New Tribeca caters to the business

Execs ride first class in the Genna Terranova era

NEW YORK -- This year's Tribeca Film Festival had barely begun when the fest received the kind of vindication it has eagerly been seeking: A screening for the Michelle Monaghan family drama "Trucker" on Thursday night brought out execs from such studio specialty divisions as Miramax and Paramount Vantage, and even the Weinstein Co.'s Harvey Weinstein.

The weekend that followed didn't land all the blows organizers had hoped for. But for a festival trying carefully to reinvent itself while holding on to the ample buzz and goodwill it has generated over its six years, it might have been just enough.

It's Year 1 for the Genna Terranova experiment at Tribeca, as the fest's senior programmer and former Weinstein Co. exec attempts to streamline and improve programming and presentation, with a particular eye on the industry.

Focusing on quality over quantity (moving from 157 features to a more carefully curated 120) and frontloading the weekend with available titles was met with positive reactions.

The premiere of Plum Pictures' "Bart Got a Room" played strongly Friday as Brian Hecker's coming-of-age dramedy earned high marks for its depiction of teenage romance and family life in the South Florida suburbs. The screening of "Trucker," another Plum movie, bore fruit, with at least two buyers said to be interested in acquiring the title. Other buzz titles included the Celia Cruz documentary "Celia the Queen," Sissy Spacek's "Lake City" and the Frank Langella thriller "The Caller."

Terranova was highly visible as she introduced screenings; a ubiquitous programming face in the manner of Sundance's Geoffrey Gilmore seems essential.

Tribeca's decision to group screenings in one neighborhood led to a less frazzled mood. And the year-round industry office, which also offers a concierge service, led to innovations like reserved seating for buyers. Roadside Attractions' Eric d'Arbeloff noted staffers even came out to bring buyers into crowded screenings. "That doesn't happen at other festivals, which could learn something from that," he said.

The moves are part of the fest's goal to build its credibility among the entertainment business as it has among consumers. "Of course we want everyone to come out and see our films. But the industry is really very important to us," co-exec director Nancy Schafer said.

But some issues that historically have dogged Tribeca remained.

Several films entering with high expectations failed to excite buyers and did little to negate the Tribeca stigma that buzz can sometimes exceed quality. Noted cinematographer Phedon Papamichael's touted suicide-thriller "From Within" played to a mediocre reception, while "Tennessee," the road-trip drama that drew interest for Mariah Carey's turn, also received a middling reception.

Tribeca deals seemed likely to cook at their traditional slow burn. Titles like "Bart" and "Trucker" could find deals by fest's end. Others may take longer and yield smaller pacts. (One overseas TV deal materialized: Channel 4/More 4 acquired U.K. TV rights to Julie Checkoway's Billy Pappas doc "Waiting for Hockney.")

"SqueezeBox!" a docu about the pansexual punk '90s club, birthed one of the best parties in the fest's history Friday at an event featuring performances from Deborah Harry and John Cameron Mitchell that was as much nightlife reunion as film premiere. And there were parties and publicity events galore for IFC, Sony Classics and Weinstein movies as well as hoopla for "Tennessee" and Madonna's poverty doc "I Am Because We Are."