The festival, which was founded after the Sept. 11 attacks to rejuvenate Lower Manhattan, opened with the premiere of nine short films produced by SOS (Save Our Selves), an organization to raise awareness on climate change.
The night signified not only the opening of this year's festival, but also the growing connection between filmmakers and the issue of global warming. Gore, who starred in the Oscar-winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," said artists play an important role in the movement.
"Art, music, film, dance, poetry all the arts have long been our greatest tools to explore the regions of imagination that defy our efforts to think rationally about subjects that our emotions tell us are too painful to contemplate," he said.
Gore spoke optimistically of the potential for change. "Somehow, we do have to penetrate that shell of denial," he said.
Photos: Tribeca Film Festival
Tribeca, which held its first festival in 2002, was founded by Robert De Niro, his producing partner, Jane Rosenthal, and her husband, the entrepreneur Craig Hatkoff.
"The Tribeca Film Festival sprang from needs of community," Rosenthal said. "We've learned that every bit helps."
Though festivals customarily open with the premiere of a high-profile feature-length film, Rosenthal told The Associated Press ahead of Tribeca's opening that the decision was easy.
"I don't know what a traditional festival is," Rosenthal said. "Being able to shine a light on an issue and show interesting short films is better than showing some mediocre movie."
SOS founder Kevin Wall said the organization has commissioned 60 short films. The nine shown Wednesday night generally ran about five minutes long and sometimes felt like public service announcements.
They included visions of a flooded New York City, an animated hippo and turtle talking about changing temperatures, footage from a giant landfill in Brazil and a reminder of the especially harsh effect global warming is expected to have on Africa.
Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, whose documentary "Jesus Camp" played at Tribeca last year and went on to land an Oscar nomination, showed a film entitled "One Less Car" that showed the benefits of riding a bike in New York City.
Rob Reiner, whose films include "When Harry Met Sally" and "Stand By Me," presented a 15-minute film on the reunion of Spinal Tap, the mock heavy metal band immortalized in his 1984 mockumentary "This Is Spinal Tap."
The band will play in London on July 7 as part of the global Live Earth concerts, also produced by SOS. The concerts will raise funds for the Alliance for Climate Protection, of which Gore is chairman.
"The fact that there are so many people down here who care about the earth about the world who are making movies that are inspiring," "Sopranos" star Edie Falco told The ShowBuzz's Poppy Harlow. "It's a perfect way to spend an evening."
"I'm really curious to see the six films that the directors have done on climate change," said model Shalom Harlow. "I'm really curious to see how they've used the medium of film to get that message across. I'm hoping to see that will be motivating for a lot of people."
The festivities concluded with a three-song set from Jon Bon Jovi. He played Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," his own "Livin' on a Prayer" and the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun."
"I'm not here to pick a fight," Bon Jovi said. "I'm here as a dad; I'm here as a husband; I'm here as a citizen of the country and the world."
Others in attendance included Martin Scorsese, Petra Nemcova, Jimmy Fallon, Diego Luna, Christopher Walken, Paul Haggis and Josh Lucas.
At a press conference earlier Wednesday for the festival which runs until May 6 New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg called Gore "the world's hottest leading man."