Volume 19, Number 2 | May 26 - June 1, 2006

Downtown Notebook

Growing up with the Tribeca Film Festival

Juliette Kessler, whose head is visible at the bottom of the top photo, appeared to have Tom Cruise’s attention while covering this year’s film festival.

By Juliette Kessler

“What were you like when you were my age?” That’s one of my favorite questions to ask the actors and film directors at the Tribeca Film Festival— not to mention the rock stars, comedians, models, athletes, and even, politicians.

As a reporter for the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps, I have covered the past two Tribeca Film Festivals. I’ve been sent to all kinds of T.F.F. events, like panels, red carpet premieres and sit-down interviews. I even presented an award with my fellow reporter Nathan Kahn at the 2005 award ceremony. This year I covered the “Mission Impossible III” premiere, where I interviewed all sorts, including Jonathan Rhys Meyer, Philip Seymour Hoffman, J.J. Abrams, Jeff Garlin, Kanye West, Jon Voight and yes, Tom Cruise.

I found out that when Kanye West was 12, his favorite movie was “The Wizard of Oz.” Jonathan Rhys Meyers loved “Lawrence of Arabia.” Because Scholastic reporters are so young, I think the celebrities relax a little when we interview them. For a few minutes, even Tom Cruise stopped being Tom Cruise, Great Big Movie Star talking to the press, and turned into the 12-year-old kid who mowed his neighbors’ lawns to earn money to buy movie tickets.

I also interviewed someone else this year, someone who made me think about why the film festival was created: Rudy Giuliani. I must confess that when I first saw him walking down the red carpet of the “Mission Impossible 3” premiere I hoped he would just keep walking. (We do not share the same politics.) One of the hard things about being a reporter is that you have to keep your opinions to yourself, and for me that’s not very easy. But, stop he did, and now I’m happy about it. In the middle of all the flashing cameras and the hundreds of fans screaming for Tom, Tom, Tom, he reminded me that the film festival was created by Robert De Niro after Sept. 11 to help Tribeca recover. I live in Tribeca and even I had forgotten that. For me the festival had become about meeting movie stars and free popcorn.

Flashback to five years ago: I was seven years old, sitting in my second grade classroom at P.S. 234, when the planes hit the World Trade Center a few blocks away. The school was displaced for almost five months, but we all pulled together. It felt great to move home, but while the school and our neighbors were back in Tribeca, other people were still staying away, as if the neighborhood was filled with people-poison, and in a way it was, filled with bad memories that nobody wanted to remember. So Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal came up with their idea to bring people in with a film festival and a family street fair. And it worked! Like a sticky trap for flies, the Tribeca Film Festival draws people in.

I went to the first family street fair with my mom and dad and saw so many of my friends there. The fair felt like a big gift to the neighborhood to those of us who had stayed in Tribeca because we love living here. I made necklaces out of pasta and had my face painted. One year later I tap-danced on a stage set up for the local kid performers, and this year I watched my friend Darcy Haylor play the electric guitar with her rock band on that same stage. Now, all my neighbors still show up for the fair, but so do hundreds of other people. It feels much bigger. In fact, I bumped into a friend there who lives on the Upper West Side.

I know that some people complain that the Tribeca Film Festival has gotten too big, too Hollywood and not Tribeca enough. Maybe. But could all that mean that it’s worked really well? For me Sept. 11 is a really bad memory that I don’t like to think about, but now that the festival has taken on a life of its own, it’s kind of a relief to sit back and not always think about why it began in the first place.

Juliette Kessler, 12, is a sixth grade student at The School at Columbia University.


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