The sixth annual Tribeca Film Festival in New York kicked off on Wednesday with a strong line-up of international documentaries and features tackling some of the world's most controversial issues, from war to global warming.
With 157 feature films and 88 shorts from a total of 47 countries, the festival is offering a smaller program than last year, but organizers are promising a high quality line-up with no fewer than 73 world premieres.
"The festival is getting more and more strong and popular," actor and director Robert De Niro, who co-founded the festival, said in an interview ahead of the opening. The event runs until May 6 throughout New York city.
The festival emerged in 2002 out of the ashes of the Sept. 11 attacks the previous year and was intended to help breathe new life into a devastated city, and particularly the downtown Tribeca area.
"It was our way to try to help heal our community. It was the only thing we knew how to do to help," producer and co-founder Jane Rosenthal said.
"When it started out, it was helping the rebuilding of Tribeca spiritually, financially, and culturally and it's still doing that," added De Niro.
Among the films most likely to attract attention are documentaries I Am an American Soldier: One Year in Iraq with the 101st Airborne, and Beyond Belief, about two Sept. 11 widows spending time in Afghanistan.
There is also a strong environmental theme, following on from February's "green" Oscars. Former US vice president Al Gore is to open the festival with a series of shorts on global warming.
The ashes of Star Trek star James Doohan will be blasted into space tomorrow when a rocket carrying a symbolic portion of the late actor's cremated remains is launched in New Mexico.
Doohan, beloved for his role as the USS Enterprise's chief engineer Montgomery "Scotty" Scott, died aged 85 in 2005, but plans for his posthumous rendezvous with the stars have been repeatedly delayed.
However, launch organizers at Space Services Inc are confident that Doohan's wishes will finally be granted when their SpaceLoft XL rocket blasts off from the Spaceport America private launchpad near Las Cruces, in New Mexico.
SSI offers a variety of services for families wishing to shoot the remains of loved ones into space.
Launching a single gram of ashes comes with a US$495 price tag, while sending remains into deep space, a service which comes into effect from 2009 will cost up to US$12,500.
Back on Earth, Oscar-winner Robin Williams and John Travolta have signed on to star in a Disney comedy, Old Dogs, Variety reported earlier this week.
The buddy movie tells the story of old friends whose lives are turned upside down when they find themselves responsible for seven-year-old twins, the report said.
The film, directed by Walt Becker, also was to feature Travolta's daughter, Ella Travolta.
Travolta, 53, was a ladykiller in Saturday Night Fever, just a killer in Pulp Fiction, and is now hoping to kill at the box office as a transvestite in the silver-screen adaptation of the musical Hairspray.
Williams, 55, took home a best supporting actor Academy Award in 1998 for Good Will Hunting, and recently starred in RV, Happy Feet, Man of the Year and the upcoming License to Wed.
Other Hollywood heavyweights teaming up are director Steven Spielberg and actor Tom Hanks who are producing a television miniseries focused on World War II battles in the Pacific, the Variety reported.
Shooting will begin next year in Australia for the series, which will appear on the HBO cable channel in 2009.
Spielberg and Hanks previously produced the 2001 series Band of Brothers, which recounted the experiences of American soldiers fighting in Europe during World War II.
Meanwhile, Michael Douglas is to star in a new film based on a 2000 civil lawsuit against US auto giant Ford over safety issues in its sports utility vehicles.
The Oscar-winning star of Wall Street and Traffic would play the attorney who took Ford to court on behalf of a single mother from Texas left paralyzed after an accident.
Lawyer Tab Turner won a multi-million US dollar settlement for Donna Bailey in the case, reputed to be the biggest product liability case in US history.
"This gives me the chance to play a different kind of character. I played a lawyer once, in Fatal Attraction, and there wasn't much about the law in that picture," Douglas said.
The film would be based on journalist Adam Penenberg's 2003 book Tragic Indifference: One Man's Battle With the Auto Industry Over the Dangers of SUVs.
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