Size does matter. The Tribeca Film Festival (TFF) has been criticised for its huge programme and increasingly large footprint across New York City.

But with a tighter focus at the 2008 festival and an even more streamlined approach this year, the festival seems to have found its groove with thiseighthedition.

“We had been dabbling in what was our best sort of footprint and we really felt we got that right last year,” says its executive director, Nancy Schafer. “We centralised everything in two hubs, Union Square and Tribeca. That was successful so we’re doing a modification of the same this year.”

The programme is a streamlined 85 features, down from 120 in 2008 and 157 in 2007. Some 45 of the features are world premieres. The international/domestic split is about 50/50, and as in previous editions, the line-up offers 30%-40% documentaries.

The industry welcomes the changes. Josh Braun of New York-based production and sales company Submarine Entertainment has attended every Tribeca festival and says: “Our biggest issues were the number of films and the screenings being too spread out geographically. But after last year, I felt they had addressed both of those areas. And this year it seems like an even tighter ship.”

Summer launch pad

Senior programmer Genna Terranova says the tightened programme is especially strong. “It was challenging because we had fewer slots but we looked at what played well last year, re-evaluated our audience and played to the strengths of that programme and improved on it as much as we could.”

Director of programming David Kwok says this year’s narrative competition gives an idea of the overall programming strategy. “It’s a discovery festival for these newer talents but we can also be more of a launchpad festival for more recognisable names like (Michael) Polish,” he says.

In addition to the competition sections, further programming coups this year include the world premieres of:

  • Woody Allen’s Whatever Works starring Larry David
  • Cheryl Hines’ Serious Moonlight
  • Michael Cuesta’s Tell Tale, starring Josh Lucas and Lena Headey
  • Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience
  • Barry Levinson’s documentary Poliwood
  • Libby Spears’ documentary Playground, executive produced by Soderbergh and George Clooney

There is also a number of anticipated Midnight features including Ti West’s The House Of The Devil.

Tom Bernard, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics (SPC), sees Tribeca as “an evolving festival”. He says it has become a festival where SPC “certainly looks to buy movies” and “now we put a lot of our movies into it that will open in the summer and use it as a launch pad.” Indeed, the festival is opening with SPC’s Whatever Works.

The festival insists Peter Scarlet’s departure as artistic director in February after nearly seven years is not a problem; the programme was almost locked by the time he left. Schafer says the team will decide after this year’s festival if a new artistic director will be appointed or if the present staff will assume those duties.

For his part, Geoff Gilmore says: “What I do and how I work within the festival will be determined later. I don’t see myself in the same role that I did at Sundance. I won’t be watching those same numbers of films. But that doesn’t mean I can’t contribute to what’s going on.”


The programme is not the only thing that has been scaled back - as with all festivals, Tribeca has been hit by the economic downturn. Schafer will not reveal specific budgets, but says sponsorship is down less than 50%. However, presenting sponsor American Express starts its new five-year contract with the same level of financial commitment as in previous years.

“It’s tougher to raise money so we’ve made some changes to the festival,” Schafer says, noting that seasonal staffing levels have been cut by about 50%. “What costs us a lot of money is rented theatres and putting in digital projection. That’s where we’ve cut some of the costs.”

The festival has just over half the capacity of last year, meaning attendance will be lower and ticket revenues will be down. “We hope to be back up next year,” Schafer says.

In terms of the industry, Tribeca is a must-attend for New York-based executives, as well as attracting many Los Angeles-based attendees and international industry players.

Schafer says industry registration is strong ahead of the festival, with no noticeable drop-off due to the economy. Of course, running just before Cannes has the potential to hamper business.

But Submarine Entertainment’s Braun, who is selling five titles at this year’s TFF, says it is possible to close deals. In 2008, he sold Tennessee, starring Mariah Carey, to Vivendi Entertainment. “The dates slightly further away from Cannes give us more wiggle room and helps as well,” Braun says.

The festival is seen as not being very good at self-promotion for the deals that are done there. For instance, more could have been made of last year’s main competition winner, Swedish vampire drama Let The Right One In, which saw its US launch at Tribeca and has performed well for Magnolia’s Magnet label. However, Kwok says: “We helped put it on the map. That’s something we’re really proud of.”

Echoing the ethos of Tribeca Enterprises, Schafer also points out the festival will continue to be an acquisitions platform, but adds: “The whole business of film-making is what happens here - whether that’s people doing deals for their next movies here or finding agents or selling remake rights.”

The festival’s networking event, Tribeca All Access (TAA), is one of the highlights for visiting producers, distributors, financiers and sales agents. This year, the TAA has selected 27 US and international projects for one-on-one meetings and workshops.

Schafer and Jane Rosenthal both say a date change for the festival is not on the table: Schafer points out that a rumoured November date would not work because of their outdoor community events and the clash with the new Doha event.

A formal market?

Sony Classics’ Bernard is curious to see whether Tribeca becomes more of a market festival as a result of Geoff Gilmore joining Tribeca Enterprises. “It could become a very viable market because it’s a lot more accessible for Europe than Sundance. If (Tribeca) puts together a formal market and has programming comparable to Sundance, then it could become a great marketplace.”

While Gilmore believes Tribeca has an industry role, he clarifies: “I don’t know if the industry needs another formal market. Sundance became an unofficial, de facto market, as has Toronto. But certainly I can see New York City as a platform for dealing with a range of industry needs.”

Additional reporting by Jeremy Kay.

For the list of world premieres with sales contacts, click here.