The Tribeca Film Festival is growing beyond its core festival into new distribution platforms and international initiatives.
As executives and staff at New York’s highest profile festival prepare for its 10th edition (April 20-May 1), the Tribeca Film Festival finds itself at a crossroads. The festival is still young, but there is an awareness it needs to discover a mechanism to define itself.
“When I started, the raison d’etre was to revitalise New York after 9/11 and it has evolved so much since then,” says Tribeca Enterprises chief creative officer Geoff Gilmore, now in his second year in the job. “At one point it was showcasing a lot of films that in some cases the New York Film Festival didn’t do, but it has evolved into a much more narrowly focused programme.”
Opening with the world premiere of Cameron Crowe’s Elton John documentary The Union, this year the festival will present a streamlined roster of 91 features across five sections, including the new Viewpoints strand, designed to offer a snapshot of international independent cinema. Director of programming David Kwok and his team have scoured the globe for fresh material and, while there are returning film-makers, including Alex Gibney, Michael Cuesta, Michael Winterbottom and Cedric Klapisch, they have come up with much that is new from around the world. So could this be the year of Tribeca’s first true breakout?
Kwok maintains the selections are growing stronger and declares himself pleased with this year’s crop. “Tribeca’s name has been recognised more each year,” he says. “We hear more and more people who think Tribeca is the best place to watch a certain film. That’s where we situate ourselves. It allows films from Berlin to get into the US market and allows some films to travel from Tribeca to the Cannes market.”
Gilmore agrees this year’s line-up is strong, before moving on excitedly to the matter of distribution. Within the past 13 months Tribeca Film has taken steps to establish a foothold in the VoD arena and recently announced it would double its output to 26 titles over the next year, some of which will launch concurrently with their festival slot.
“When I came here from Sundance [where he served for years as festival director], it was with a sense that what was needed in this world was new strategies for distribution,” Gilmore says.
“It’s still something we have to think about. It’s nice for people to go back to the old excitement about buyers and markets but I still don’t necessarily think that’s what the future is. It’s about finding new audiences in different ways, and that’s what our platform is focused on. We’re saying, it doesn’t matter how the film gets to you, it’s a question of how to make it visible.”
The Tribeca leadership is yet to reveal how the first slate of films performed on VoD. “At some point we’ll have to talk about the measure of success in this world, although VoD figures are not generally announced,” Gilmore says.
“In a world where VoD is really transforming itself, the question becomes: is it still driven by theatrical or by visibility on another platform or can you find success in another way with an independent film that doesn’t already have major public awareness on it? What are the roadmaps we should be developing? There are thousands of films available on VoD, but how do we help people without getting them to scroll down a huge list?”
‘We’re saying, it doesn’t matter how the film gets to you, it’s a question of making it visible’
Geoff Gilmore, chief creative officer, Tribeca
But are film-makers weaned on the theatrical release ready to see their pride and joy sail off into the VoD sunset? Gilmore concedes it is a tough call. “They don’t want to give up the theatrical ring. They want to walk up the red carpet of theatrical visibility. Regardless of the fact it’s a loss leader, it’s a status [symbol]. That said, it’s evolving and people are starting to think about how to do this. From our point of view I want to tell them: here’s the model and here’s the upside potential.”
On the broader issue of Tribeca’s quest for identity, Gilmore says: “It takes a long time for a festival to establish itself as a place where breakouts occur. Last year 32 of the 85 films got into the marketplace. That’s significant. I know a lot of people know that Tribeca is a place where you discover work.”
The festival’s international initiative in Doha, Qatar, has been “something exciting to do”, he says. “In the first year, my goal was to get to the second year. The second year was about launching platforms for film-makers from the [Middle East] region and I see it evolving this year as a showcase with a more regional flavour. We are looking at a number of other places in the world. We are looking at Africa, China, Latin America and India, where we are thinking of doing other festivals and projects to develop an industry.”
Tribeca inhabits a challenging slot on the calendar and it is easy to see how the allure of Sundance, a growing SXSW and Cannes can entice film-makers. Then again, a solid Tribeca that knows its place can have the same effect on its circuit neighbours.
“SXSW has come a long way and is doing well,” says Tribeca Film Festival executive director Nancy Schafer. “They have a different sensibility. We are a platform for films and we have never strived to be a market, even though half of the films at last year’s festival sold. We’re also about being a launch pad and serving our audience in New York City.”
Ticket prices will remain at 2010 levels and Schafer pays tribute to a sponsor roster that includes American Express, ESPN, Heineken, new airline partner JetBlue and GM, which returns after a two-year hiatus.
Schafer points out that attendance in 2010 increased by 18% over 2009 to 410,000 attendees at screenings, panels and free community events, including the Drive-In and Street Fair. “We’re in good financial shape,” she says.
Tribeca titles to watch
Donor Unknown *
North American premiere
A woman whose life stemmed from the first generation of test tube babies searches for her siblings and, ultimately, her father.
God Bless Ozzy Osbourne
Mike Fleiss and Mike Piscitelli’s documentary chronicles the heavy metal icon’s long and arduous path to sobriety and peace.
The Good Doctor
Orlando Bloom reveals his dark side in this psychological thriller about an obsessive resident medic who falls in love with a young patient.
A Good Old Fashioned Orgy
Jason Sudeikis leads an ensemble cast as a young man who stages a final party at his parents’ house.
Jesus Henry Christ **
World Narrative Competition
Drama about a boy conceived in a Petri dish in search of his biological father. Toni Collette, Michael Sheen and Jason Spevack star.
Marathon Boy *
World Documentary Competition
North American premiere
An Indian marathon prodigy’s success becomes a tale of greed, corruption and broken dreams.
Kathleen Turner plays a conflicted mother running for the coveted Catholic Woman Of The Year award.
True story, starring Chris Evans as a drug-addled attorney who wages a David vs Goliath healthcare case.
Rid Of Me
Dark comedy about a dumped wife in Oregon who takes a job in a candy store and enters the North West underground punk and Cambodian rock scenes.
Michael Cuesta returns with this drama about a former rock’n’roll roadie who loses his job and must go back to his Queens childhood home.
* Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund recipient
** Tribeca All Access programme entry