The price of seeing a movie at the annual Tribeca Film Festival is increasing dramatically in an area of New York City where the cost of daily life seems to be on a continual incline. At a time when the cost of living in Manhattan continues to push many people to outer boroughs trying to escape $30 dinner main courses and $15 cocktails, the price of a ticket at the emerging Tribeca Film Festival is increasing by 50% this year. While most tickets for last year’s festival were sold for $12, this year tickets for the majority of screenings are priced at $18. The cost is higher than all other festivals in major American urban cities but perhaps not totally surprising to those who face some costly cultural event prices in New York City where a ticket to MoMA infamously hit $20 and the price of a ticket to a Broadway show often exceeds $100.
Tribeca festival organizers defended their move to $18 movie tickets saying that they offer a major cultural event unlike the typical trip to the multiplex in Manhattan where ticket prices linger around $11 – $12. “Seeing a film at the festival is not just seeing a movie at the local theater,” explained Tammie Rosen, director of communications for Tribeca Enterprises and the Tribeca Film Festival, calling the event a “unique experience that cannot be re-created.” She emphasized that TFF tickets are on par with the cost of going to a festival in other international cities with a similar cost of living, like London. In that city, tickets to the London Film Festival range from as high as about $17 U.S. dollars to about $14 USD in other London festival venues (and local London movie tickets currently cost about $13 – $14 USD in Leicester Square). Elsewhere in Europe, tickets for the annual Berlin International Film Festival in Germany are priced at about 7 -8 Euros and 11 Euros for gala screenings.
Numerous organizers from other American film festivals privately expressed surprise at Tribeca’s dramatic move and a few spoke with indieWIRE about general ticket pricing, noting that festival ticket costs are typically set at or near the cost of a regular movie ticket at local multiplexes and arthouse venues. A survey of costs for film festival tickets around the country supported the link to pricing at local theaters and not factored in are any number of fees and surcharges some customers pay when buying tickets online or by phone.
The Tribeca Film Festival is selling tickets at a lower $14 price during weekday afternoons but according to its online program guide there are also a number of screenings in various sections and at numerous venues priced at $25 per ticket. The festival is also offering a Daytimer pass for afternoon screenings for $150 (with a discount for AARP members) and Family festival tickets are priced at $14. The sold out Harrison and Franklin ticket packages offer bulk buying at $20 a ticket, with additional benefits and priority buying privileges.
The event’s general ticket prices top the Sundance Film Festival, which charges $15 for tickets and the costs are essentially rivaling the New York Film Festival, the famously selective uptown Manhattan event that charged $16 and $20 for tickets to Lincoln Center screenings back in October (and $10 for Walter Reade Theater screenings, before discounts). The Film Society of Lincoln Center and MoMA’s New Directors/New Films series, currently running at the Walter Reade Theater and the Museum of Modern Art, charges $12 for tickets to showings.
“We’re not inventing it from scratch,” explained Graham Leggat, head of the San Franciso International Film Festival and the San Francisco Film Society, when asked about the pricing plans for his festival. Leggat, a former top NYC arts exec who has worked at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, MoMA and GenArt, explained that the cost of tickets to the SF festival is intentionally pegged to the price of attending regular movies in his city and that when he joined the organization he lowered prices. This year, with the SFIFF about to celebrate its 50th anniversary, tickets for most screenings cost $12, with discounts to seniors, students and SF Film Society members (SFFS organizes the annual event).
“All along we’ve been staying slightly ahead of the multiplex or arthouse price for general admission,” Leggat told indieWIRE on Thursday, adding, “On the other hand, we want to be sure we are giving our members a decent enough premium, if we went much above that, given our size, we’d be cutting our own throat.”
“It should be what general admission is in any given market I think,” agreed Christian Gaines, the head of festivals at American Film Institute, which runs the AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival and just launched the AFI Dallas International Film Festival. “You might slide a little bit above.” He also added that given the uniqueness of the festival experience, an audience will accept a price slightly higher than the cost of a regular movie. “Film festivals are one of a kind events that come along once, you should be emphasizing that and pointing to its specialness.”
“In advising others and in thinking about our own festival, I think it’s important to hit that sweet spot,” added Gaines. AFI FEST in Los Angeles charges $12 for most tickets, with a discount for members along with matinee prices. Prices at the new AFI Dallas International Film Festival, currently taking place in Texas, are priced at $8.50 before discounts.
At most other big city international film festivals in the United States, such as those in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Seattle, the price for a festival ticket is typically quite close to the cost of seeing a movie at the local cineplex. By comparison, tickets for the 42nd Chicago International Film Festival were $10 with a $2 discount for members, while the Los Angeles Film Festival organized by Film Independent offers tickets for reguar screenings for its members for $10 and $11 for non-members. Festivals typically charge more for higher profile special programs and gala events. At the upcoming Seattle International Film Festival, tickets are priced at $10 before member discounts in a city where the top ticket prices around town are at about $9.75, according to festival organizers.
North of the border, tickets to the Toronto International Film Festival for a walk-up attendee run about $16 ($18.75 Canadian). A Toronto rep noted today that the festival also sells tickets for about $7 CAD each for attendees who buy using bulk ticket books. The cost of attending a regular multiplex movie in the Canadian city is just over $10 ($11.95 CAD).
Meanwhile, at the recently concluded Miami International Film Festival, general admission prices were $12, with discounts for seniors and students and at the Flordia Film Festival, currently running in Orlando, tickets are being sold for $9. The price is the same at the Nashville International Film Festival coming up in April and SXSW in Austin recently charged $8 for tickets.
As far as other New York festivals go, Tribeca’s ticket prices are lower than the costs of attending the annual Gen Art Film Festival, which targets a young, fashionable, upscale crowd. This year’s Gen Art Fest is set to take place 10 days before Tribeca at the Clearview Chelsea West. The $30 tickets, however, include both the nightly screening followed by a private party that also typically includes sponsored cocktails at a Manhattan club. Out on the East End of luxurious Long Island, the Hamptons International Film Festival charges $12 for general tickets and plans to keep the cost steady this fall, according to an insider.
This year, the Tribeca Film Festival will again take place at a number of venues outside of the downtown neighborhood where the festival was born, leaving walk-up attendees faced with a choice between paying about $11 for a regular movie in current release and $18 for a TFF title. This year, the festival is abandoning its Upper West Side location, and will move to the AMC 72nd Street East in Manhattan with screenings also planned for AMC 34th St. in Midtown and the AMC Kips Bay across town, as well as the AMC Village VI downtown, the Clearview Chelsea West on 23rd St. and, as always the Battery Park multiplex along with other TriBeCa neighborhood venues.
Organizers from rival festivals, many of whom privately expressed surprise at Tribeca’s dramatic move this year, will certainly be monitoring the reaction from local attendees here in New York City. One has to wonder if the continued flight to places like Brooklyn, Queens, and New Jersey will carry over to Spring festival fans. At the BAM Rose Cinemas in Fort Green, Brooklyn just a few weeks after the Tribeca Film Festival, the 2nd annual Sundance Institute at BAM event will present nearly two weeks of movies, a mix of 21 features and 27 shorts from the latest Sundance Film Festival. The cost for a ticket will be $11.
[Brian Brooks contributed to this article.]