NEW YORK, April 11 (Reuters) - More than a decade after it was launched to revitalize lower Manhattan following the Sept. 11 attacks, the Tribeca Film Festival has become a showcase for documentaries and independent films as well as a testing ground for new talent and digital innovations in cinema.

12 Apr 2014 - 3:15 AM  UPDATED 15 Apr 2014 - 10:04 AM

The festival kicks off on Wednesday with "Time Is Illmatic,"
a documentary about the American rapper Nas and the making of
his groundbreaking 1994 debut album "Illmatic," from which he
will perform after the screening.

More than 85 feature films including documentaries were
selected from 6,117 submissions, and will be screened during the
festival that runs through April 27.

"It was never intended to be just a film festival that would
have just films or certain types of film," Robert De Niro, an
Oscar-winning actor and co-founder of the festival with film
producer Jane Rosenthal, told Reuters.

"It is more of a community-type thing. That was our
intention because that was what it was born out of," he added.

"Gabriel," by writer-director Lou Howe and starring Rory
Culkin ("Signs" and "You Can Count on Me"), opens the festival's
world narrative competition.

The drama about an emotionally disturbed young man in search
of his first love will compete for best feature, director, actor
and actress, screenplay and cinematography prizes against 11
other films.

They include "Brides," a French-Georgian film set in the
suburbs of Tbilisi, "Five Star," about a member of the Bloods
street gang, and "Zero Motivation," a dark comedy about young,
female Israeli soldiers.


"Dior and I," by French director Frederic Tcheng, chronicles
the first couture collection of Belgian designer Raf Simons for
the famed Christian Dior fashion house and will lead the
documentary competition.

Films from France, Puerto Rico, Britain, the United States,
Belgium and the Netherlands will battle for best documentary
feature, best new director and best editing awards.

Among them are "Garnet's Gold," a British entry that details
a search for lost riches, "Misconceptions," about the
consequences of world population growth and "Mala Mala," a look
into the transgender community in Puerto Rico.

Actress Courteney Cox, best known for "Friends," makes her
directorial debut with the comedy-drama "Just Before I Go."
Chris Messina, of TV's "The Mindy Project," will also go behind
the camera for the first time with "Alex of Venice," about a
lawyer pushed to the edge after the departure of her husband.

"Boulevard," a drama starring comedian Robin Williams, will
premier at the festival, as will "Miss Meadows," in which Katie
Holmes plays a schoolteacher who moonlights as a vigilante.

Music-themed documentaries include "The Other One: The Long,
Strange Trip of Bob Weir," about the Grateful Dead guitarist,
"Bjork: Biophilia Live," and "Super Duper Alice Cooper."

For sports fans, boxing greats Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield
and Bernard Hopkins will appear in "Champs," as well as Michael
Rapaport's "When the Garden Was Eden," a love letter to the New
York Knicks basketball team.

Tribeca N.O.W. is a new program at the festival that
recognizes independent storytellers who create and share their
work online.

"What we have now is a generation that experience
storytelling in a range of different formats," said Geoff
Gilmore, the festival's chief creative director. "It is very
much not just a universe that is emerging but evolving."

(Editing by Eric Kelsey and G Crosse)