De Niro vs. Bowie. Fight!

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Is the eternal battle of the rich, powerful father and his sulky hipster son now being played out on the stage of the city’s cultural festivals? Seems so: Festival followers are yammering about a generational turf war between Robert De Niro’s by-now well-established Tribeca Film Festival, which kicks off tomorrow, and the inaugural year of the exquisitely edgy High Line Festival, which launches May 9, hard on the heels of its Big Daddy downtown. The former, sponsored by AmEx and host to the premiere of Spider-Man 3, will have lots of rich older folks eating at pricey boîtes in what’s now an enclave of the rich and the older; the latter, backed by budget-chic H&M and curated by agelessly cool David Bowie, will sell young trendies cheap tickets to shows by hot alterna-talents like Air, Arcade Fire, and the Polyphonic Spree. A portion of proceeds goes to Friends of the High Line, that downtown boldfaced gang backing the conversion of West Chelsea’s abandoned elevated rail line into a pomo green space.

Not surprisingly, say insiders, the upstart has earned the wrath of the father, De Niro, 63. “I hear it’s driving Robert De Niro crazy,” says one observer, “and that’s just great because he’s a big old wrinkled thug versus these young guys” — namely, High Line producers David Binder, 39, and Josh Wood, 33.

Harsh words? Another arts insider says they reflect the feelings of many Tribeca dwellers toward De Niro and his festival: “The whole thing never made sense to me,” he says. “It’s neither a serious film festival nor clothing the homeless of Tribeca.” Observer No. 1 calls Festival the Elder “De Niro’s vision of Tribeca — commercialized, banal, exploited.” Of course, it seems a bit churlish to blame De Niro, rather than a combination of real-estate developers and Wall Street money, for turning Greenwich Street into Greenwich, Connecticut.

The conspiracy theory among High Liners is that De Niro was personally behind keeping Tribeca’s PR firm, Rubenstein, from doing the press for High Line. Binder, who brought the P. Diddy–starring Raisin in the Sun to New York stages, and Wood, a gay nightlife impresario, won’t say whether the raging bull bullied Rubenstein away from them, only that, festival-wise, “ours happens to be a little younger and rougher around the edges and more multidisciplinary than theirs.” At Rubenstein, Howard’s son Stephen counters that Tribeca has long had non-film content: “We have the Goo Goo Dolls this year.” (He also notes that Bowie performed the first year.) He swears that it was his decision alone to turn away the younger guys’ offer. So why the rumors? “Probably because I sat on [the decision] for some time,” he says.

What’s more, he says, the Tribeca camp bears no ill will toward Bowie’s camp. “Jane [Rosenthal, Tribeca festival producer] and I are looking forward to going to the High Line Festival together.” And, of course, Binder and Wood will attend the premiere of Spider-Man 3, right? The duo’s guffaws drip with irony. “I haven’t seen Spider-Man 2,” says Wood. Binder bests him: “I haven’t seen 1.” —Tim Murphy

De Niro vs. Bowie. Fight!