Tribeca Film Festival Readies 11th Annual Gala

Chris Messina and Jenna Fischer in "The Giant Mechanical Man."

In 2002 Jane Rosenthal, Robert De Niro and Craig Hatkoff launched the Tribeca Film Festival as a reaction to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

This year’s edition gets underway April 18 and runs through 29, with a line-up that includes such anticipated features as Julie Delpy’s “2 Days in N.Y.”, her sequel to “2 Days in Paris”, with Chris Rock in the Adam Goldberg role; “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” writer/star Jason Segal and director Nicholas Stoller’s “The Five Year Engagement”; Sarah Polley’s “Take This Waltz,” her follow-up to “Away From Her,” starring Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen; and Michael Winterbottom’s “Trishna,” his adaption of Thomas Hardy’s Victorian melodrama. There are also documentaries from Morgan Spurlock (“Mansome”) and James Franco (about his stint on the soap “General Hospital“), as well as features on Queen, Journey and Tony Bennett.

At the same time, Comcast’s Xfinity TV and Tribeca Film will enable Xfinity TV subscribers to enjoy the film festival experience in their homes with access to the 11th annual festival on XFINITY On Demand and This across-screen offering includes three films available before they make their debut at the Tribeca Film Festival: “Death of a Superhero,” “The Giant Mechanical Man” and “Sleepless Night“; along with additional current and past Festival films and special behind-the-scenes extras. Watch previews below.

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The build-up to the festival began on the left coast, with a media event at the Beverly Hilton to promote the event.

Two of the films feature husband-and-wife director/star teams, though only one started that way.

First-time writer/director Lee Kirk and “The Office“’s Jenna Fischer met while making their feature “The Giant Mechanical Man,” a recession-era romantic comedy with Topher Grace that culminated in the duo getting married and having a baby in the perfect example of life imitating art.

“It’s very sweet, quirky love story,” she says.

Kirk, who wrote the movie with Fischer in mind, says: “When things started to happen between us, we worried, if it didn’t work out, it might destroy the movie.”

“Almost like the character in the movie, I was afraid to express how I was feeling,” said Jenna. “But it all worked out fine. I didn’t realize I was researching the role.”

Kirk even had to direct his wife-to-be kissing another man: “That was the only scene in the movie we had to re-shoot. You can’t read in a book how to get through that as a director. It’s awkward. Everyone loosened up on the second take.”

“You were less nervous than we were,” said Jenna.

“Everyone on the set thought, ‘This is weird,’” laughs Lee.

Click the image below to watch a Trailer for Michael Winterbottom’s “Trishna:”

Brad Hall directed his wife Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the short festival entry, “Picture Paris,” which he also wrote, about a woman trying to confront her midlife crisis with a trip to the City of Lights. The two originally met while working on Saturday Night Live.

Hall insists “it’s the easiest thing in the world, a delight in “to direct his wife, then adds, chuckling, “but I’ll talk to you later off the record… No, seriously, we’ve worked a lot, that’s nothing new, but it was really, really fun. In many ways, it was like a vacation. We leave everything else at home.”

“The film came about when our older son went off to college and we were devastated by his departure,” explains the Emmy-winning veteran of “Seinfeld” and “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” who plays the Vice President of the U.S. in HBO’s upcoming “Veep.” “It speaks to that phenomenon of despair. It’s like that last scene in Toy Story 3.”

“We actually watched that the weekend before our son left, which was the biggest mistake of our lives,” says Hall.

Napoleon Dynamite” star Jon Heder co-stars in Korean director So Yong Kim’s first American film, “For Ellen,” as an attorney for Paul Dano’s struggling indie rock musician, who returns to his hometown only to discover his estranged wife is trying to take custody of their son. “I would love to do more independent film,” he says. “You have people who are passionate about their art, and don’t have a lot of money. And out of that structured budget comes some great creativity and art…instead of worrying about trying to make a buck.”

The Birds“’ legendary Tippi Hedren, who plays a dotty older citizen in “Free Samples” with Jesse Eisenberg, answers a question about whether the notoriously lecherous Alfred Hitchcock ever came on to her on the set. “He made it very, very difficult for me until I finally got out of the contract,’ she says. “In a word, he was difficult. We would have to sit down and have a long conversation about it.”

Christine Lahti, a close friend of festival founder Jane Rosenthal and a Sundance Institute board member, didn’t have a film in competition, but turned up at the party to show her support for independent film. “I’ve taken a shot with several first-time directors and—knock on wood—it’s always turned out well.”

Ex-SNL cast member Chris Parnell, who has a small, but memorable part in the current box office smash, “21 Jump Street,” also appears in “The Five Year Engagement.” “I only do movies with numbers in the titles,” he laughs. “I got those parts through table reads, which is something I learned how to do at SNL.” A veteran of sitcoms like ABC’s “Suburgatory” and NBC’s “30 Rock,” he enjoys the opportunity to take the occasional film role, but has no illusions about a career as a leading man: “I’m a character actor, which is the way I like it. I don’t have to worry about gaining weight or the way I look.”

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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