Tribeca Film Festival


Five must-see Tribeca films

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more enthusiastic supporter of the Tribeca Film Festival than filmmaker Miranda Bailey.

In 2009, Bailey sold her "Wonderful World" to Magnolia Pictures out of Tribeca, which begins its ninth go-around Wednesday through May 2. This year, she's returning with similar hopes for "Every Day."

"Last year, Sundance was crazy," she recalls. "All the buyers went to the Jim Carrey movie ('I Love You Phillip Morris'), which was playing at the same time as our film. But at Tribeca, 'Wonderful World' was the (equivalent to the) Jim Carrey movie. The way Tribeca handled and positioned the film -- I don't think we would have gotten that sale without them."

Bailey is not alone. Last year's Audience Award winner, "City Island," sold out three screenings and organizers scrambled to get it five more. "The beauty of Tribeca is they have leverage," producer Lauren Versel says. "In Sundance, there's six theaters and that's it."

On the cusp of its first decade, Tribeca has become a true city institution. In 2009 it shrunk its film slate to fewer than 100 and ended up with 33 films getting some degree of distribution. This time, organizers hope to mirror that success with the same number of features (85) and shorts (47) in addition to the usual conversations and live community events.

As in previous years, the slate ranges from a tentpole festival opener, "Shrek Forever After," which world premieres in 3D, to big-name docs like Ice Cube's feature about the Los Angeles Raiders, "Straight Outta L.A.," to smaller fare like "Meet Monica Velour," starring Kim Cattrall as a former porn star.

"Monica" producer Gary Gilbert is coming with plans not just to have his film bought, but also to position it so that the movie can take advantage of the summer's "Sex and the City 2" marketing blitz because both films share a star. "Timing is a part of coming to Tribeca," he says. Meanwhile, other films like Sony Pictures Classics' "Get Low,"" which has been making the festival circuit rounds (it screened at Toronto, Sundance and SXSW, among others), see Tribeca as a way to market themselves on the cheap. "Tribeca is a great platform for 'Get Low,' " producer Dean Zanuck says. "It's prestigious, and affords us a great opportunity to get good buzz going prior to our July release."

Stories like these are commonplace in connection with Tribeca, and yet it is still considered a "second-tier" festival, no Toronto, Cannes, Berlin or Sundance. Which is fine, according to IFC president Jonathan Sehring. "Tribeca's market is not at the same level as those other four," he says. "But the marketplace has changed in terms of finding new movies. You never know where sales will come from, and Tribeca is a festival that surprises."

This year, there are two big surprises: The Tribeca Film Festival Virtual, which permits up to 5,000 pass holders to watch a curated selection of the 2010 festival's films and events online (eight features, 15 shorts); and Tribeca Film, a distribution platform designed to acquire and release films initially on VOD (though other outlets are also expected to be available). Seven of those films will screen day-and-date with the start of this year's festival, with a potential cable audience of 40 million households.

Such changes have developed under the aegis of Geoffrey Gilmore, Tribeca Enterprises' chief creative officer. Industry changes, he says, require new distribution options.
"The old strategy of film festivals -- go out, get buzz, get some buyers, release the film into the marketplace -- isn't working any more," he says. "We are uniquely positioned to make Tribeca Film work."

A film festival that does double-time as a distributor, however, raises eyebrows and concerns, no matter how well-intentioned. Tribeca Enterprises co-founder Jane Rosenthal says she and her colleagues are aware of the appearance of conflicts of interest: "We're examining that; you have to keep them separate."

Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard wonders how it will work. "It's a very serious task, that a filmmaker is entrusting their movie to you as a distributor," he says. "Going to a pay-per-view situation before other windows devalues the film in those areas."

Magnolia president Eamonn Bowles sees plenty of room on the playing field, but adds that things could get awkward. "Not now, though. I see them more helping films to get into the marketplace that wouldn't have a home otherwise."

With new distribution models like Tribeca Film, filmmakers are having to be more educated about distribution than ever before, but Cinetic founder and partner John Sloss believes they're stepping up to the task. "Filmmakers are savvier than they've been in the past," he says. "If people are transparent and have integrity about presenting options to filmmakers, they can make their own choices."

In the end, these new developments shouldn't overshadow what everyone comes for -- the festival itself, which continues to churn out developmental success stories like HBO's "Monica and David." Discovered by HBO in Tribeca's All Access program, it is in this year's documentary competition.

"We nurtured that project," says network senior vp documentary films Nancy Abraham. "Tribeca made that process easier for both of us: for the filmmaker, who could approach us, and then for us to work with the filmmaker."

That's the relationship the Tribeca Film Festival is still about, even if it is turning its gaze to the future.

"The world is changing so fast, it's hard to make predictions on where to go next," says Nancy Schafer, executive director of the festival and senior vp for Tribeca Enterprises. "We just want to put a stake in the ground and give festivals a role in the life cycle of independent films."