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Why Has the Tribeca Film Festival Become Such an Important Platform for Docs?

Why Has the Tribeca Film Festival Become Such an Important Platform for Docs?

All week, Filmmaker Toolkit will be diving into documentary films screening at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which runs from April 13-24. From finding funding to surviving years of production to cobbling together a 90-minute narrative from hundreds of hours of footage, we’ll be looking at how this year’s crop of docs got made.

But first, we decided to take a step back and ask why has Tribeca grown into a premiere launching pad for so many of the best documentaries being made today. Over the last few years, the nonfiction films have become the “stars” of the fest, with many going on to become Oscar contenders and many more finding distribution. Last year, Indiewire’s Anthony Kaufman talked to a number of distributors to get their take on the festival’s growing importance in the nonfiction world. This year, we asked the filmmakers their perspective and to find out why are they so excited to screen at Tribeca.

Salima Koroma, “Bad Rap”:
“Documentaries sometimes get lost in the sea of star-studded narratives and experimental projects, and Tribeca seems to give a voice to our doc films.”
Joseph Martin, “Keep Quiet”:
[H]aving screened a film before at Tribeca, what I really appreciated was the feeling that documentaries were given equal billing with fiction films. It’s very exciting to show your film on the big screen in the heart of New York City with an engaged, enthusiastic audience. When I screened previously the cinema was packed and this year our first two screenings are already sold out, which is wonderful.” 
Andrew Cohn, “Night School”:
“I really think Tribeca has become one of the gold standard festivals for documentaries over the last few years. Being in New York is a huge part of that. Distributors are all here, and are eager to see new work, and it’s very buyer friendly. New York, and Brooklyn especially, has slowly become ground zero for the documentary filmmaking community. Almost all of the doc filmmakers I know live here. Go to any dive bar or cafe in Williamsburg or Fort Green and you’re bound to run into Zachary Heinzerling or Lotfy Nathan, Charlotte Cook, Maxim Pozdorovkin or Martha Shane. So, Tribeca feels like it’s sort of our home turf, which it didn’t really feel like just five or so years ago. We can support each other, share our work, and still go to our favorite bars afterwards.”
Amanda Micheli, “haveababy”:
“I think the landscape is changing because there used to be just one ‘A-list’ festival that all the buyers looked to, and now there is just too much good work and too much competition to cram all the strong American docs into one festival in the mountains.”
Ferne Pearlstein, “The Last Laugh”:
As a New Yorker who lived in downtown Manhattan for many years, I watched it be created in the wake of 9/11 and have seen it evolve over all these years into a New York City institution, so it is a very special festival for me.”
Lloyd Kramer, “Midsummer in Newtown”:
“Tribeca’s very foundation, forged in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, began with a simple question: How can the arts help people to move forward after all the horror? There’s a resonance between the goals of the festival and the themes we explore in our film.”
Sam Blair, “Keep Quiet”:
“I think for a long time documentary was seen as something that belonged on the smaller screen due to the tiny budgets they have compared to fiction. A feature doc was a more uncommon thing and the economics of shooting something that looked like it belonged in the cinema, yet appealed to a more niche audience, rarely made sense. However, the last decade has seen incredible advancements in digital cameras with everything from a DSLR to the Arri Alexa and they can all provide a cinematic image when used correctly and for far less than the cost of shooting and developing film. This has lead to a surge in the number of feature docs and has created a need for more festivals. Tribeca has done a fantastic job of creating a place for these films to get exposure and connect with audiences.”

Dylan Harvey & Ian Roderick Gray, “The Banksy Job”:
“In recent years it seems that documentary as a ‘genre’ has started to become accepted more and more as a form of entertainment in itself. As a relatively young, but nonetheless well established major film festival, Tribeca is perfectly placed to lead the way in presenting and championing this rapidly growing form of storytelling. We are extremely excited to have been invited to screen here. New York…Tribeca…for a couple of Limeys with our first low budget feature we can’t help feeling that we punched above our weight, but managed to land a knock out blow.”
David Feige, “Untouchable”:
“I spent 15 years as a public defender in New York City, so for me, Tribeca is a homecoming. There is something wonderful and brash about New York. At its best it is a city that is willing to grapple with big ideas, challenge the status quo, and push artistic boundaries. It is a place of extraordinary diversity, overweening grandiosity and bruising competitiveness. So it’s no wonder that Tribeca has emerged from this cauldron of chaos, to become the go-to place for provocative and interesting documentaries.” 
Marshall Fine, “Robert Klein Still Can’t Stop His Leg”:
New York is one of the few places in the USA with enough media and audience to support and sustain documentary film.”

Jose Villalobos Romero, “El Charro de Toluquilla”:
“My film doesn’t have a explicit social content. Actually the main character is mostly politically incorrect. I thought this would make it harder for a documentary to have a premiere outside Mexico, where this type of character is very well know. But this project was always well received by the Tribeca family. First with Tribeca Film Institute and now with the Festival. They are feeding and supporting the independent documentary filmmakers, they are taking risks with Latin-American film industry and my movie being premiered in New York is just the tip of the iceberg of what independent Latin-Americans can do.” 
Tracy Droz Tragos, “Abortion: Stories Women Tell”:
Some of the best documentaries from around the world have premiered at Tribeca. The festival screens films that are complex and controversial — the farthest thing from being reductive or pandering.”
Jenny Gage, “All This Panic”:
“As a New York, first time female director, Tribeca was my dream festival to premiere at. Tribeca is known for premiering great documentaries as well as creating a strong networks and support of female filmmakers. To share this day with all our family and friends in the city we live in, could not be more special.”
Stéphanie Gillard, “The Ride”:
Each festival is famous for something and maybe the success of documentary in Tribeca is due to the New York audience who is curious and interested in world issues.”

Steph Ching & Ellen Martinez, “After Spring”:
“New York is a very documentary-friendly city. There are many opportunities for people to watch independent films in theaters so there is already a great documentary audience here.”
Ben Nabors, “The Happy Film”:
“[Tribeca] is delivering us an audience, which is what this arduous work and festival selection process is all about. Our screenings all went to ‘rush’ in under four hours of public release. That’s exciting for us, and sharing meaningful work with people is why we’re doing this.”
Deborah S. Esquenazi, “Southwest of Salem”:
“Tribeca Film Festival was the first festival I ever attended as a young, budding filmmaker. I have always been really impressed by the level of curation by the programmers— I think there’s a wonderful earnestness and thoughtfulness to the documentary film selections. And in fact, some of the documentaries I have seen really have changed or influenced or even predicted the futures to our social and cultural landscape, like ‘Virunga,’ ‘Give Up Tomorrow,’ and ‘Street Fight.'”
Brent Hodge, “Pistol Shrimps”:
We are premiering our film in New York City. I will never get over this no matter how many times I get to come back to Tribeca.”

Justin Krook, “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”:
“I couldn’t imagine any place more relevant to premiere ‘I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead’ other than under the bright lights of New York City. Both Steve [Aoki] and his Father embody entertainment and what better place to showcase that than the Beacon Theatre?”
Johan Grimonprez, “Shadow World”:
“The Gucci Tribeca Film Fund, the TFI Interactive, the Tribeca All Access programs – they are all really great initiatives and they are a conduit for the festival just as the festival is a great launch platform for the great projects that emerge or are supported by these initiatives. And Tribeca is gaining in strength as a festival, which is about the curation of course. It doesn’t hurt that the festival is in New York, either. Sales people come, buyers/distributors are here, and for docs, the mainstream media as well as the film media are here. New York is a tastemaker society, too – and that’s an amplifier. So all in, it works. We’re very happy to be premiering here at Tribeca.”

Watch this exclusive clip from the new doc “Raising Bertie”:

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