The Tribeca Film Festival (April 23-May 4) began life six years ago in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, with the aim of contributing to the revival of Lower Manhattan.

Tribeca: Where are they now

Set up by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff, the five-day event attracted 150,000 visitors in 2002. Today, Tribeca has blossomed into a leading event on the festival calendar, spanning 12 days and attracting 500,000 festival-goers. It has etched itself a place on the radar of both domestic and international industry players.

'It's a good festival because it acts as a filter screening of the best films,' says IFC's vice-president of acquisitions and production, Arianna Bocco, who attends the festival regularly. 'Some films are new, some we may have missed at other festivals. Sometimes we don't buy films during the festival itself, but it gives us an opportunity to see good films in a limited time.'

This year's event features a streamlined selection of 120 features - 25% fewer than last year - following criticism that some movies were lost in the congestion of screenings.

Drama department

The 14 features and 12 documentaries in the competition line-up include some hard-hitting dramas.

They include the world premieres of Alfonso Pineda Ulloa's Mexican psychological thriller Love, Pain And Vice Versa, James Mottern's much-discussed US feature Trucker with Michelle Monaghan, and the documentaries Kassim The Dream from director Kief Davidson about a former Ugandan child soldier turned boxer, and Gini Reticker's Liberian tale Pray The Devil Back To Hell. The festival will showcase 53 world premieres in total.

Tribeca's artistic director Peter Scarlet says the line-up brings home the fact the 'world continues to be in dire straits', with the competition documentaries 'taking a long, hard look at that as we enter the fifth year of war (in Iraq)'.

The line-up was culled from 2,329 submissions. 'We continue to move into areas where tools of film-making are easier to get hold of,' says Scarlet.

'On the one hand this means there's an enormous number of bad films brought before (the selection committee), but also little miracles like Baghdad High.' He is referring to the documentary produced by the BBC, HBO and Arte about four classmates (Kurd, Christian, Shiite and Sunni/Shiite) in Baghdad who are given cameras to document their final year in high school.

'The camera becomes their confidante. We're seeing more and more things like that in film-making,' says Scarlet.

Rising star

Industry insiders are adamant Tribeca is gaining in importance. In the run-up to the festival, Andrew Herwitz's The Film Sales Company picked up worldwide rights to three festival titles - Sissy Spacek drama Lake City, coming-of-age story Ball Don't Lie and documentary Guest Of Cindy Sherman.

Buyers and other industry executives who attend the event consider it a good opportunity to take meetings, particularly since it fits in the annual calendar between the two major North American festivals, Sundance and Toronto, which are nine months apart.

However, some industry insiders suggest this year's line-up does not seem to offer any real breakout hits, at least in the days leading up to the festival. 'Expectations were higher last year,' says one New York buyer, preferring to remain anonymous. 'There were more cast and more interesting directors last year, more ancillary value. My competitors feels the same way.

'It's a tough time of year to get the premieres they want to get to attract buyers,' the distributor continues. 'But they do have a tremendous amount of press. More than other market festivals.'

Indeed, Cinetic Media's senior sales executive Sarah Lash, who is selling three films at Tribeca, points out the visibility the event has achieved is impressive for such a young festival.

'It's hard to have a festival with local, national and international presence,' she says. 'There's so much business to be done at Tribeca, and it's fortuitous for LA executives to come out here. Tribeca is also a very nurturing environment for films to be discovered.'

This year, 66 film-makers are making their feature directorial debuts. Cinetic's Tribeca slate includes competition film Trucker, as well as From Within, a psychological horror film screening in the Midnight section, and Bart Got A Room, which tells the story of a young man trying to get a date for the prom.

'Every year is always different. I try not to put too much expectation on the festival going into it,' says IFC's Bocco, echoing the thoughts of other distributors.

'It's a great opportunity to meet other people, and a good time to get business done. And I love the fact that it promotes New York.'