By Larry Fine
New York (Reuters) -- The Tribeca Film Festival, founded by actor Robert De Niro after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to bolster downtown New York's economy, opens this week amid signs it is coming of age, attracting big movies and films from around the world.
The 11-day festival of nearly 250 films kicks off on Tuesday night with "The Interpreter" -- a thriller set in the United Nations by director Sydney Pollack, known for "The Firm," "Out of Africa," and "Three Days of the Condor."
The high-profile film, starring Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn in the first movie ever shot at U.N. headquarters, embraces two key elements of the festival -- an international flavor and the diverse energy of New York.
Forty-five countries are represented in the ambitious Tribeca schedule that boasts 59 world premieres among its 158 feature films. Thirty-seven movies were shot in New York in a program that includes documentaries, shorts and a number of newly restored classics.
Co-founder Jane Rosenthal said the festival has evolved dramatically since she began it with business partner De Niro.
"The first year, we did it in response to Sept. 11 and tried to give our neighborhood a new memory and something to look forward to," Rosenthal said about the festival, held in a neighborhood that had been in the shadow of the World Trade Center towers.
The festival, the fourth annual, includes a family film program, street fairs, panel discussions and public showings of the movies. It has drawn nearly a million visitors and resulted in $125 million in economic activity for Lower Manhattan over the first three years, according to the organizers.
On Its Own Merit
Now the festival is standing on its own merit.
"I think the first couple of years filmmakers really didn't know to plan for us," Rosenthal said. "This year feels like the first year that filmmakers are clearly planning for Tribeca. And I think our program reflects that."
Among keenly anticipated movies are "2046" by Wong Kar-Wai of Hong Kong, political documentary "The Power of Nightmares," by Briton Adam Curtis, and U.S. cinema verite pioneer Robert Drew's "From Two Men and a War."
Jonathan Sehring, president of Independent Film Channel, said Tribeca has begun to find its niche.
"There are not many festivals in the United States that really cover what the world cinema offers," said Sehring, giving credit to Tribeca's program director Peter Scarlet.
"It is wide open territory. I do think it's an area that Tribeca can lay claim to in terms of a profile by showcasing the diversity of world cinema."
Showcasing the legion of independent filmmakers living in New York and taking advantage of the city's creative energy is also part of the festival's mission, said Rosenthal.
That twin ambition is embodied in "Show Business," a world premiere film by Dori Bernstein, which gives an inside look at Broadway plays "Taboo," "Caroline or Change," "Wicked," and "Avenue Q," from their inception through to the Tony Awards.
Although the festival has not yet made a mark on the business of buying and selling films, Rosenthal thinks that may just be a matter of time. In any event, she does not measure success merely by movie deals made.
"What I'm most proud of is the fact that after the worst terror attack on the United States we are up on our feet and showing the world that we are back, stronger than ever," said Rosenthal. "Not only physically but artistically."
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