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April 26, 2007

What on Earth: Tribeca Goes Green for Opener

Gore, De Niro and Scorsese among heavyweights at fest bow downtown

Four-midable: Al Gore, Tipper Gore, Robert De Niro and Grace Hightower at the opening night of the Tribeca Film Festival (Photo: Wireimage)

B edlam. Flash bulbs. The most sprawling (and biodegradable!) red carpet between Hollywood and Cannes. Take it or leave it, this is the Tribeca Film Festival, which launched Wednesday night in its namesake neighborhood with a screening of shorts commissioned as part of the SOS eco-awareness initiative. It was the kind of night where you couldn't even keep track of arrivals -- write "De Niro" in your notebook and you might miss Christopher Walken, Julia Stiles and Edie Falco in one-two-three succession -- and where Martin Scorsese announced host (more like "keynote speaker") Al Gore as the "only Oscar-winning former vice president." At least star power is environmentally sound.

"The Tribeca Film Festival sprang from needs of community," said co-founder Jane Rosenthal in the evening's introduction. "Back then, community meant a recovering neighborhood and a distressed city. In fact, all you have to do is walk out of this building and look left to see the scars that remain from 2001. But we're just filmmakers. Film is about culture. Musicians and filmmakers are the agents of cultural change; the SOS films show us that everyday gestures can help change the world."

The depth of that change remains to be seen, with SOS's Live Earth concerts on an intercontinental calendar for July 7 and the 60 commissioned shorts booked as the material screening between the performers' set changes. Among the films featured Wednesday were a 14-year profile of Rio De Janeiro's most massive landfill, a prosaic run through the African desert and Sophie Muller's short majestically extolling the virtues of the clothesline. Chel White's The Wind featured evocative use of time-lapse nature photography (and an unusually tranquil, ahem, voice-over by Alec Baldwin), while Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing contributed One Car Less, a clever paean to New York bicyclists. Matt Mahurin's unfortunately titled but unquestionably stunning H2 Uh-Oh featured a man leaping from submerged Manhattan rooftop to rooftop, finally emerging in a desert in a quest for what remains of Earth's glaciers. Rob Reiner featured Spinal Tap for an all-too-brief taste of their upcoming Live Earth reunion; the bandmates' respective life paths have evidently diverged into miniature horse breeding, hip-hop management and Internet addiction since 1984.

"Let me throw some numbers at you," said De Niro in his stage appearance, rattling off ratios of paper towel usage to water consumption before "Arty Scorsese" -- Jimmy Fallon dressed up as the filmmaker's brother, pitching film ideas revolving around Fockers titles -- stormed and eventually was booted from the room. A few minutes later, Fallon introduced Scorsese, who offered perhaps the most tempered and grave delivery I've ever seen him adopt.

Jon Bon Jovi lives on a prayer in the SOS proscenium (Photo: STV)

"Tonight, the films you've seen from SOS and the words you've heard have all been focused on the future: The long-term future," Scorsese said. "And now, of course, at long last, we're finally approaching consensus on the subject of global warming, and we're seeing the beginnings of real action. But that took some doing. It was almost like moving a mountain, I think; it wasn't so long ago that the term 'global warming' couldn't be used in the same sentence together in Washington. It was denial, and denial was constant and vigorous."

The director went on to credit An Inconvenient Truth for broadening the cultural awareness of global warming, then welcomed Gore onstage. He thanked "Martin" and "Robert" -- it was kind of adorable, really -- and went on to stump for SOS in a speech invoking the latest from the ideological battleground and points of reference from Gandhi to poet Antonio Machado and even M. Scott Peck, who apparently once equated evil to the absence of truth.

"It's an interesting way to think about it," Gore said. "And we have managed to find a lot of different ways to avoid confronting the moral implications of this truth that we, as human beings, have radically altered the relationship between our species and our planet. In less than 100 years, we've quadrupled the population. In less than 50 years, we've increased the power of the technologies we use in our daily routines by a thousand times over. ... How do we respond to the challenge to our moral imagination to just realize that this is happening? Art, music, film, dance, poetry -- all the arts -- have long been our greatest tools to explore the regions of imagination that defy our efforts to think rationally about subjects that our emotions tell us are too difficult to contemplate."

Which gave way to an acoustic three-fer from Jon Bon Jovi, who, between renditions of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun," reinvented his own "Living on a Prayer" as a sort of power-folk eco-ballad. It was... bizarre, but it stirred the closet Jersey crowd around me to at least mouth the words. Craziness! Really, though, it was that kind of night. Now -- back to the movies.



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