Tribeca Fest is fired up

Sophomore event eyes 200 preems, panels, a concert

NEW YORK — Let the fest unfurl.

Already commanding the kind of four-star publicity that belies its newbie status on the film fest circuit, the Tribeca Film Festival officially kicked off the 2003 edition Tuesday at the festival’s central hub at the Embassy Suites Hotel in lower Manhattan, just across the street from Ground Zero.

Founders Jane Rosenthal, Robert De Niro and Craig Hatcoff opened this year’s program, which features more than 200 premiere screenings plus panel discussions, community events, a rock & comedy concert and filmmaker events and competitions.

Festival officials said 49,000 advance tickets have been sold, compared to 19,000 advance tickets sold going into last year’s frosh fest.

The economic imperative behind the festival’s fast-track founding last year has in no way paled over the 12 months since the downtown event lured some 150,000 people to the financially and spiritually stricken part of the city.

“Our film slate has gone from credible to world-class,” Rosenthal told a press gathering Tuesday, noting the slate of programs had expanded its scope to serve a range of audiences and constituencies, from art film connoisseurs to mainstream enthusiasts.

“Our idea is to create a new kind of film festival,” Hatcoff said, noting Tribeca’s emphasis on large public events alongside the screenings and studio-hosted parties.

Festival director Peter Scarlet said he scoured 11 countries on four continents to come up with this year’s selection of films, drawing from 1,000 more entries than the previous year.

This year’s event sees the addition of red-carpet premieres such as Tuesday night’s “Down With Love” and closing-night pic “The Italian Job,” as well as a General Motors-sponsored “drive-in” movie theater at Pier 25 to accommodate 10,000 attendees.

Asked if he felt Tribeca could some day compete with Cannes or Sundance, De Niro said, “We’re doing our thing and not competing with anyone else.”

Pic plaques for city

Corporate sponsor American Express — in conjunction with the New York Mayor’s Office for Film, Theater & Television — also took the opening-day opportunity to announce a “Set in New York” program, which will place engraved plaques commemorating classic New York film locations throughout the city.

Katz’s Deli will be the first locale to be honored with a plaque, in recognition of its key role in “When Harry Met Sally.” Amex exec vice president John Hayes said several other sites of cinematic significance will be announced in the next few weeks as part of a long-running program that the mayor’s office hopes will recognize and celebrate some of Gotham’s most memorable screen moments.

Procession to preem

Later in the day, a ceremony of remembrance and commemoration preceded the opening night, six-block procession down Greenwich Street, which culminated in the red-carpet preem of Fox’s “Down With Love.,”

The procession featured music by Wynton Marsalis and a 20-piece New Orleans jazz band, 20 umbrella-twirling dancers and a bevy of celebs including pic’s stars, Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor, plus Bono and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. (Gov. George Pataki was a no-show.)

Separately, the Tribeca Film Institute and Alfred P. Sloan Foundation named Nancy Isaak’s “Glow Worms” and Jonathan Morano’s “Benjamin Garrett” as winners in the Tribeca/Sloan Film Program, set up last fall to develop screenplays with science or technology themes. Isaak and Morano will be provided monetary support and assistance from Academy Award-winning screenwriters Stephen Gaghan and Eric Roth to develop their scripts.

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