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by Eugene Hernandez
April 25, 2006 4:05 AM
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TRIBECA '06: Making Sense of TFF's Market; Can the Fest Turn The Corner?

Filmmaker and Tribeca Film Festival juror Edward Burns ("The Groomsmen"), actor Josh Lucas ("Poseidon"), and event co-founders Robert DeNiro and Jane Rosenthal at the opening press conference Monday. Photo by Brian Brooks/indieWIRE

Asked to offer a few long-term goals for the Tribeca Film Festival during the annual kick-off press conference in Lower Manhattan Monday, event co-founder Jane Rosenthal reminded attendees that the first TFF was planned in just a few short months leading up to its May 2002 debut. Lacking a history of long-range plans Rosenthal further considered the question, making a public plea for more downtown venues and finally added, "I hope that we will eventually evolve as a market." Industry expectations seem a bit higher for this year's event, given the large number of new films coming to the fest without distribution, even if a number of insiders continue to grapple with the timing of the event just weeks before Cannes.

[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.]

"Tribeca has become increasingly important as a launching pad for new films, especially in the last year or two," noted Mark Urman, head of theatrical distribution for ThinkFilm, in an email exchange with indieWIRE on Monday. "This year will be a real test because there is a significant number of world premieres, and a large supply of new product is what any 'market' is supposed to be about."

The post-Sundance positioning is a key aspect for Tribeca, which received 1,950 submissions and is competing with festivals like last month's SXSW to be the post-Park City American fest of record. Citing New York City filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch, Spike Lee and Darren Aronofsky, director Ed Burns (in Tribeca with his third fest feature in five years), noted during Monday's press conference that "it's great" to have a local fest that local directors can call their own. "I love that I don't have to schlep to the mountains of Utah for an independent film festival," he quipped.

While Burns' "The Groomsmen," a comedy about "learning to grow up after you've already reached your 30's," isn't one of the many high-profile world premieres hoping to turn press and industry attention into a distribution deal this week (it already has a release plan from Bauer Martinez), a number of notable new projects are aiming for such attention. Like "Groomsmen," the highest profile premieres are the select titles that have secured choice slots at the festival's Tribeca Performing Arts Center venue. Screenings in Tribeca are actually rather rare this year, with the majority of fest public screenings happening at AMC mega-plexes on 11th, 34th and 68th Streets in Manhattan. So, as organizers have explained, they are aiming to make the event as manageable as possible for the film industry by frontloading the fest with screenings of premiere films that are for sale. Other venues such as the Pace University Schimmel Center for the Arts, Regal Battery Park, and AMC Loews Village VII in the East Village are also being used for the first screenings of hotly-tipped titles, with shuttles available to move guests around from venue to venue.

"Acquisitions presence has increased dramatically over the last two years," explained TFF programmer David Kwok, in an IM interview with indieWIRE Monday. "This year there are more people coming from LA, not to mention internationally. Also pretty much every major specialty division will have representation this year."

Whether Tribeca will emerge as the mecca for new American films that Sundance has become still remains to be seen, of course. The young event has not yet grown into an active marketplace for dealmaking, but without the avalanche of paparazzi and L.A. scenesters to get in the way, the festival does allow for a bit of breathing room as attendees try to dig into its line-up. Many wonder if the New York City location will eventually prove to be a feather in its cap with so many buyers already in town.

"It's hard to compare the festival to the other big ones," explained IFC Films head of marketing Ryan Werner, in an email exchange with indieWIRE Monday. He added that as a launching pad for films about to be released, TFF is strong, given the amount of press attention and the large, diverse audiences. "There are so many films chosen for so many different reasons that we sort of take it as it comes. We will be looking at as many films as we can with a wait and see attitude," Werner said, expressing concerns about the nearly two week length of the event and frustration at the idea of having to travel from the East Village to the Upper West Side for screenings. "However," he explained, "I enjoy getting out and watching films with a real NYC audience."

Matt Williams' "Walker Payne" starring Jason Patric, Drea De Mateo, and Sam Shepherd in the 1950s story of a down-on-his-luck man facing financial demands from his ex-wife will be the first of many screenings at the nearly 1,000-seat Tribeca Performing Arts Center on Wednesday. Repped by Paradigm, the movie has all worldwide right available, according to TFF sales info. Later that night, also in Tribeca's new Discovery section for films by emerging directors is Jeff Renfroe's "Civic Duty" (repped by CAA with worldwide rights except Canada available) starring Peter Krause as a man described as being obsessed with terrorist plots and cable news propaganda" in a post-9/11 thriller. The following day at TPAC will bring Jeff Garlin's romantic comedy "I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With" (also repped by CAA with worldwide rights available), featuring Sarah Silverman, Amy Sedaris, and Bonnie Hunt, as well as Claudia Myers' "Kettle of Fish" with Matthew Modine and Gina Gershon (worldwide rights also available).

Friday night at TPAC brings a pair of films for sale, each with worldwide rights available, according to TFF sales info. Jake Kasdan's "The TV Set" (being sold by Cinetic Media) stars Sigourney Weaver and David Duchovny and is a comedic look at the world of television pilot development, while later that night will mark the return of Eric Eason, winner of Tribeca's top prize in its first year for his film "Manito." He will be at the fest with "Journey to the End of the Night," starring Brendan Fraser, Scott Glenn, Catalina Sandino Moreno, and Mos Def, a father and son story set in the criminal underworld in Sao Paulo, Brazil (Millennium Films is handling the movie).

Among the anticipated documentaries for sale is Deborah Scranton's "The War Tapes" in the international doc competition, which has secured a TPAC slot on Saturday afternoon. The doc, also being sold by Cinetic, features footage shot by National Guard soldiers in Iraq cut together to tell stories from the frontlines and the homefront. It is produced and co-edited by Steve James, with former United Artists president Bingham Ray involved as a consultant on the project. And later Saturday at TPAC is another Cinetic project for sale with worldwide rights available: Jamie Johnson's "The One Percent" in the NY,NY doc competition. Fresh from the high-profile attention it received on The Oprah Winfrey Show last week, "The One Percent" is a look at the lives of the rich and the poor in this country from a young privileged filmmaker, an heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune, who has focused his films about the disparities of class in America.

Brian Cook's "Color Me Kubrick," screening Monday at TPAC, stars John Malkovich in a comedic conman story about a Stanley Kubrick impersonator. Previewing the festival in a chat with indieWIRE last week, festival executive director Peter Scarlet said that the comedy is one he can't wait to experience with an audience. All rights are available in many territories, including the U.S., with sales being handled by EuropaCorp.

"We all hope that films will get acquired out of the fest," concluded Tribeca's David Kwok in the conversation with indieWIRE. "A lot of films have chosen to premiere with us in search of distribution and we are working with them to help that happen."

"Clearly, filmmakers are more willing to give new films to the festival and Tribeca has helped fill the wide gap between Sundance and Toronto," explained ThinkFilm's Mark Urman. "If this year delivers some strong new titles -- films that sell to distributors and that look like the may also sell to audiences -- Tribeca will have turned a real corner."

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.]

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