The Sundancing of Tribeca

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We realize this may not be a popular or particularly fair comparison. But lost in the hype surrounding this year’s 5th anniversary of the Tribeca Film Festival, which kicked off yesterday, and its debut of the controversial United 93 is something that is perhaps endemic of all well-meaning festivals — music, film or otherwise: Commercialization, or, more accurately, mass appeal. Sundance, a festival that began as a celebration of independent, outside film, has become what a lot of people we talk to say is more about the scene than the films themselves.

Part of the “problem” is pressure from major studios or labels to be a part of something that’s independent, outside and “cool.” For organizers, it’s got to be hard to resist, say, Madonna, who wants to play the dance tent at your indie-leaning festival (see this year’s Coachella.) Or, in the case of Tribeca, Tom Cruise and M:I:3 — although in that case resistance doesn’t seem too hard.

We’ll never forget our first trip to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (which kicks off this weekend) despite that year’s headliner, the epitome of jazz heritage. We’re speaking, of course, of the Dave Matthews Band.

Still, it’s hard to criticize a festival like Tribeca, whose original mission, in part, was to inject a shot of adrenaline to downtown businesses after 9/11. I guess we just wish that adrenaline shot didn’t have to be in the form of Tom Cruise.