Smaller slate includes 86 feature films

NEW YORK — The Tribeca Film Festival unveiled a dramatically smaller lineup Monday, with the overall tally of 86 feature films repping a 28% decline from last year’s fest.

Amid the global economic crisis, Tribeca, like other major fests, is confronting a decidedly tougher financial landscape.

The simple cost of renting theater venues and putting on screenings is the major reason for this year’s slate shrinkage, which some industry vets are welcoming. The event had drawn criticism in past years, with some saying it was too sprawling and poorly defined; a pullback began in earnest last year.

Sponsorship, in particular, has been difficult to secure, and the decision to scale back the number of films at Tribeca this year stems in part from those struggles.

Cadillac, a unit of deeply troubled General Motors, has exited as a top-level sponsor, as has Target. Heineken and DirecTV have stepped in, and Snapple and American Express are returning. Last year, American Express inked a five-year sponsorship pact.

Ticket sales, the fest’s other main revenue source, have been scrutinized in recent years. Last year, prices were reined in, and they will remain at 2008 levels this year — $15 for evening and weekend screenings and $8 for daytime weekday and latenight screenings.

In terms of the upcoming pic lineup, the fest’s two main competition sections, World Narrative and Documentary, are holding steady with 12 films each. Full lineups for both, plus the 14 titles in the Discovery section, were revealed Monday. The remainder of the lineup will be announced in the coming days.

Fest’s eighth edition kicks off with Woody Allen’s “Whatever Works” on April 22 and runs through May 3.

The World Narrative category includes a mix of familiar and newer names from a diverse roster of countries. Highlights include the following:

  • “About Elly,” from Iranian helmer Asghar Farhadi, who took best director honors at Berlin.

  • “The Eclipse,” written and directed by playwright Conor McPherson, Tony-nommed playwright of “The Weir” and “Shining City.” The atmospheric drama stars Aidan Quinn, Ciaran Hinds and Iben Hjejle.

  • “El nino pez” (The Fish Child), Lucia Puenzo’s follow-up to her Cannes prize-winner “XXY.”

  • “Stay Cool,” a comedy from the Polish Brothers starring Winona Ryder and Hilary Duff.

The Documentary list, long a strong suit of Tribeca, this year includes the following notable pics:

  • “Outrage” (world premiere), Kirby Dick’s expose of closeted gay and lesbian politicians who actively campaign against gay rights.

  • “Shadow Billionaire,” from first-time director Alexis Spraic, about the 1995 disappearance of DHL founder Larry Hillblom and the resulting legal battle over the eccentric billionaire’s estate.

  • “Garapa,” from Golden Bear-winning director Jose Padilha (“Elite Squad”), about chronic hunger among three Brazilian families.

The Discovery section includes docs about the late, great punk-rock haunt CBGB (“Burning Down the House”); the subprime mortgage mess (“American Casino”); and human trafficking (“Playground”). The last of the trio is exec produced by George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Steven Soderbergh.

Narrative entries in Discovery include “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench,” a black-and-white jazz musical from tyro helmer Damien Chazelle described by the fest as “a fresh and youthful take on the old MGM tradition”; and “Sipur gadol” (“A Matter of Size”), a film in Hebrew about four friends who ditch their weight-loss efforts in favor of sumo wrestling.

The fest overall includes films from 33 countries. There are 48 world premieres, five international preems, 14 North American premieres and three U.S. preems.

Just as ticket prices remain even with last year’s, the fest’s family-friendly mainstays from past years, such as drive-in movies and a street fair, will remain free events.

“Especially in these times, we recognize that people need that kind of outlet, and that’s a big part of our mission,” said exec director Nancy Schafer.

Media outlets will still cover the fest, especially the multitude either based in Gotham or with offices in the city. But the number of credentials has been lowered in anticipation of media cutbacks as well as the need to sell more tickets, organizers confirmed.

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