Geoffrey Gilmore exits Sundance for Tribeca

Will become Tribeca Enterprises' chief creative officer

The news that Geoffrey Gilmore is leaving his post as director of the Sundance Film Festival to take the job of chief creative officer of Tribeca Enterprises has roiled the indie world.

The move leaves a void at the top of the fest he intimately shaped while also providing a jolt to one that's still trying hard to find its niche.

Gilmore's new gig -- which technically has him working for the larger Tribeca Enterprises, not the fest itself -- will contain elements of marketing, distribution and strategy. But, at least in 2010, it will not involve programming the Tribeca Film Festival, which continues to be run by Peter Scarlett.

The fest veteran acknowledged his new role was amorphous.

"I can't tell you everything in this job is really clear at this point. A lot of it is about exploring the possibilities," Gilmore said. "This isn't a straight programming job. This is a job that says, 'Let's look at what festivals do, let's look at alternative distribution.' "

In his 19-year tenure at Sundance, Gilmore's role evolved in a way that had him serving essentially as both chief curator and public ambassador; he spearheaded the fest's vast slate choices as he managed a host of complex industry and media relationships. Arguably no current festival director has such deep industry contacts, and none is so synonymous with the fest over which they preside.

"I've spent half of my professional life at Sundance, but I feel like I've reached a point where I'm not sure how much more I could accomplish in terms of changing the indie world," Gilmore said, noting that the prospect of moving from Los Angeles to New York also factored into his decision. "This is giving me an opportunity to work on a forward-looking vision."

The indie world continues to be buffeted by harsh forces on the theatrical front and has been looking to digital platforms to provide a measure of relief.

Gilmore added: "The last 30 years of independent film have been enormously successful, but it may have reached the end of the cycle. It may be in order for it to prosper, we have to look at new solutions."

If Gilmore was decisive about his reasons, the full implications of his move for both Sundance and Tribeca won't be clear for some time.

Tribeca officials said that the goal of hiring him would involve expanding the brand as well as forming strategic goals -- the kind of partnerships that festivals in general, and Tribeca in particular, haveundertaken.

In its seven years, the Robert De Niro-Jane Rosenthal institution has tried to expand beyond the two weeks of the festival proper, holding events sponsoring film prizes and forming a joint festival with the Qatar city of Doha. But it's sometimes had trouble escaping the perception that is primarily a springtime platform for lesser-known docs and features -- and in the difficult spot of unspooling just before the Festival de Cannes.

Tribeca Enterprises topper Rosenthal said that Gilmore would held provide the boost it needed. "His talent and experience will benefit Tribeca immeasurably, particularly in creating new strategic alliances and opportunities such as our recently announced Tribeca Film Festival Doha," she said.

As for Sundance, thedirection it now takes remains an open question.

The Sundance board is likely to meet and begin screening candidates in the coming weeks on how to replace the longtime fest director. Gilmore's is a job that, because it combines both programming savvy and industry contacts, will see names surface from both the fest circuit and the industry.

While paying homage to its former chief, Sundance reps played down the effect Gilmore's departure might have.

"Geoff was the public face of the festival, but there were a lot of people behind the scenes, and they weren't even that far behind the scenes," said spokesperson Brooks Addicott. Among those personalities is festival director of programming John Cooper, who was Gilmore's longtime deputy; Gilmore's exit could offer the possibility of an expanded role for Cooper.

Fest founder Robert Redford offered a statement of general support for Gilmore.

"Our festival's 25th anniversary has been a time of candid reflection I support completely his decision. The timing is right to move on. We wish Geoff only the best as he embarks on the next phases of his life and career," he said.

Gilmore's exit had been rumored before, for posts at distribution companies as well as at other fests. At a press conference several years ago, he even dropped a hint that he may be nearing the end of his run. On Tuesday he made his move. The industry waits for Sundance to do the same.