New York’s Tribeca Film Festival (April 17-28) may sit between Sundance and Cannes, but that has not stopped it becoming a major US platform for world cinema. By Jeremy Kay
Tribeca Enterprises chief creative officer Geoffrey Gilmore is well aware that beyond mere branding, it takes time to build a festival’s signature style.
As the 12th Tribeca Film Festival prepares to kick off in New York, there is a sense of quiet confidence among Gilmore and his head programmers about the event’s ongoing journey.
“What makes this festival work is the range of agendas it serves and the fact that it does so with a focus on quality,” Gilmore says down the phone from New York. “Both Genna [Terranova, director of programming] and Frédéric [Boyer, artistic director] came back and said the festival took another step up this year.
‘What makes this festival work is the range of agendas it seves and the fact that it does so with a focus on quality’
Geoffrey Gilmore, Tribeca
“For years people looked at Tribeca and didn’t know what to make of it. Finally you get there. Just as the quality in, say, Toronto eventually made it compelling.” Quality is a buzzword when Gilmore talks about Tribeca. This year, it is clearer perhaps than ever before to see why he is excited: the roster includes the inaugural Storyscapes transmedia section, world premieres of new work from recent Oscar nominee Naomi Watts, Neil LaBute, Clark Gregg and Phil Morrison, as well as documentaries about a US ‘kill team’ in Afghanistan and the impact of American corporations on African oil (see Tribeca Tips, below).
April is the cruellest month for an ambitious international festival, falling as it does between Sundance and Cannes. The team is realistic but prefers to dwell on the upside, sourcing entries early and acknowledging its unique position. “While not every movie is right for this festival,” says Terranova, “we are in a fortuitous position whereby we can take a movie and then it can go to Cannes, play in the market and get international exposure. In that sense we’re finding our place in the calendar.”
“It’s like a dream for these film-makers to present their film in the US, but especially in New York,” says Boyer, previously artistic director and head of programming at Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes, who arrived shortly before the 2012 festival. “It’s not the case that half of the films are good and the rest are OK - all the films are really good, so it was exciting for me to be involved in this. For some film-makers it’s the first time they will compete and it’s about giving the film-makers a spotlight on their work.”
“You keep pushing quality,” adds Gilmore. “You showcase films whether or not they’ve come out of Berlin or wherever. There’s nothing wrong with that. We gave visibility to something like War Witch last year that screened in Berlin and it got nominated for an Oscar. That’s what the challenge is.” This year, Gilmore is proud to keep the bandwagon rolling for Sundance and Berlin selections Before Midnight and Prince Avalanche.
“We’re a festival that likes to celebrate films from around the world,” Terranova continues. “The New York crowd is very intelligent and worldly, and when we think about what the audience is looking for there’s definitely a lot we can do. We can show a specific doc alongside something with more of a mainstream tilt. We also try to show films that the industry might be interested in.
“The most important thing for us is the film-makers and to have them come here and be happy about showing their movie here. We are very focused on community and that’s a part of the festival, too.”
The industry Terranova refers to will be watching closely. Experts canvassed by Screen agree that for a distributor, Tribeca is a highly effective platform. Yet it does not work for every buyer and seller. Acquisitions executives with deep pockets prefer to survey what Cannes has to offer before unlocking budgets, while sales agents by this stage have a good idea what they will bring, or want to bring, to the Croisette.
“We have sales agents attending like TrustNordisk and Wild Bunch and Content, so we do have a strong representation,” says Terranova. “That’s evolving every year.” Quality will out and everyone will make space for a gem. “Last year 27 films got sold out of Tribeca and that’s a hell of a sales platform,” says Gilmore, adding: “Sundance and Cannes are so gigantic and you have to do your own thing.”
‘I wanted to bring some film-makers with a different point of view and a different style of telling stories’
Frédéric Boyer, Tribeca
To that end, Tribeca has become one of the main festivals in North America dipping its toes in the distribution arena through VoD and theatrical platform Tribeca Film, a sister company to the festival. Gilmore declares himself satisfied with the steps the distribution platform has taken in its first three years and knows the challenges of the digital space. “The biggest problem with VoD isn’t how it gets seen, but how it gets discovered. The question once again becomes how do we make films visible and what is the range of films that can do that?”
Another question, namely how much money are these platforms generating, remains unanswered. “I cannot talk numbers,” he says. “The numbers are proprietary.”
Gilmore, who alongside festival managing director Casey Baltes and new Tribeca Enterprises executive vice-president Paula Weinstein now shares duties vacated last summer by former Tribeca Enterprises executive vice-president Nancy Schafer, is equally coy about future international initiatives to complement the high-profile Doha Tribeca Film Festival, where Tribeca has an advisory role. They are coming, he promises. Perhaps self-selected highlights from recent trips offer a clue: Iceland, India, and back to the Middle East.
But for now the focus is on the festival. “I like all these films - there’s a lot of diversity,” says Boyer. “I wanted to bring some film-makers with a different point of view and a different style of telling stories. Each film should be an adventure: you just open a door. Sometimes it’s good for an audience not to know much about what they’re going to see. We ask them to trust us.”
Tribeca Tips: selected world premieres at Tribeca 2013
Almost Christmas (US)
Dir Phil Morrison
Paul Rudd and Paul Giamatti are ne’er-do-wells on a scam in Morrison’s follow-up to Junebug. Spotlight.
Contact Rena Ronson, UTA - firstname.lastname@example.org; Thorsten Schumacher, HanWay Films - email@example.com
Big Men (US)
Dir Rachel Boynton
The impact of American corporations on African oil. World Documentary Feature Competition.
Contact Josh Braun, Submarine - firstname.lastname@example.org; Jan Rofekamp, Films Transit - email@example.com
The Kill Team (US)
Dir Dan Krauss
The story of US soldiers on trial for war crimes in Afghanistan. World Documentary Feature Competition.
Contact Julie Goldman, Motto Pictures - firstname.lastname@example.org
Lil Bub & Friendz (US)
Dirs Andy Capper and Juliette Eisner
Chronicles the life of the world’s most famous internet feline and the popularity of cat videos. Spotlight.
Contact Juliette Eisner, Vice Media - email@example.com
Some Velvet Morning (US)
Dir Neil LaBute
The return of LaBute in this living-room drama with Stanley Tucci and Alice Eve. Spotlight.
Contact Peter Trinh, ICM Partners - firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunlight Jr (US)
Dir Laurie Collyer
Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon are an ill-fated minimum-wage couple in Florida in Collyer’s follow-up to Sherrybaby. World Narrative Feature Competition.
Contact CAA - email@example.com; Cassian Elwes - firstname.lastname@example.org
Trust Me (US)
Dir Clark Gregg
Sam Rockwell, William H Macy and Felicity Huffman star in this tale from actor Gregg about an agent’s quixotic voyage through the underbelly of Hollywood. Spotlight.
Contact Rena Ronson, UTA - RonsonR@unitedtalent.com; Mimi Steinbauer, Radiant Films International - email@example.com
Meanwhile, Storyscapes puts transmedia on a pedestal through five works. Robots In Residence (US) invites the audience and robots to collaborate on a documentary. Star Wars Uncut (US) patches together short bursts of homage to fashion a new way of viewing the most iconic sci-fi film in history.