The Tribeca Film Festival kicked off Wednesday night with a celebration of another, older New York institution.
"Live From New York!," a documentary on the cultural impact of "Saturday Night Live" by Bao Nguyen, opened the 14th edition of Tribeca, the downtown film festival that aspires to be the kind of Manhattan mainstay Lorne Michael's "SNL" has been for 40 years.
The opening gala was held at the Beacon Theatre, a bit uptown from the festival's namesake neighborhood, but a sign of the festival's ambitions. The Beacon is owned by the Madison Square Garden Company, which last year bought half of Tribeca Enterprises, the festival's producer.
In his opening remarks with co-founder Jane Rosenthal, Robert De Niro thanked the Madison Square Garden Company for not turning the grand old theater into a multiplex.
Current "SNL" cast members like Kate McKinnon and Bobby Moynihan showed up for the premiere, as did some of the political figures, like former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who have sometimes been skewered by "SNL."
There has often been overlap between "SNL" and Tribeca. The show's cast members have frequently premiered films at the festival, and "Live From New York!" is actually the second "SNL" documentary to debut there, following James Franco's "Saturday Night Live," which in 2010 offered a backstage view of the show's weekly rituals from Tuesday table read to Saturday night performance.
De Niro has hosted "SNL" three times, all of which, he joked, were times when the show couldn't book Alec Baldwin.
"Live From New York!," which was made with Michaels' sanction, is a broad view of "SNL," looking across its four decades as both a fun-house mirror reflection of America and a significant force of its own, capable of not just star-making but possibly election-swinging. It follows the sketch show's electric birth in the '70s, its influential political satire in presidential campaigns and its frequent struggles with diversity.
The film, which will open in theaters in June, is populated by cast members and hosts who describe the show's unique perch in media. Will Ferrell calls it "a living, breathing time capsule." Amy Poehler says it's "a mishmash of America right now."
While warmly received, "Live From New York!" perhaps suffers from some "SNL"-feting fatigue: NBC hosted a 3 ½-hour primetime anniversary special in February.
The documentary leads a number of films at this year's festival that document comedy from behind-the-scenes, including documentaries on the National Lampoon ("Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon") and New Yorker cartoons ("Very Semi-Serious"). A Monty Python reunion is also planned to coincide with screenings of the British troupe's films, as well a documentary on their 2014 reunion shows.
This year's Tribeca is also chock full of off-screen performances and conversations, including a Mary J. Blige concert, and talks with George Lucas, Courtney Love and Amy Schumer. Wednesday night's premiere was followed by a performance by rapper Chris "Ludacris" Bridges.