The 17th annual Tribeca Film Festival kicks off next week, running from April 18 to 29 with a robust slate of movies, talks, panels, virtual-reality experiences and more. Founded in 2002 by Robert De Niro, producer Jane Rosenthal and philanthropist Craig Hatkoff to draw attention and consumers back to a near-abandoned, post-9/11 downtown, it has become a reliable champion of new filmmakers who go on to do big things. Just ask Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”), whose debut “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench” premiered here in 2009, or Reed Morano (“The Handmaid’s Tale”), who opened her first film, “Meadowland,” at the fest in 2015. It’s also been home to some splashy major premieres, as with the inaugural year’s launch of “Star Wars: Episode 2 – Attack of the Clones.”
This year, Tribeca will show 96 films from 103 directors, 46 percent of whom are women, the highest in the history of the festival and an encouraging sign for gender equality across the industry. One may even win the sixth annual Nora Ephron Prize, which awards $25,000 to a female director or writer who “embodies the spirit and boldness of the late filmmaker.”
Tribeca hasn’t become a major film-festival player like Sundance, Cannes or Toronto, and it has made the occasional bad call — as in 2016, when it accepted, then ultimately was shamed into cancelling the anti-vaccine documentary “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe.” But it remains a vital gathering place for many filmmakers and artists from around the world — and it provides an excellent excuse to venture out to the neighborhoods that are home to its theaters and event spaces. Contrary to its name, Tribeca extends beyond the boundaries of that particular ’hood: Cinépolis Chelsea and SVA Theatre are both on 23rd Street, while the Beacon Theatre, at Broadway and 74th Street, will host several special events, including the premiere of the opening night documentary, “Love, Gilda.”
This year’s festival will open with the world premiere of a new documentary about one of the most beloved “Saturday Night Live” comics of all time: Gilda Radner, who died in 1989 at 42 from ovarian cancer. Director Lisa D’Apolito, working with previously unseen footage and journal entries from Radner, delves into the life story of the woman who would become a comedic inspiration to countless others. Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph and Melissa McCarthy are among the funny women weighing in on the legacy of the comic actor who created the memorable “SNL” characters Roseanne Roseannadanna, Barbara Walters parody Baba Wawa and the elderly Emily Litella.
A sci-fi romance starring Ewan McGregor and Léa Seydoux is this year’s Centerpiece Gala feature. From director Drake Doremus, whose 2015 Kristen Stewart-starring feature, “Equals,” took place in similar territory, this is a near-future story in which the leads play tech researchers working on developing the means to form perfect, computer-matched partnerships between people. What could possibly go wrong? Rashida Jones, Theo James and Christina Aguilera co-star.
This year’s fest continues its tradition of exploring the new possibilities within virtual-reality filmmaking. Thirty-three experiences are on offer at the Virtual Arcade on a wide range of topics, and an increasing number of recognizable names are showing up in the medium: Lupita Nyong’o narrates “My Africa,” about Kenya’s wildlife and the people who protect it; director Terrence Malick’s “Together” puts viewers into a dance performance; “Campfire Creepers: The Skull of Sam” sees Robert Englund — Freddy Krueger himself — star in a VR short.
Paul SchiraldSarah Jessica Parker (above) stars as Vivienne, a singer who receives bleak medical news just before a big show at the Birdland Jazz Club in this narrative debut from director Fabien Constant, whose last film was the documentary “Mademoiselle C” about French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld. “Blue Night” reunites the “Sex and the City” star with NYC, which plays a major role in the film as Vivienne wanders the streets contemplating her future. Common, Renée Zellweger, Jacqueline Bisset and Broadway star Phillipa Soo are among the supporting cast.
A taboo love affair in North London’s Orthodox Jewish community is the subject of this feature starring Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams. McAdams’ Esti, married to a devout man named Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), is torn between her religious beliefs and her sexuality when her childhood friend Ronit (Weisz) returns to the community from New York.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Forrest Goodluck, Sasha Lane and Chloë Grace Moretz star in the Tribeca offering “The Miseducation of Cameron Post.”Jeong ParkGay conversion therapy is the topic of this early-’90s-set teen drama, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in January. Chloë Grace Moretz stars as the teenage Cameron, who’s sent to a treatment center called God’s Promise after she’s caught with another girl on prom night.
Netizens & Roll Red Roll
These two documentaries delve into toxic, topical terrain: The true-crime “Roll Red Roll,” from director Nancy Schwartzman, explores the explosive aftermath of the sexual assault that took place in Steubenville, Ohio, with crime blogger Alex Goddard a featured figure narrating her mindset and methods in piecing together evidence she found on social media. And “Netizens,” from director Cynthia Lowen, follows the battle against online harassment, misogyny and stalking by three women — one of whom is Anita Sarkeesian, a key figure in the Gamergate scandal that brought a spotlight to sexism in video game culture.
Unbanned: The Legend of AJ1
Even if you’re not a follower of sneaker culture, you’re likely aware of the iconic Air Jordan. The hallowed shoe, which debuted in 1984 bearing the name of Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan, was the first sneaker to become a worldwide footwear superstar. “Unbanned” interviews Jordan, Spike Lee, DJ Khaled, Lena Waithe, Anthony Anderson and Michael B. Jordan, among others — for a comprehensive portrait of the way the Air Jordan changed the game.
Annette Bening and Jon Tenney in “The Seagull.”Abbott GenserWith Russia omnipresent in the news, what better time for playwright Anton Chekhov to get a mainstream update in film? Annette Bening, Saoirse Ronan, Corey Stoll and Elisabeth Moss star in this 17th century drama about a complicated web of romantic infatuation, set over a weekend in the countryside. It’s directed by Michael Mayer, who won a 2007 Tony for “Spring Awakening.”
Horses: Patti Smith and Her Band
The New York music icon is celebrated in this documentary about the 40th anniversary performance of Smith’s most famous album in its entirety at Los Angeles’ Wiltern Theatre. Director Steven Sebring includes interviews with Smith and her band as well as backstage footage from the show; the April 23 Beacon Theatre screening will be followed by a live performance of the album’s title track and other songs from Smith and her band.
And there’s more …
John Legend & Sara Bareilles
The pair of award-winning musicians sang together recently on TV’s “Jesus Christ Superstar Live.” Now they’re sitting down to chat about their music. April 19, 6 p.m., SVA Theatre 1 Silas, 333 W. 23rd St.
For the 35th anniversary of the bloody story of a Cuban refugee-turned-druglord, the festival will host a screening of the film and a conversation with director Brian De Palma and actors Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer and Steven Bauer. April 19, 7 p.m., Beacon Theatre, 2124 Broadway
Bradley Cooper & Robert De Niro
From “Wet Hot American Summer” to “American Hustle” and “Joy,” actor Bradley Cooper has enjoyed a career of disparate roles. He’ll be telling stories about it with festival founder Robert De Niro. April 21, 6 p.m., Tribeca Festival Hub, 50 Varick St.
Families can catch up with Count Dracula’s lavish resort that’s featured in the 2012 animated film. In addition to the free screening, there will be a Transylvania dance party, costume parade and trivia contest for kids. April 22, 10 a.m., BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center, 199 Chambers St.
Alec Baldwin & Spike Lee
Theo Wargo/Getty Images; Vivien Killilea/Getty Images Alec Baldwin has never been in a Spike Lee movie, but the two New Yorkers are getting together to gab about their favorite films and their artistic influences. April 24, 8:45 p.m., Tribeca Festival Hub, 50 Varick St.
For the 25th anniversary of the Holocaust film, director Steven Spielberg and actors Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley and Embeth Davidtz will discuss their Oscar-winning movie after a screening of a newly restored version. April 26, 6:30 p.m., Beacon Theatre, 2124 Broadway
How to get tickets
Film fans can buy tickets in advance at TribecaFilm.com/festival/tickets.
Matinee tickets are $12, evening tickets are $23. Tribeca TV screenings and special screenings are $30, Tribeca Talks and Tribeca Immersive passes are $40. Events at the Beacon Theatre are priced individually, see site for details.
Every Tribeca venue has a box office: Regal Battery Park, Cinépolis Chelsea, SVA Theatre, BMCC Tribeca Arts Center and the Festival Hub at Spring Studios (50 Varick St.). Box offices open one hour before the first screening time of the day.
Rush tickets for last-minute seats are offered approximately 45 minutes before screening time. Limit of one per person.
This dimly lit gastropub has a slightly divey vibe and well-done comfort food — disco fries, a smoked pork belly BLT — and serves until 2 a.m. 305 Church St.; 212-680-0101
For healthy-ish fare, from a brassica bowl to avocado toast (of course), head to this airy Aussie cafe for breakfast, lunch or an afternoon snack (it’s open only until 5 p.m. daily). 251 Church St.; TwoHandsNYC.com
Andrew Carmellini’s veggie-forward spot in the Smyth hotel, is ideal for an elegant, subdued dinner. 85 West Broadway; 212-220-4110
This charming French bakery (part of a growing local chain) bakes the city’s best chocolate-chip cookies and also has sandwiches and salads to stay or go. 211 West Broadway; 646-882-8682
The Tribeca outpost of a beloved Brooklyn cocktail bar has well-mixed drinks, $1 oyster specials and gleaming, subway-tile-lined interiors. 159 Duane St.; 212-766-3202
If a regular cup of joe just won’t cut it, this neighborhood shop has single-origin pour-overs and turmeric lattes. 401 Greenwich St.; 646-599-2587