Tribeca Film Festival programmers Frédéric Boyer and Genna Terranova talk to Jeremy Kay about championing international and American gems.
The balancing act that has historically defined so much of what the Tribeca Film Festival (April 16-27) stands for informs a pleasing maturity in the 2014 selection.
Caught between the black holes of Sundance and Berlin on one side of the calendar, and Cannes soon following on the other side, Tribeca’s programming honchos must advocate for potential world premieres and champion gems that might find a new lease of life in New York.
By the time of the opening night premiere of Nas documentary Time Is Illmatic on April 16, director of programming Genna Terranova, artistic director Frédéric Boyer and their team will have scoured the global festival circuit, tracked possible break-outs and negotiated tirelessly with rights holders.
Berlin was the final staging post on their travels - a demanding daily routine of multiple screenings before heading back to New York to pull everything together under the gun of looming announcement deadlines.
“Berlin has traditionally been our last stop and we have had success before with [Belgium’s recent foreign-language Oscar nominee] The Broken Circle Breakdown and The Rocket [from Australia],” says Terranova.
“We have a strong history with Berlin titles. We strategise by having early conversations with them and canvas Berlin to find those films that not everybody is talking about. When we bring them to New York we’re giving them a different audience. A lot of these films have a lot of success.” She continues, “The audience here is really respectful to foreign films through us giving them a sounding board. We are pretty selective in the amount of foreign films we show. Foreign documentaries have been a great platform for us.”
The New York mix
And therein lies the trick. Terranova and Boyer must identify not only world premieres but acclaimed known titles that speak to the New York audience and industry. It is also worth noting that while they adore international cinema, non US-films must earn a place at the table.
Six out of 12 World Narrative Competition entries come from outside the US, five out of 12 for the documentaries and 12 out of 22 from Viewpoints including Berlinale Golden Bear winner Black Coal, Thin Ice. Spotlight parades eight out of 31 and Midnight three from seven.
“We want that mix of US and foreign but not only do we want [nationalities] to be diverse, we want the styles to be diverse,” says Terranova.
“We’re extraordinarily excited about [documentary world premiere] Dior And I - it’s a beautiful inside look at [artistic director and John Galliano replacement] Raf Simons.” There is quite a lot of acclaimed work on show from prestigious showcases.
“Out of Rotterdam we got [Tiger winner] Something Must Break and some others,” says Boyer, who notes that the subsequent trip to Germany was also fruitful.
The Swedish drama plays alongside a notable Italian arrival from Berlin. “Human Capital was a perfect movie for the main competition [in Berlin] but it played in Panorama,” says Boyer. “It’s been a huge success for Italy.
People were talking about it at the [EFM].” The programming team tracked a number of Berlinale selections, one of which, Mexico’s Gueros, earned Alonso Ruizpalacios the best first feature prize and screens in Tribeca’s World Narrative Competition.
“The competitions are emblematic of the rest of the programme,” says Terranova, who points to strong individual performances on show, be it Rory Culkin in Gabriel, Saga Becker and Iggy Malmborg in Something Must Break or Ryan Piers Williams in X/Y.
“The sales agency opportunity is to get exposure in front of buyers in the US,” she says. “We tend to look for films we feel are going to be a real discovery. Something Must Break is special. Brides [a drama set in the republic of Georgia that also screens in World Narrative] comes from a first-time female film-maker.”
Documentaries are often the first port of call for buyers these days and the World Documentary Competition roster looks solid. “There’s a tendency for docs to go more towards character pieces and we have a range of people from the ordinary to the extraordinary,” says Terranova.
“Garnet’s Gold is about a man who we probably would never have heard of were it not for this beautiful doc about an inner journey. This year we have something like Virunga, also out of the UK, about seven people who are going above and beyond to protect this World Heritage Site.” The strong contingent of international fare in the Viewpoints section includes San Sebastian 2013 Golden Seashell winner Bad Hair (Pelo Malo) from Venezuela and a rare peek into Burma through the lens of Ice Poison (Bing Du).
The balancing act means Terranova and Boyer must also calibrate the right measure of new and established voices.
Roman Polanski’s Venus In Fur screens in Spotlight for the first time since Cannes 2013 and there is a work-in-progress presentation of Sticks, from The Cove’s Oscar-winning director Louie Psihoyos.
Joss Whedon wrote the screenplay for In Your Eyes and renowned documentarian Amy Berg tries her hand at her first fictional story, Every Secret Thing.
Representing the new wave are the likes of Gabriel director Lou Howe, Junebug writer Angus MacLachlan in his directorial debut Goodbye To All That and Gueros director Ruizpalacios.
That is evidence of all the programming team has to juggle. The New York scene can be grateful for the scope of their ambition.