Tribeca fest attracts 2nd-largest crowd ever

410,000 visitors attend ninth annual event

NEW YORK -- The ninth annual Tribeca Film Festival, which concluded Sunday, attracted some 410,000 visitors, the second-highest attendance figure in its eight-year history.

The number includes an estimated 300,000 attendees at the free Tribeca Family Festival Street Fair and Tribeca/ESPN Sports Day held May 1. Around 94,000 people attended the 496 in-theater screenings and events, dropping from a high of 203,000 in 2006 as screenings have slowly been pared back from more than 800 that year.

But one Tribeca figure that hasn't yet been revealed could have the biggest implications for audiences, sales and distribution at other festivals: the number of $45 Premium passes sold for the inaugural Tribeca Film Festival Virtual. The weeklong online program, overseen by fest executive director Nancy Schafer and recently appointed Tribeca Enterprises chief creative officer Geoff Gilmore, streamed eight world and North American premiere features from the fest's lineup, plus shorts, panels and other video content.

Only 5,000 passes were made available to limit audience exposure of the eight features seeking commercial distribution, and only U.S.-based computers could access content because of piracy concerns. The Virtual program was targeted more to consumers than film execs, said Tribeca marketing and industry director Julie La'Bassiere, who didn't know if any film buyers viewed the features online. She noted that preliminary reports showed more Premium pass buyers in Middle America than Los Angeles and other film industry centers and said organizers hope that the Virtual program will be available to audiences worldwide next year.

"Overall, our first effort with Virtual has been a great experience for Tribeca, our audiences and our filmmakers," Schafer said. "We're encouraged by how well this extension of the festival went, and we look forward to building on that success."

Programming director David Kwok said the filmmakers behind "Spork," winners of the Virtual audience award voted by its online viewers, were excited about the reach the new program provided.

"It has the potential to be used as an extension of a film's viral campaign," Kwok said.

The impact of the program on a film's potential audience and sales potential is still a question mark, especially since most distribution deals for Tribeca titles usually don't happen until weeks after the festival. There are a few drawbacks: Films screened online are not eligible for Academy Awards consideration, and sellers have fewer opportunities to track the reaction of potential buyers than if they follow the traditional practice of sending out DVD screeners or unveiling the movies at screenings.

But Virtual can also get films seen by buyers who might otherwise miss them: Apparition acquisitions exec Vincent Scordino was glad to be able to view the Ed Burns comedy "Nice Guy Johnny" online when he wasn't able to attend the fest. He likened Virtual to a service offered by the new Buenos Aires-based Latin American film market Ventana Sur, which streams films for buyers on Cinando.com.

Some buyers were initially confused over the difference between the Virtual program (which ran films seeking distribution) and the new Tribeca Film program, which purchased rights to 12 new features for distribution via VOD and limited theatrical release.

"Some people thought we'd already licensed the rights (to 'Johnny')," said Victoria Cook of Cinetic Media, which is repping sales of six Tribeca titles. "It took a little bit of educating and a little extra work. It's all a new world."

Like La'Bassiere, Cook wasn't aware of any buyers using Virtual to screen films, but she was happy with the exposure gained when Burns discussed the program on "Jimmy Kimmel Live."

Though they haven't announced any Tribeca acquisitions yet, IFC Films had more films in the fest -- four -- than any other distributor.

"We launch all of our movies in New York, and Tribeca is a really strong regional festival, but it's (also) a great opportunity to leverage a lot of the national media that's here," IFC Entertainment head Jonathan Sehring said.

In the post-fest hunt for titles, distribs not completely consumed with Cannes preparations looked to fest award winners such as U.K. doc "The Arbor" as potential acquisitions. Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn's rockumentary "Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage," the Heineken Audience Award winner, has been courting buyers, as have the next three runners-up: Robert Kirbyson's family comedy "Snowmen" (starring exec producer Ray Liotta), Bobby Sheehan's Gotham club chronicle "Arias With a Twist: The Docufantasy" and Paul Crowder's Billy Joel concert doc "Last Play at Shea."

The "Shea" producers are now negotiating a distribution pact with Sony Music Entertainment and discussing a limited theatrical rollout deal with Sony Pictures Classics.

A full list of Tribeca Film Festival attendance facts and figures is available here.
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