23 April, 2008

Lift Off For 7th Tribeca Film Festival

By Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

On the same day that the Cannes Film Festival announced its official program, the Tribeca Film Festival lifts off this evening in its most ambitious to date. The Festival, which is presenting its seventh edition, has become a major New York cultural event and has increasingly flexed its muscles as an industry destination as well.

Modeling itself on such long-standing events as Cannes, Venice and Toronto, the Tribeca Film Festival has avoided the “boutique” approach of such established New York festival events as the New York Film Festival and New Directors/New Films, in creating a “five ring circus” atmosphere, loaded with World and US Premieres, public events and chic industry parties. Definitely more populist than its uptown festival colleagues, the Festival offers a mix of esoteric cinema from around the world with more popular genres (specifically, family and sports films) and a series of free and outdoor events meant to appeal to average filmgoers, rather than just the arthouse elite.

That strategy has succeeded in attracting major financial sponsors, including American Express, Apple, Cadillac and Delta Airlines, making it one of the best endowed financially of the North American film confabs. Perhaps it was this multi-million dollar commitment of funding, along with criticism of previous high ticket prices, that motivated the Festival to lower its ticket price to $15 for evening and weekend screenings and $8 for daytime screenings. With Americans, and New Yorkers, counting their pennies these days, cash outlays for exorbitant “Festival passes” could be hurting. But audiences have definitely embraced the event and record attendance is expected again this year.

One of the ironies of the development of the Festival is that it began as almost a kind of “public service” event, designed to reinvigorate the neighborhood of TriBeCa (that’s triangle below Canal Street for you yokels) after the attacks of 9/11. Local residents, including Robert de Niro and producer Jane Rosenthal, created the Festival as a way of bringing people and income to businesses hard hit after the 2001 attacks. However, these days, the Tribeca Film Festival is no longer exclusively a downtown event. The Festival is centering its Hospitality Lounge and Press Center in Greenwich Village, with film theaters across Manhattan now participating in the ambitious program. Of course, this opens up the event to all Manhattanites, who are remarkably provincial in their way about not venturing outside their core neighborhoods. In effect, the Festival has now become a multi-site, neighborhood-diverse event with only tenuous connections to its original downtown roots.

It has also become a destination for distributors, sales agents, festival programmers and other media professionals. Since the Festival now boasts an impressive array of World and International Premieres, those looking for the next “big thing” either from the American independent world or the international film scene swarm to the event. While quality is sometimes compromised for premiere status, the Festival definitely does deliver a strong program for all kinds of tastes and a proving ground for how the films will play to a sophisticated, urban audience. Coming just a few weeks before the Cannes extravaganza, the Festival offers sales agents and distributors the start of a discussion that could very easily end up on the Croisette in a few weeks with a signed contract.

But industry talk aside, the Tribeca Film Festival is mainly a public event, designed to showcase new and interesting filmmakers, as well as throw show Hollywood dazzle to the masses. New York and its film aficionados definitely deserved a gargantuan smorgasbord of an event, instead of an elegant (and even snobby) wine tasting. In that sense, the Festival is very much like the city that it celebrates: oversized, diverse, multi-ethnic, maddening and even a little chaotic. So, log on to the Festival’s website: and jump into the pool at the deep end.

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