At the Tribeca Film Festival, worlds as far apart as Elvis and Nixon, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Justin Bieber, are colliding.
Though films remain the center of Tribeca, they're surrounded by a multimedia clamor at the 15th annual festival, which opens Wednesday. This year's docket is full of television, virtual reality and celebrity talks that will drive the conversation as much as the films.
And, fittingly, many of the movies at this year's festival are themselves portraits of cultural institutions in flux and art forms in amalgamation. Things kick off Wednesday with Andrew Rossi's appropriate opener, "The First Monday in May," a documentary about the Met's sometimes smooth, sometimes awkward embrace of fashion as an art on par with its more traditional holdings.
It's Rossi's ("Page One: Inside the New York Times," ''Ivory Tower") latest look into the colorful, striving characters working amid a revered cultural institution. "The First Monday in May" delves into Met curator Andrew Bolton's mounting of a mammoth exhibit of influential Chinese fashion, an undertaking that coincides with Anna Wintour's annual Met Gala, the fashion extravaganza that benefits the Met's Costume Institute.
Among the film's many smartly observed moments of backstage turmoil is Bieber, of all people, singing impromptu in the Met halls as he excitedly strides into the ball.
"Andrew Bolton feels a certain sense of mission to prove to his colleagues and the art world in general that his area of concentration is worthy of existing in the museum and of being treated with the same seriousness as other disciplines of art," says Rossi. "To see it from his perspective is really interesting because he's almost at the helm of a disruptive force in the world of museums."
At Tribeca, disruptive forces are everywhere. There are 38 interactive and virtual-reality exhibits — from a Grateful Dead performance of "Truckin'" to an exploration of Pluto — many of which will be presented at a "virtual arcade." Sixteen television events, including the premieres of AMC's "The Night Manager" and TNT's "Animal Kingdom," are planned.
The festival will close with a 55-minute documentary called "the bomb," which will be staged with screens surrounding the audience and scored live by a band. There's even a competition this year for Snapchat shorts.
Such expansions and experimentation are common on the festival circuit, but they receive more prominence and promotion at Tribeca, where the film slate — a mixture of solid documentary programming, emerging independent voices and celebrity-led curiosities — has sometimes struggled to capture the city's attention.
This year, Tribeca has already caused a stir, but not in the way it intended. The festival prompted a backlash when it programed an anti-vaccine documentary by a discredited British doctor. After festival co-founder Robert De Niro, who has an autistic son, first defended the choice, the festival pulled it.
But Tribeca's footprint in New York is growing. Events this year span Manhattan, from the uptown Beacon Theatre (owned by the Madison Square Garden Company, which purchased a 50 percent stake in Tribeca Enterprises in 2014) to the downtown Whitney Art Museum.
And many permutations of art are found across the film program. The documentary "Burden" chronicles the confounding conceptual artist Chris Burden, who in one exhibition famously shot himself in the arm. "For the Love of Spock" is Adam Nimoy's tender ode to his famous father. The French documentary "Reset" is a behind-the-scenes look at Benjamin Millepied's first (and it turned out only) year as director of the Paris Opera Ballet.
Nothing captures the festival's spirit more than Turner and Bill Ross' "Contemporary Color," a unique concert film of David Byrne's 2015 color guard show in Brooklyn. Byrne staged music acts together with the flag-twirling acrobatics of color guard troupes in a mesmerizing swirl of music, imagery and dance.
The Ross brothers — the makers of three lyrical documentaries of American communities — noted Tribeca was perfect for their twist on the concert film in part because "we just finished it."
"We knew that if we were going to do something in that line, it would need to be just bizarre enough," Turner Ross says. "If we're going to continue these sort of time-based documents of place and people, then what we needed was an event in which so many things were going on, this dense situation that we could create a living document of."
Chris Rock will talk to J.J. Abrams, and Tom Hanks will sit down with John Oliver in a couple of the many staged conversations. The heartfelt Susan Sarandon-starring mother-daughter dramedy "The Meddler" will screen ahead of its theatrical release, as will Hanks' "A Hologram for the King," director Tom Tykwer's adaptation of the Dave Eggers novel. Katie Holmes will premiere her directorial debut, "All We Had."
But of all the unlikely mishmashes on display at Tribeca, none can match Liza Johnson's "Elvis & Nixon" for sheer strangeness. The film is inspired by the 1970 meeting between Presley and the president, a tete-a-tete captured in a famous White House photograph. Needless to say, the balance of power between the two tips toward the King.
"It's just a little bit surreal in a way," says Johnson. "Even in the photograph, you can feel an element of that. They're dressed so differently and they come from totally different worlds."