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Meerkats, fullbacks, and Michael Jackson zombies

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The 2008 Tribeca Film Festival, presented by American Express, announced the return of its popular community free events, the Tribeca Drive-In, Family Festival Street Fair and Tribeca/ESPN Sports Day. This year’s Tribeca Film Festival will take place from April 23-May 4. All these family events are free and open to all.

· Tribeca Drive-In Outdoor Screenings, April 24-26, at the World Financial Center Plaza: The following films will be screened outdoors through the Tribeca Drive-In, the festival’s classic outdoor screening series that entertains families and movie lovers of all ages. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and seating for this free public event is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Programs begin at 7:30 p.m. with screenings starting at approximately 8 p.m. Thriller Night: Thriller & The Making of Thriller are set for April 24. Filmmaker and Thriller video director John Landis will screen Michael Jackson’s epic 1984 music video and the classic “Making of Thriller,” in honor of the 25th anniversary of “Thriller.” The evening kicks off with the world’s largest zombie disco, a Michael Jackson look-alike contest, and “Thriller” face-painting stations.

Meerkat Manor: The Story Begins is slated for April 25. Moviegoers can take the Meerkat personality test, play Meerkat Manor trivia featuring challenges from all three seasons of the Animal Planet show and participate in the Meerkat dance-off challenge prior to the screening. Meerkat mayhem begins at at 7:30 p.m. with the screening starting at 8 p.m.

Using lively footage of wild African meerkats and Whoopi Goldberg’s narration, this film ingeniously tells the story of Flower and her family. As imaginative as any cartoon, it will have kids begging for their very own baby meerkat (not recommended). “Meerkat Manor: The Story Begins” is directed by Chris Barker and Mike Slee and is making its World Premiere at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival.

Winner of Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival Fans’ Favorite Football Flick is on tap for April 26. The tournament, which began March 20, pits the top 16 football films in a head-to-head style tournament. Over the course of the next four weeks, fans have the chance to vote who should triumph in each match-up at until April 17 when the ultimate champ was announced.

· Tribeca Family Festival Street Fair is set for May 3, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The festival features the annual street fair from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. along Greenwich Street (between Hubert and Duane streets). The fair, a festival favorite which drew crowds of more than 300,000 people last year, is free and open to the public, and promises to be a day of family fun and lively entertainment.

Throughout the Street Fair will be talented performers, dancers, stilt walkers, Broadway performances, arts and crafts, face painters, and more. Families can even find a quiet corner to have a story told to them by a master storyteller. Students from local schools will also be at the fair with creative fundraising activities and vibrant student artwork.

The Street Fair will host more than 30 restaurants, merchants and organizations from the Tribeca neighborhood.

The main stage will feature special performances by the Broadway musicals Legally Blonde & Xanadu, New American Youth Ballet performing excerpts from the Don Quixote ballet, and the PS 150 TLC Singers. Also performing on stages along Greenwich Street will be local youth dance troupes, singers, showcase storytellers, puppeteers and performance groups from downtown schools. More acts will be announced in the coming weeks.

American Express will once again roll out the welcome mat for families and children of all ages with a number of street fair attractions. Their Star Struck tent will offer continuous entertainment for younger children with a live DJ, dancing, free stroller parking and scheduled performance acts. American Express will also have Information Centers near the North and South ends of the Street Fair, where American Express staff will hand out schedules, general information and helpful event maps.

Additionally, two Cardmember break rooms will be open for American Express Cardmembers to relax and enjoy complimentary food and beverages.

Kites will be available to fly high throughout the day while kids of all ages can create gigantic bubbles in our Bubble Garden courtesy of the off-Broadway hit, Gazillion Bubble Show. Dedicated to stimulating and enhancing children’s learning skills, the Chess in the Schools organization will bring chess games for kids and adults to play one another.

Verizon invites families with children of all ages to create and star in their very own movie scene and partake in other exciting, interactive Wireless and FiOS-based activities. With the use of green screen technology and adorable movie props, kids will have the opportunity to choose from a list of film scenes and make their big acting debut. Parents and kids can then view their movies either on a Verizon Wireless phone or online.

Victorian Gardens Amusement Park at Wollman Rink in Central Park will feature performances by King Henry’s Magic Show, Banjo the Clown’s Spectacle and The Sammie and Tudie Show. All shows encourage audience participation and volunteers, and are sure to bring smiles and giggles to all faces.

Chock Full o’ Nuts returns to the Street Fair featuring a caf

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