Tribeca Film Festival to open with more than 100 films, controversy

Sandy Kenyon Image
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Tribeca Film Festival to open with more than 100 films, controversy
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Sandy Kenyon sits down with Robert De Niro, the festival's founder

The TriBeCa Film Festival, an event that attracts people from all corners of the world to New York for a week-and-a-half long celebration of film, kicks off Thursday.

This year's festival includes dramas featuring comedian Eddie Murphy and ABC TV star Viola Davis, along with another featuring Kevin Spacey as President Richard Nixon. But a film that won't be showing stole many of the headlines.

The Lower Manhattan get-together will showcase more than 100 movies, a third of them directed by women, like Katie Holmes. And that's something of which founder Robert De Niro is proud.

"It's important for those of us in the industry to support not just women filmmakers, but black, Latino and all filmmakers," he said. "Not just white guys."

De Niro and his business partner, Jane Rosenthal, started the TriBeCa Film Festival in 2001 to revitalize a neighborhood that was devastated on September 11th. The festival has continued to steadily grow since its inception.

The 2016 festival also features a reunion of the "Taxi Driver" cast and a new hub of technology where visitors become participants.

"It was a special effort from all of us, by all of us," De Niro said. "A nod to the past is accompanied by a glance into a future, where we won't just watch films, we'll be in them."

Adding the technology element was an important advancement.

"We're always interested in new technology and new platforms," Rosenthal said. "But it's not just technology. You have to have the right stories."

One documentary, "Vaxxed," which suggests vaccinations can cause grievous harm to innocent children, was pulled amid a wave of backlash after its inclusion was announced. Rosenthal and De Niro feared that it might overshadow the other films.

"I don't want to do anything to the festival that will make certain people uncomfortable," Rosenthal said.

When "Vaxxed" was pulled from the lineup, the Associated Press noted that scientific research has consistently found the vaccines given to children for measles, mumps and rubella are safe and have no link to autism. It is a personal issue De Niro, who has a child with autism. The star said he just wanted to encourage discussion, and he certainly did after the film was picked up by the famous Angelika Theater for a two-week run that opened to sold-out shows.

The picture from Andrew Wakefield will open Friday at Santa Monica's Laemmle Monica Film Center and Pasadena's Laemmle Playhouse 7.