film reporter

Signs point to Tribeca as an indie speedway

As any indie distributor knows, launching a film into the theatersphere is no easy task. An overcrowded market and limited P&A funds have given festivals a much larger role in indie release plans, and the six-year-old Tribeca Film Festival has grown in importance with them.

But just how effective is it as a launching pad? Four out of five indie execs surveyed recommend the Tribeca fest for distributors that choose fests.

Miramax Films president Daniel Battsek is understandably a fan after landing Martin Scorsese to introduce the 2006 Italian Oscar entry "Golden Door" at its New York premiere Wednesday. The family drama tells the story of Sicilian immigrants who struggle to get to Ellis Island. "We felt it would appeal to (Scorsese), and I assume part of his decision to introduce it was because of his own background," Battsek said. Director Emanuele Crialese's background as an NYU film student probably didn't hurt, either, because Tribeca co-chair Scorsese is an NYU alumnus.

Battsek also was impressed by an April 18 "Movies on Madison" program Tribeca initiated with the Madison Avenue Business Improvement District and the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting, featuring small parties and displays for his and several other films at select stores.

The May 25 "Golden Door" release date dovetails well with the fest, but the New York premiere of ThinkFilm's historical docu "Nanking," which took place Wednesday, is a long way away from its December opening. Still, ThinkFilm U.S. theatrical head Mark Urman says the fest is the ideal place to begin long-lead publicity and a Chinese-American outreach campaign for the film, which chronicles a tragic chapter in China's history.

"Our screening is a stone's throw away from Chinatown," says Urman, who is targeting leaders in the community and Chinese-language press.

Samuel Goldwyn Films president Meyer Gottlieb and vp Peter Goldwyn had the mainstream press in mind when choosing Tribeca for the New York premiere of Julie Delpy's "2 Days in Paris" before its August launch. "While the audiences are not the easiest (to impress) in the world," Goldwyn says, "they're good to gauge the potential of a film." The company got extra mileage from the fest when Delpy was asked to speak during an Apple/IndieWire Filmmaker Talks interview and a Tribeca Talks panel on actresses-turned-filmmakers.

IFC Entertainment president Jonathan Sehring has more at stake than most company heads at the fest. IFC has the U.S. premiere of "My Best Friend," the New York premiere of "Black Sheep" (a Weinstein Co. co-acquisition), "This Is England" (a Red Envelope co-acquisition) and its biggest solo release to date, John Dahl's "You Kill Me." Like Delpy, Dahl spoke at the Apple Store Soho. "We're a New York-based entertainment company, so we like to support anything in our backyard," Sehring says. "Tribeca has been a fantastic experience for us."

But for Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard, who hosted the New York premiere of his musical prodigy drama "Vitus," it wasn't so fantastic. Despite an opening piano recital from his young star, Bernard said only 110 of about 700 seats in the downtown auditorium were filled, thwarting the word-of-mouth he hoped to create for the film's late June release.

One factor might have been that it made its debut Friday against several other premieres. "It's possible excitement has been taken away from downtown with all of the new uptown venues," Bernard says. "If I did it again, I'd request one of them."

But even Bernard says Tribeca is a good launching pad for a film opening in early summer. Despite a few kinks, it can be a good opening act.