Tribeca Film Festival 2017 Opening Night Boosted by Aretha Franklin, Barry Manilow & Clive Davis Doc

Tribeca Film Festival 2017 Opening Night Boosted by Aretha Franklin, Barry Manilow & Clive Davis Doc

The 16th edition of the Tribeca Film Festival kicked off last night in a big way. In recent years the opening night festivities have gone down at the Beacon Theatre, but this year the festival opted for the significantly grander Radio City Music Hall. A fitting venue given the evening honored music man Clive Davis and featured performances by Barry Manilow, Jennifer Hudson, Earth Wind & Fire, Dionne Warwick, Carly Simon, Kenny G, and Aretha Franklin.

The night opened with Governor Cuomo hailing New York’s commitment to the film and television industry. Then, Tribeca founders Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal came out to make some introductory remarks, and thank the festival’s sponsors. De Niro used the moment to also deliver a subtle jab at the president. After listing off all the artists that were slated to perform, he remarked, “All of them fresh from not performing at the inauguration.” Perhaps this was his criteria for the evening’s program.

Usually the trailer and ads before a festival screening don’t illicit much of a response. However, this was not the case with Tribeca’s opening night as one of its major sponsors is United. There was audible laughter from the crowd following an advertisement for United Polaris, the airline’s international premium cabin travel experience. We expect this reaction will haunt United throughout the festival.

After all the housekeeping, the crowd settled in for the world premiere of Chris Perkel’s Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives. Running a little over two hours, the documentary goes on a musical journey with much-decorated hitmaker Clive Davis. Told from Davis’ point of view, the portrait is a flattering one. It begins with how he got into the music business and tracks his entire career, peppered with stories of the artists he worked with over the years, from Janis Joplin and Barry Manilow, to Kenny G, Patti Smith, Santana, Sean “Puffy” Combs, the Grateful Dead, Alicia Keys and more. Special attention is given to his relationship with Whitney Houston, who he signed in 1985 when the artist was just 19 years old.

After the screening, a parade of artists dear to the 85-year-old rock n’ roll hall of famer took to the stage in tribute. Barry Manilow played a montage of his hits, Jennifer Hudson paid homage to Whitney Houston, Earth, Wind & Fire was joined on stage by Kenny G, Dionne Warwick crooned “That’s What Friends Are For”, Carly Simon performed “Coming Around Again” with assistance from children, and Aretha Franklin delivered a glorious rendition of “(You make me feel like) A Natural Woman.” See photos below.

The Clive Davis documentary is just the first of many music-themed films that will be screening at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Tonight sees the world premiere of When God Sleeps, a documentary about Iranian rapper Sharon Najafi. On Friday, April 21, Johnny Rotten of Public Image Limited will be in the house for the world premiere of Tabbert Fiiler’s documentary The Public Image is Rotten. For Earth Day (April 22), the festival is premiering the environmentally conscious documentary Blues Planet: Triptych followed by a performance by one of the film’s subjects, Taj Mahal & The Phantom Blues Band. Then next week, music fans can buckle in for WLIR tribute film Dare to Be Different, Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal’s Whitney Houston documentary, Whitney. “can I be me”, and Gala screening Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: The Bad Boy Story, which is followed by a live concert featuring Sean “Puffy” Combs, Mase, ‘Lil Kim and Faith Evans.

Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives has a few more screenings at Tribeca, but for those who can’t make it out, the film will be available for viewing on Apple Music at some point in the future.

For more information about the festival, which runs through April 30, visit