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open forum | tribeca fest “embargo”

open forum | tribeca fest "embargo"

Let me start by clarifying that I am not posting this to antagonize my friends and colleagues in Tribeca, but instead I hope to encourage a healthy discussion about the changing nature of film journalism, particularly at film festivals.

This year, Tribeca Film Festival organizers have announced a new embargo policy for reviews of festival films. Accredited journalists, many of whom may see TFF films at pre-fest screenings next month, are asked to hold reviews of films until the movie officially screens at the festival.


“Embargo” regulation for world premieres
Reviews of films that celebrate their world premiere at the Festival may only be published after the official premiere.  All journalists seeking accreditation to the Festival declare their acceptance of this “embargo.”

The move seems to be aimed at harnessing online coverage that some feel can hurt a film before it has had its official premiere. This is certainly an issue that I see Hollywood battling with big films. But, what is the impact of such a policy on smaller, indie films? I really don’t now what the answer is.

I’d love to hear from a few filmmakers, critics, publicists and other festival organizers. Here’s hoping for a spirited, but respectful discussion.


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James van Maanen

As a first-timer at Tribeca who’s just been accredited, my initial instinct is to go along with the request from the powers-that-be (I’d have been great in Nazi Germany, yes?). I can understand the feelings of publicist Alex from ThinkFilm, however, who wants to see as much as possible published prior to a screening. Yet, if what is published is negative, doesn’t that hurt as much as help a film? As to his “timeline,” if a review is published post-screening (on a blog or any print media website), a link to that review can easily appear again, once the movie opens. So, contrary to what Alex says, this can help a smaller film. I posted a long review plus an interview with director Patricia Riggen when Under the Same Moon appeared at the FSLC’s LatinBeat fest last September. When the movie finally opened (six months later), a link to all that was front and center on GreenCine. This can and should happen regularly on all blogs, particularly regarding independent and foreign films.

Yes, yes–we all must have our “scoops,” of course, but remember the time when reviews were NEVER published until at least a day AFTER a movie opened? Whatever else this “grace period” accomplished (or didn’t), it allowed film buffs and audiences a full 24 hours to see a new movie and digest it before everyone and his uncle weighed in with their reviews. Now, the NY Post, certain other print media and many bloggers often don’t even honor the “day of” rule. I suppose Tribeca’s request, like everything else in our increasingly barricaded lives, is really about marketing (the films! the fest! even the critics!). And trying to keep everyone–filmmakers, studios, critics, audiences–happy: an impossible task. But what we critics are doing is supposed to be about “the thing itself.” If only.


The bottom line is that Tribeca’s press overlords have absolutely no fucking clue how to handle the media. None. They bend over backwards to credential everyone and their mothers (“We’ve changed!” they say) and then, via sloppy programming and purely self-interested, bet-hedging embargoes like this, make it impossible to see or write about the films — especially that handful of terrific smaller films like those David refers to. I’ve taken so much shit for defending Tribeca over the years precisely because of its embrace of titles like Shotgun Stories, The Cake Eaters, The Free Will, for premiering Taxi to the Dark Side and lots of other good work that its critics never gave it credit for. But then, at a time of institutional growth when they’re desperate for all the public support they can summon, they throw in another hoop for an already-alienated press to jump through, which so *obviously* damages the chances for viewers to learn about the few gems this festival puts out there in enough time to go see them. Brilliant.

In fairness, I have my own individual issues with them exacerbating all of this, but I think my own simple solution — skipping Tribeca and its attendant headaches, bitterness and point-blank politics altogether — is about as one-size-fits-all as it gets. Who’s in?

Mark Rabinowitz

Hey Henry,

Freedom of the press is freedom of the press, regardless of the subject. Just because this particular issue is about film festivals and not about the war or global warming doesn’t make it a non-issue, 1st amendment-wise. This was a question about film festivals and embargoes, hence we answered the question. Just because we’re not addressing the war, etc., doesn’t mean we don’t care about it, we’re just keeping things in context. If you’d care to get our opinions on the weak willed, lily livered White House press corps or the lack of real coverage of the election, please, do ask and I am sure we’d love to respond.

David Poland

Of course… it’s Tribeca. No one will ever care in the end.

The issue of embargoes is an ongoing fight. The reality for a festival that struggles as much as Tribeca does to do anything of note for smaller films – they’re great at jumping into the studio marketing plan and then driving the studio insane with picky and arrogant demands – that the only party to suffer from embargoing is the film, which will not get enough attention via this fest anyway.

On the flip side, market festivals (which Tribeca is not) can have their premieres affected in a real way by bad pre-buzz… so the filmmakers just don’t pre-screen. This makes it hard for critics… and it also makes it hard for films that really need the help. Sunshine Cleaning was well served by not being slammed before it was shown to crowds – who still didn’t go for it – but what of a film like Man On Wire, that could have built a cult before Sundance even began and thus, had more of a push in that first week of the fest, when buyers were still in buying mode. Someone would have spent too much on the doc… which is good for the filmmakers, no?

Tribeca thinks it is what it is not. In the end, this is just another frickin’ “so what?” at an overfunded, heavily hyped, mostly irrelevant fest.

The same embargo rule that usually reigns is likely true here… rave a movie and everyone loves you for “breaking embargo” and slam it and have your access threatened and a trail of hur feelings. We in the critical world have become all too anxious to be “first” or “early” or “quick,” but at the same time, way too many small films are getting little attention at all and in a world of fewer critics, will only get less attention. In the end, all that really matters is lavishing praise on great work and shredding the shite… and when you run a review is of little matter in that regard.

Mark Bell

I’ve always left the final embargo call to the publicists, but I do have my own preference. As Alex mentioned above, sometimes a good review ahead of time can do wonders for a premiere. On the same token, sometimes a bad review can do severe damage ahead of time. Personally, I like to run reviews the day of, or the day right after, an official premiere. That way the first review can’t influence the first screening one way or the other (usually too late), but is timely for the next screening. That seems the most fair, and takes my critics out of the promotion category. Most publicists I deal with agree to that embargo (and in many cases, that’s the only way I’m able to secure screeners for the bigger festivals). Plus, as an online platform, I have the luxury of being able to run a review whenever, without worrying about missing printing deadlines, and the coverage of a festival tends to be constant and up-to-the-minute anyway so short, pre-premiere capsule reviews are a waste of time when it could just as easily be a full piece.

Do I think Tribeca as a festival should be instituting this policy? No, it shouldn’t be their concern, it should be between the critic / journalist, the filmmaker and the publicist as to whether an embargo is necessary at all.

Sean Means

Sundance made a similar embargo request about film reviews this year, but they weren’t too stringent about it. My colleagues and I posted some 50 mini-reviews, but only the first seven or eight were for movies seen before the festival started anyway. It was a pain, but isn’t everything about covering a film festival?


I am not sure if I can venture a guess as to why Tribeca would insist of this.

More than any other festival they are fundamentally OBSESSED with the sanctity of a premiere.

To this end, Tribeca doesn’t seem to want to play nice with other festivals either: As the executive director of a fest with dates in April, before Tribeca–and I’ve heard similar complaints from friends in Florida and Tennessee–I can’t tell you how many filmmakers I know were forced to turn down invitations b/c Tribeca insists on a World Premiere. Often, filmmakers in waiting are on the hook by Tribeca, but are subsequently turned down. By the time they get back in touch with us, we’ve already locked our line-up and gone to press.

This practice ultimately hurts filmmakers, and seems self important for a festival (and Institute) that should aim to be more filmmaker friendly. Screening a film in New York two weeks after a screen at a festival in Sarasota, Atlanta, or Nashville will do NOTHING to hurt its impact in New York.

As for shielding films from early reviews, I can’t tell if Tribeca is afraid that early (negative) reviews will affect a film’s market value to buyers, Or if it’ll hurt attendance. The knife cuts both ways. An early rave can likewise bolster its value. (Is making a sale the ultimate goal of films screening in Tribeca? Ironic that a fest like SXSW has become such a player by focusing on filmmaker hospitality, and audiences. Tribeca’s organizers should take note!)

The ONE thing I think could be noble about the embargo, and the PREMIERE pissimg match is that Tribeca could really trying to capture the pure, unadulterated experience of seeing a film without any hype.

But if this is the case, why bother pre-screening the films for the press at all. And why allow other (non-critical) coverage?

As for Atlanta, the only review embargo we have come from studio released films screening in the festival–journalists are prohibited from reviewing these films in advance of their theatrical openings. Otherwise, we trust the quality of the line-up, we release every film out to the press, and trust that they will either enjoy sharpening their talons on the fresh meat, or they’ll relish the delight of discovering the next big thing.

eugene hernandez

A couple of points worth noting…

Apparently this was the first year that Berlin also instituted a review embargo policy. I know of no other festival that has the same policy, but am open to hearing about other fests, if anyone has encountered that?

And responding to Alex’s point, the Tribeca policy is an embargo aimed specifically at film REVIEWS. Does that affect your opinion as a publicist?


I love it when “freedom of the press” is used on the topic of embargoed reviews. Can’t wait to see what y’all think of Baby Mama! Who gives a flip? Use your sanctity on real issues like the war in iraq and global warming and 100 other more importnat issues. (Other than that, IW rocks.)

Alex Klenert

As a publicist, I don’t think it’s a good idea. If anything a review prior to the festival will help attendance/interest and encourage people to buy tickets. As long as it’s not a full review and it is tied to a festival opening story, then game on. For films of our size, I actually wouldn’t want a festival review to run after it has screened at a festival because then it’s useless for the distributor. That review won’t help put people in seats at the festival and most likely the review would be weeks or months too early to help with a theatrical PR campaign on the film. I’ve always looked at online reviews as equal to weekly magazine reviews so that they run only as early as the Monday before the film opens theatrically. Any earlier than that and you’re risking too many users/readers getting a pre-set opinion of your film before you’re able to properly promote it.

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