Elton John in Talks to Make Biopic 'Rocketman'
Elton John in Talks to Make Biopic 'Rocketman'

In a waterfront celebration a stone's throw from where the World Trade Center towers stood, the 10th annual Tribeca Film Festival opened with music and a movie Wednesday.

Tribeca has made flashy, populist festivities a central component over the years, so Elton John was a good fit. First, Cameron Crowe's documentary on the collaboration between John and Leon Russell, "The Union," screened. It was followed by a short performance by John.

"I'm honored. I'm frightened," said John, introducing the film he had yet to see himself.

The event was held outdoors and for free at the World Financial Plaza downtown, where the hole in the skyline is still deeply felt and the rebuilding construction is prominent. The locale was fitting, since it was the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that initially drove Robert De Niro, producer Jane Rosenthal and her husband, the entrepreneur Craig Hatkoff, to found the festival with the aim of revitalizing its namesake neighborhood and downtown Manhattan.

"The Tribeca Film Festival started nine years ago with a flash of inspiration and a surge of passion," said Rosenthal. "I could have never have imagined that we would find ourselves here today nearly a decade later."

The festival trotted out other attractions too, including a performance of "Walk Like an Egyptian" by the Bangles with the PS22 elementary school choir, remarks from comedian Denis Leary and an introduction from Martin Scorsese.

"For me, movies and music have been inseparable. They always have been and they always will be," said Scorsese. "And I know that the same holds true for Cameron Crowe."

"The Union" documents the studio sessions between John and his idol, Russell, a famed singer, songwriter and piano player who was a ubiquitous session player early in his career and has been a sometimes-forgotten legend from the earlier days of rock 'n' roll.

Crowe, whose films include "Almost Famous" and "Say Anything," captures the two musicians working with producer T Bone Burnett and John's longtime lyricist, Bernie Taupin, as well as numerous guest musicians. Though Russell is apprehensive at the start of the collaboration - which would result in the album "The Union" - the 69-year-old is gradually stirred (subtly since he hides behind a cloud of white hair and beard) and enlivened by the work.

Russell, who underwent serious brain surgery during the film, wasn't in attendance Wednesday but instead sent a video to thank Tribeca. Crowe, on location for another film, also sent a video message.

Opening with "The Union" sets the table for a Tribeca littered with music-related films. Among those in the lineup are documentaries on Kings of Leon ("Talihina Sky"), Ozzy Osbourne ("God Bless Ozzy Osbourne"), the Swell Season ("The Swell Season") and Carol Channing ("Carol Channing: Larger Than Life").

As the cool air floated off the Hudson River on Wednesday night, the conditions weren't ideal for music playing. Between "Tiny Dancer" and "Rocket Man," John confessed his hands were "ice."

The coming music documentaries - and many other films - should be cozier in movie theaters throughout the festival's run, through May 1.