When the Tribeca Film Festival launched five years ago in the aftermath of 9/11, it was just a five-day event offering about 75 feature films. Established to boost the injured Lower Manhattan neighborhood adjacent to the World Trade Center, the festival sold about 35,000 tickets and boosted income in the neighborhood. As has been widely discussed and debated in the days and weeks leading up to this year's Tribeca Film Festival, the event had grown tremendously. Tribeca '06 will include more than 170 feature films, with organizers predicting a screening attendance of 250,000 this year. The jump would be due in part to the fact that a majority of festival screenings will happen outside of Tribeca this year, in multiplexes on 11th, 34th and 68th streets in Manhattan.
[During the Tribeca Film Festival, indieWIRE's new online social network/community site, indieLOOP is hosting two discussion groups: Tribeca Film Festival '06 Filmmakers, which features Tribeca directors writing about their festival experience, and Tribeca Film Festival, where indieWIRE readers are invited to discuss Tribeca.]
"This (festival) has become an elephant-like behemoth," quipped festival executive director Peter Scarlet during a telephone conversation with indieWIRE on Friday, admitting that he focuses on just one aspect of the large event. He touted the work of festival co-founder Jane Rosenthal and event president Jennifer Maguire Isham, who preside over the other high-profile aspects of the event. "I am as surprised as you or anyone else at parts that seem to take on a life of their own."
Indeed, what has lead to some sharp criticism of the young festival is its size. The Tribeca Film Festival is an event like no other in this country. All under one umbrella are a traditional auteur-driven film festival, an emerging industry marketplace, an outdoor family festival with free events, and a media event featuring showcase screenings of mainstream Hollywood movies featuring high-profile private screenings of Hollywood releases like "United 93" on opening night and showings of both "Mission: Impossible III" and "Poseidon" during the festival.
"I really don't believe it's the size that matters," Scarlet explained, defending the scope of the Tribeca Film Festival, "It's a question of how many quality films we can have."
"I'm a guy who programs movies," continued Scarlet, a nearly twenty-year veteran of the San Francisco International Film Festival, who curates the annual TFF line-up with festival co-managing director Nancy Schafer and senior programmer David Kwok. "That part of my job hasn't differed since I was in San Francisco," explained Scarlet, however he said that in Tribeca their selections are much higher profile. "This festival has been on the radar since year one in part because of that big stuff, which may or may not be what you care about most. But some people do, its all happening under one marquee. While there is the auteur aspect, there is (also) the three-ring circus. American film festivals hadn't been able to do that before."
Scarlet said he was drawn to join the Tribeca Film Festival in its second year because of that very commitment by co-founders Jane Rosenthal and Robert DeNiro to "break the mold of what festivals are."
While press and industry screenings at the Tribeca Film Festival will begin tomorrow (Tuesday) downtown, a few activities kick-off today with an opening press conference for the media and an evening party for local filmmakers and film industry. The nearly two-week event is heading uptown this year because organizers lost all but two screens at the Regal Cinemas Battery Park cinemas. Most public screenings this year will happen at Loews theaters in the East Village, in Midtown, and on the Upper West Side, but private press and industry showings will still take place south of Canal Street, downtown.
Scarlet emphasized that organizers have paid particular attention to the needs of the attending film industry. With a lineup filled primarily with premieres, the event has clearly set its sights on creating a marketplace for movies, even at a time when fewer and fewer films from emerging filmmakers are getting picked up at film festivals. Scarlet explained that he and his fellow organizers have front-loaded the festival for buyers, screening premiere titles in the first week of the event.
"The market will grow," Scarlet explained of his festival. Back in his first year, Scarlet admitted that he questioned whether the festival could build a market for new films so close to Cannes. "Getting good films is tricky," Scarlet told indieWIRE, but he added, "(We've) been surprised and very gratified at the growth of quality. It has gone up steadily; that will raise the market at the same time." Continuing he added, "The industry people are coming here because they sense that."
Scarlet said in time he hopes to distinguish Tribeca as an enjoyable experience for industry insiders. "I don't think that anybody particularly looks forward to going to Cannes, it's a hard slog, an ordeal," explained Scarlet, "People enjoy coming here. New York is not an easy town, but we want this to be a fun experience."
The success of the Tribeca Film Festival, according to Scarlet, so far shows that New York is adapting to a new type of film festival and is prepared to embrace an event that is moving into a number of new Manhattan neighborhoods. He just hopes to continue doing what he knows how to do best.
"Our job as programmers may be nothing more than that of the schoolyard pusher," offered Scarlet, explaining that he hopes to get people, "addicted to curiosity, addicted to taking chances and looking at the world in a new way."
ABOUT THE WRITER: Eugene Hernandez is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of indieWIRE.
[indieWIRE will publish daily dispatches and iPOP photos from the Tribeca Film Festival in a special section.]