Tribeca Film Festival opens at the Apollo

HARLEM, Manhattan — It's opening night for the Tribeca Film Festival. Now in its 18th year, it's still going strong and Wednesday it was "Showtime at the Apollo."

This year's festival kicked off with a screening of the highly-anticipated HBO documentary "The Apollo." Fittingly, the premiere was at the famed Harlem theater. PIX11 was on the red carpet.

"The Apollo is an institution and to have a film about the Apollo at the Apollo by Tribeca is about as good as you can get," said Robert de Niro, who co-founded the Festival in 2002 to help revitalize lower Manhattan after the 911 terror attacks. "The Apollo is part of the fabric of this city and I hope the same for the Tribeca Film Festival."

Harlem's legendary theater is where stars are born and legends are made. Some of them shared their memories on the red carpet.

"The Apollo has my heart, it's the very first professional date I ever played in my life with the Miracles right here at the theater on the Ray Charles Show," remembered Smokey Robinson.

The Motown legend also said he enjoys coming back to play at the Apollo to this day.

"It's tradition, especially for black entertainers; it's the foundation for black entertainers , they were always welcome to play here throughout history," said Robinson. "If they tear down everything on 125th Street, please leave this standing."

BeBe Winans was also on hand, part of the famous group known as the first family of gospel music.

"It has been a gift to my family, the Apollo has been a gift to our careers, it has been a gift to the world," said Winans. "So when you say the Apollo, my family and so many others are indebted to this place they opened the doors and gave us opportunities when others did not."

The festival is also mean to be a reflection of the city. Now in its 18th year, it's never been more diverse or inclusive with a record numbers of female directors and directors of color and directors from the LGBTQ community.

"Fifty percent of our directors are women this year which is an amazing statistic and we couldn't be more thrilled," said Paula Weinstein, executive vice president of Tribeca Enterprises.

"Tribeca was begun as a way to bring community together and revitalize downtown, we're all activists and we all care about everybody," said Weinstein. "Film is not going to be good unless we represent the different points of view and we have 20 percent directors of color this year, that's not enough but that's a start and same with the LGBTQ community, but none of us can rest on our laurels; we have to keep going."

The documentary covers the 85-year history of the Apollo. The landmark has perched on 125th Street in that entire time.

"This is the story of black American culture. It is so important and so powerful. We lifted ourselves out of oppression through our music and our heart; so to tell this story that is so critical," said Roger Ross Williams, director/producer of the documentary. "This has been a labor of love."

One of the figures interviewed and featured in the documentary is Billy Mitchell, the well-known resident historian at the theater.

"I've worked at the Apollo on and off for 54 years, so I've seen the evolution of this theater and what this theater means to culture, not just African-American culture, but to American culture."

The Tribeca Film Festival continues to grow. It now includes shorts, television shows, virtual reality, even gaming. It runs until Sunday, May 5.

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