years have seen as many as 157.) Parties and sponsorships all look to be subdued, as organizers with Tribeca Enterprises emphasize community events and consumer spending downtown.

This year actually finds much of the action taking place in SoHo. The festival continues its relationship with Apple, holding filmmaking events, screenings, and discussion's at its Prince Street retail flagship. Eric Bana, Natalie Portman, and Nia Vardalos are all scheduled to appear during the series. Just a few blocks away, the Chanel store will host a gallery exhibition of this year's featured local artists, whose donated works will again serve as the awards for the festival's winning filmmakers.

Sponsorship may be down—General Motors was one of the biggest companies not to return—but founding sponsor American Express is following festival organizers' lead in focusing on community. Previous initiatives such as information kiosks and last year's Insider Center won't return, and, in their place, the credit card company will deploy street teams toting official film and shopping guides to areas such as Union Square and Greenwich Street. American Express will also revive its Guest Information Center for one day, during next Saturday's Family Festival, and hold a card member event for the premiere of musical documentary Passing Strange, featuring a Q&A with director Spike Lee.

Public festivities kick off tonight with the return of the Tribeca Drive-In. The event includes a screening of 1990's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and free karate demonstrations for children, and Dalzell Productions is carpeting the venue, the World Financial Center Plaza, in film-appropriate glow-in-the-dark manhole covers. The festival runs through May 3.

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