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Expanded Tribeca Fest Opens with 'United'

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NEW YORK -- With entertainment industry attendance at the Tribeca Film Festival jumping more than 33% from last year, fest co-founders Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff announced this year's star-filled jury panels, the fest's expansion and a slate of new films about the Sept. 11 attacks, which inspired its creation. The festival opens Monday and runs through May 7.

Two jurors from films to be featured at the fest, Josh Lucas ("Poseidon") and Edward Burns ("The Groomsmen"), joined the founders and other festival attendees onstage at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center to unveil six film competition juries, with artists including Julia Stiles and Moby participating.

While an increasing number of big-studio tentpole premieres such as "Mission: Impossible III" and "Poseidon" are raising Tribeca's public profile, many of the 274 films at the fest have no distributor. The number of registered industry attendees jumped from 523 in 2005 to more than 700 this year, indicating the fest's growing role as a film market.

After the news conference, executive director Peter Scarlet said that this can be partially attributed to programmers making a conscious effort to front-load films without distribution into Tribeca's first week.

"The festival has been like a beta version of software," said Scarlet, who said the move also was a response to the small window between Tribeca and the Festival de Cannes. "We're constantly looking for ways to improve it, and we're getting over a hump in terms of our planning.

"Cannes is a 900-pound gorilla, but people view going to it as an obligation," he said. "I hope no one ever says that about Tribeca."

Neighborhood resident Burns expressed similar sentiments onstage. "I love the fact that you no longer have to schlep to the mountains of Utah for a film festival," he said.

Empire State Development Corp. chairman Charles Gargano said the fest brought $77 million to the local economy in 2005 and said that number will increase to about $100 million this year. "That's almost as much as you make on a picture, Bob, isn't it?" he joked. A normally tight-lipped De Niro responded, "If you can get me $100 million, Charlie, I'd like you to be my agent."

On a serious note, De Niro said the choice of the Sept. 11 hijacking drama "United 93" to open the festival was "important, and kind of a playback -- you can't not be touched by it." Rosenthal added that it was "a very personal choice" to include it.

When asked about Iraqi actor Lewis Alsamari, who said last week that he had been denied entry into the U.S. to attend the Tribeca world premiere, De Niro said: "That's unfortunate. It's too bad he couldn't come," but added that he didn't know all the details.

As to the increased slate of films about Sept. 11 and the war that followed -- from the Father Mychal Judge docu "Saint of 9/11" to "The War Tapes" -- Rosenthal said: "Why now? Why not now? After a number of years, artists digest it."

In the international competition, the narrative features jury includes Burns, Lucas, Trudie Styler, Terry George, Kelly Lynch, Antonio Skarmeta and Melvin Van Peebles. The docu feature jury includes Ken Burns, Robert Drew, Whoopi Goldberg, Oren Jacoby, Rory Kennedy and Marc Levin.

The "Made in NY" narrative feature jury consists of Thelma Adams, Mike Atkinson, Candace Bushnell, Wyclef Jean, Georgia Lee and James Truman.

The "NY Loves Film Documentary" jury is made up of Victor Buhler, David Edelstein, Glenn Kenny, Moby and Rosie Perez.

In the most star-filled lineup, the narrative short jury features Mark Cuban, Laurence Fishburne, Gayle King, Shelly Lazarus, Samantha Morton, Lou Reed and Stiles. The student and documentary short jury includes Joe Angio, Deborah Forte, Michael Graves, Craig Newmark, Charlotte Ronson and Andy Spade.

Awards in each category will be announced at the fest's closing-night ceremony May 6.

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Gregg Goldstein writes for The Hollywood Reporter.

For more news from The Hollywood Reporter, click here.

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