If there's a keynote performance at New York's 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, Ms. 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.
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," said Geoff Gilmore, the chief creative officer of Tribeca Enterprises, who programmed the Sundance Film Festival for years. "And they end up feeling fresh."
And they are stories littered with memorable female protagonists.
"Lola Versus," a New York comedy from the filmmaking couple Zoe Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein to be released this June, is one of the best showcases yet for Greta Gerwig, the naturalistic actress of "Greenberg" and the recently released "Damsels in Distress." Ms. Lister-Jones and Mr. Wein drew from their own experiences (particularly Ms. Lister-Jones) to make a film, she said, about "what it's really like to be a single woman in New York, approaching 30."
"More than anything, I think we really felt there needed to be a movie with a female in the leading role because there's so few of them out there that feel authentic and real," Mr. Wein said. "You rarely get to see women being unapologetic."
Michael Winterbottom's "Trishna," is an adaptation of Thomas Hardy's "Tess of the d'Urbervilles," relocated to contemporary Rajasthan, India. Freida Pinto ("Slumdog Millionaire") stars as the title character, a peasant who falls in love with a British businessman (Riz Ahmed).