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Tribeca keeps NY spirit alive

Few cities in the world can hold an art aficionado as much as New York, writes Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Jul 21, 2006 18:30 IST

Few cities in the world can hold an art and culture aficionado in thrall as much as New York. The city is dotted with museums and galleries housing art and artefacts from all over the globe and from across civilisational time zones.

For fashionistas, too, New York offers an entire garment district and a long and happening fashion street where the likes of Calvin Klein and Donna Karen sell their wares. 

For a cineaste, however, New York is today associated with one name – Tribeca. For good reason.

Tribeca, an abbreviation of the “Triangle Below Canal Street”, lends its name to the film production company that Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal founded many summers ago. Thanks to the pioneering efforts of the star-actor in the 1980s, Tribeca is today the unofficial hub of the New York film community. It’s also the venue of the Tribeca Film Festival.

It’s a neighbourhood that isn’t very far away from the city’s Chinatown and Little Italy, which were in grave danger of falling off the world’s tourist map in the wake of 9/11. That’s when Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and the latter’s husband and real estate financier Craig Hatkoff stepped in with a plan to economically and culturally revitalise the badly hit area.

Thus, in May 2002, was born the film festival named after Tribeca, which has in a short span of five years emerged as one of the finest, most dynamic cinema-related events in this part of the world.

Apart from whetting the appetite of movie lovers and filmmakers alike by assembling an array of films from all over the world alongside big-ticket Hollywood flicks, the Tribeca festival has achieved its avowed aim: the resurgence of lower Manhattan as a cultural hub.

Chinatown and Little Italy are back in business: they are humming with activity all through the day. The Italian eateries are full again, the properties are moving, and the Chinatown shops are drawing bargain hunters in hordes.

In essence, the Tribeca Film Festival, an annual springtime event held over two weekends in April-May every year, celebrates as much the cultural diversity of New York as it promotes the Big Apple as one of the most creatively charged movie-making centres of the world.

The festival is really a year-round celebration of cinema, art, music and culture. The Tribeca Film Club sustains the festival experience all through the year by playing host to special film screenings, one-on-one discussions with filmmakers and seminars and colloquiums on issues related to the movies.

Another part of New York that has seen dramatic revitalisation in recent years is the fabled Times Square, the midtown location that is variously described as the crossroads of the world, a non-stop advertising exhibition, the centre of the universe.

Once a glamorous theatre district, Times Square and 42nd Street degenerated sometime in the 1980s into the sleaze capital of the United States of America, with its sex shops and seedy pubs. The place has since been cleaned up. Times Square now peddles infinitely more wholesome entertainment.

But it differs quite clearly from Tribeca in that it, like so much in American cinema and television, has fallen prey to the bane of big money-driven standardisation. New York has been a melting pot ever since its birth, and there is every reason to believe that is how it should always be.

But, today, even as you see faces from all over the world as you crisscross the bustling avenues and streets of Times Square, you cannot but notice that there is about the entertainment that is currently available in the district suffers from the scourge of monotonous sameness. For instance, there is nothing to separate the film hoardings from the theatre posters. It’s like being in an international airport or a five-star hotel: everything around you seems like a reflection of everything else.

Times Square has been taken over by the likes of Disney and MTV. So, if you are looking for what has drawn you to New York – the power of choice – you might have to head elsewhere. To Tribeca, for instance.