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Tribeca Festival celebrates 20th anniversary as post-Covid curtains reopen


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Hari Sreenivasan: Last Wednesday marked the 20th anniversary of the annual New York City-based Tribeca Film Festival. It was the largest film fest held in-person in North America since the start of the pandemic.

This year's event -- called "Tribeca Festival," removing the word "Film" to include multiple platforms such as gaming and podcasting runs through next weekend. But opening day was all about the movies.

NewsHour Weekend's Ivette Feliciano spoke with the festival's producers about what it was like to plan this major event and has more.

Ivette Feliciano: On Wednesday evening in New York City, the Tribeca Film Festival marked its 20th annual opening night at the United Palace Theater in Washington Heights. It premiered with the screen adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda's Broadway musical "In the Heights."

Lin-Manuel Miranda: It's so thrilling to be in New York as it starts to open back up again and people start to feel safe to be in a movie theater. It's an honor to be part of the Tribeca Film Festival. I'm even more honored that they had the premiere uptown so that this love letter to this neighborhood is premiering in the neighborhood it's about.

Ivette Feliciano: The film's release date was delayed last year due to the pandemic. But on Wednesday evening, for the first time ever, Tribeca screened its premiere movie outdoors, in each of New York City's 5 boroughs, as part of the 12-day festival that also includes shorts, TV series, podcasts and games. Tribeca Film Fest producers Cara Cusumano and Loren Hammonds believe "In the Heights" set just the right joyful tone, on the heels of a traumatic year.

Loren Hammonds: As we saw it, and we saw people dancing and singing in the streets, we said this is what we need, this is what we want for ourselves. So this is what we want for our audiences.

Cara Cusumano: Finally being able to premiere that in front of an audience across all five boroughs is hugely symbolic. We know that a lot of people coming to the festival are seeing a film together on a big screen for maybe the first time in over a year. And that's a really meaningful return and moment.

Loren Hammonds: Tribeca was first started as a direct result of 9/11, and that was the thinking of our founders, Jane Rosenthal and Robert De Niro, at that time to give art the opportunity to heal an audience. So I think this is a really unique position that we find ourselves in on our 20th anniversary to do the same thing.

Ivette Feliciano: Last year the in-person film festival was canceled due to the pandemic. Yet organizers continued planning for 2021, reviewing a record number of 11,220 film submissions.

Cara Cusumano: Even though people had these incredible limitations and hardships this year, more work was made and submitted than ever before. And that's just something that's incredibly exciting to see and really inspires me for the future of film.

Ivette Feliciano: Planning during a pandemic led several innovations in the festival's programming, which organizers hope to carry into future festivals.

For people who have been to the Tribeca Film Festival before, how will this year look different?

Loren Hammonds: Well, we are bringing almost everything outdoors, so that's a huge difference. And they're separated into pods. So you're in a two person or a four person pod that's socially distanced from the next pod. Although all of these amazing things are happening here in New York City the festival is still available to you at home.

Ivette Feliciano: This year, almost all of the films in Tribeca's lineup are available online through the festival's virtual hub, "Tribeca at Home". And there are new immersive installations, some virtual, and some in-person and outdoors, such as Current, by Annie Saunders, which includes a sound walk through lower Manhattan.

Casey Baltes, Vice President of Tribeca Games, says the pandemic also sparked a major expansion in the festival's online arcade and virtual reality platforms.

Casey Baltes: Essentially, we have opened up a full lineup of games for official selections for the first time this year. And I think this year during the pandemic, many people who probably had never played video games before picked up a controller or probably tried that first game. And so that's the kind of experience that we also want to replicate in Tribeca.

Loren Hammonds: As we were all stuck in our houses and looking for a way out, looking for something to transport us, these artists have worked tirelessly to create new worlds. For anyone who has a tethered headset at home, you can buy a ticket and see brand new experiences in the comfort of your own home. It's really great that we're able to expand the audiences not just through the five boroughs of the city, but also throughout the country. And we really hope that people will tune into the festival even if they're unable to travel.

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