April 24, 2006

Tribeca festival turns somber with 9-11 films

By Claudia Parsons

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The film festival founded by Robert De
Niro to help revitalize lower Manhattan after the September 11
attacks is in its fifth year, and organizers say that means
it's time to watch uncomfortable films about that day.

Kicking off the Tribeca Film Festival on Tuesday will be
the premiere of "United 93," a dramatization of the story of
the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania after
passengers fought its hijackers.

"If it was not opening the festival, it would seem
strange," De Niro said at a news conference on Monday launching
the festival. "It's important to see because it's kind of a
playback of what happened and you know what's going to happen
(but) still, ... you have to see the movie."

"United 93" is the first major Hollywood movie treatment of
September 11. The next, Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center,"
about two police officers trapped under the rubble of the
collapsed World Trade Center towers, is due out in August.

Several other films at Tribeca share the same theme,
including documentaries "Saint of 9/11" about a fire department
chaplain killed at the World Trade Center and "The Heart of
Steel" about volunteers who helped after the attacks.

"We are a part of this package of films that sort of tackle
9/11, and I hope that our film can do it a calming way," Glenn
Holsten, director of "Saint of 9/11," told Reuters.

The fictional "Civic Duty" is the story of an accountant
who loses his job and becomes obsessed with terrorist plots,
particularly when an Islamic student moves in next door.

"There are other pictures in the festival ... that view
what's happened to our country since we've gone to war after
September 11," said Tribeca co-founder Jane Rosenthal, picking
out "War Tapes" -- a documentary culled from more than 800
hours of tape filmed by National Guard soldiers in Iraq.


The festival has expanded hugely since it was cobbled
together in early 2002. This year's program boasts 174 features
and 100 short films, from tiny independent movies to big-budget
Hollywood productions such as "Mission: Impossible III" and

In contrast to previous years when the festival opened with
comedies or thrillers, the mood will be set by a film Variety
described as "taut, visceral and predictably gut-wrenching."

"United 93" was made with the full cooperation of the
families of those who died and around 90 of them are due to
attend the premiere.

One person who may not be there is Iraqi actor Lewis
Alsamari who plays one of the hijackers. He said last week he
was denied entry to the United States, although the U.S.
embassy in London said he had not given sufficient notice about
his planned trip. "That's unfortunate," De Niro said.

The festival's executive director Peter Scarlet said
organizers were in contact with the State Department in an
attempt to expedite Alsamari's visa.

Scarlet, who sifted through more than 4,100 submissions, is
hoping for a repeat of last year when festival favorite
"Transamerica" won an Oscar nomination for Felicity Huffman.

The program is an eclectic mix of films addressing tough
subjects such as the Middle East conflict and star-laden big
pictures such as "Lonely Hearts," starring John Travolta and
James Gandolfini as detectives tracking down two killers.

"That's one of the tight-ropes that the festival walks --
the films you walk out humming the title tune to and the films
that really challenge the way you look at the world," Scarlet
said. "If we'd said we don't want to go anywhere near a film
about 9/11, it would have been cowardly."

(Additional reporting by Richard Leong)