Curtain raiser: The Tribeca Film Festival arrives this weekend

Nas explores his past in Queensbridge in the documentary "Time is Illmatic." Credit: Tribeca
Nas explores his past in Queensbridge in the documentary “Time is Illmatic.”
Credit: Tribeca

The story is the Tribeca Film Festival was founded in response to the Sept. 11 attacks, as a way of breathing life back into Lower Manhattan. That may be mere myth; word is it was in the works before the events. But since its inception in 2002, it’s grown and thrived, becoming a more sprawling counterpart to the fall’s more selective New York Film Festival. NYFF is carefully curated to show cinema at its most austere; TFF is more about discoveries.

This year’s TFF, which starts Thursday and runs through the 27th, offers the usual film festival rash of indies starring familiar faces. Emma Roberts is revelatory in the teen drama “Palo Alto,” based on a book by James Franco, who also appears. Franco too pops up in Paul Haggis’ “Third Person,” along with Mila Kunis, Olivia Wilde, Liam Neeson and Kim Basinger. “The One I Love” pairs Elisabeth Moss with Mark Duplass. “Life Partners” boasts Gillian Jacobs, Leighton Meester and Gabourey Sidibe. Jon Favreau’s “Chef” boasts [deep breath] Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman and Robert Downey Jr.

But TFF is big enough to make room for tiny indies-that-could, from home and abroad. Likewise, it’s a fine place for documentaries and locally-themed work. Plenty fit both categories. “This Time Next Year” looks at Long Beach, N.J. a year after its devastation by Hurricane Sandy. Actor Michael Rapaport celebrates the Knicks with his ESPN film “When the Garden Was Eden.” “Time is Illmatic,” the fest’s opening night attraction, looks at Nas’ landmark “Illmatic” on the occasion of the album’s 20th anniversary. (Indeed, it hits two decades Monday.) Nas will be present to perform the album following the screening.

TFF embraces alternative forms of exhibition, even works-in-progress from major filmmakers. The team behind “The Cove” will show a rough cut of “6,” their film on endangered species, while the insanely prolific Alex Gibney (late of “The Armstrong Lie”) boasts his epic look at James Brown.

The festival was founded by Jane Rosenthal, Craig Hatkoff and Robert De Niro. Last year it attracted over 450,000 attendees, the largest number it’s ever had. Metro will run coverage of the films and events throughout the fest.

In the meantime, here’s our ten picks for best of the fest (that we’ve seen so far).

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge


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