NEW YORK — The 20th Tribeca Festival is aiming to not just rebuild itself after its 2020 edition was largely scuttled by the pandemic, but to help revitalize its hometown.
This year's Tribeca, which opens Wednesday with Jon M. Chu's adaption of the Lin-Manuel Miranda musical "In the Heights," will be spread throughout all five boroughs of New York with a mix of in-person and virtual screenings, ultimately culminating in a full-capacity premiere at a newly reopened Radio City Music Hall. For a festival founded in the wake of 9/11, coaxing New York back to life is a familiar role.
"Our founding mission felt more poignant, more important than ever," Jane Rosenthal, who started the festival with Robert De Niro, said in a recent interview. "That original mission of the festival was to use the power of film and storytelling not just to entertain but to rebuild our city — emotionally more than anything else."
Tribeca, which this year is being held two months later than usual, will be one of the biggest film festivals yet this year to go forward with a mostly in-person event. But instead of the usual theaters that are home to the festival, its primary venues this year will be outdoor screenings dispersed around the city. There's still a virtual component to the festival but the emphasis will be the energy generated by perhaps the largest cultural event held in New York in more than a year.
"Eighteen months ago, we all had to isolate," says Rosenthal. "Now that we're coming out of it, I talk to so many people who are in some ways struggling to come out. It's been interesting the emotional toll this has taken on so many of us, not to mention the families that lost loved ones and all the front-line workers."
Tribeca is part of a wider effort to restore New York's cultural life. Rosenthal has helped lead Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's "NY PopsUp" program, a series of free pop-up performances running through Labor Day. In just the past week, Bruce Springsteen said that he'll reopen his Broadway show later this month. A massive summer concert in Central Park was announced. And on June 20, the Foo Fighters will reopen Madison Square Garden to concerts after a 15-month shutdown.
But Tribeca, which includes 56 world premieres and programming across television, videogames, podcasts and virtual reality, had to start planning its 2021 incarnation — its 20th year — last August. Permits needed to be filed. Selections needed to be made. Organizers had to try to guess how health restrictions and vaccinations would evolve as they put the festival together. The rules of the road, as Rosenthal says, kept changing. Ultimately, they gambled that an in-person festival would be possible.