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    Tribeca Film Festival: Women Play Starring Role

    If there's a keynote performance at the 11th annual Tribeca Film Festival, it may well be Abbie Cornish's riveting portrayal of a Texas single mother who, desperate for money to regain custody of her son, haphazardly smuggles Mexican immigrants across the border.

    Such leading roles don't frequently come around for women, but this year's Tribeca boasts a boatload of them. In David Riker's "The Girl," which will make its world premiere in competition at the festival, Cornish's fraught, sweaty performance of a mother on the brink bears two more pervasive themes at the 2012 Tribeca: financial straits and overlapping worlds.

    "It totally rebirthed me as an actor," says Cornish, the Aussie actress of "Bright Star" and "Limitless." "It felt like it was the first time again. In making the film, I felt like it was the best I had ever been as an actor in all regards – as an actor, as a collaborator, as a human being."

    The New York festival, founded by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff, opens Wednesday with the flashy premiere of the comedy "The Five-Year Engagement," starring Jason Segel and Emily Blunt. Tribeca is punctuated by such popcorn-friendly tent-pole events, including the closing night superhero bonanza, "The Avengers," and numerous outdoor screenings.

    The slate, numbering 90 movies this year, is typically among the most varied (and hardest to define) of the large international festivals. This year's selections were programmed by a somewhat new team that includes veterans of Sundance and Cannes.

    "These are stories that start off on familiar turf – on territory and genres that I feel like I know where this is going – and take turns and go in directions that I totally didn't anticipate," says Geoff Gilmore, the chief creative officer of Tribeca Enterprises, who programmed the Sundance Film Festival for years. "And they end up feeling fresh."

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