TRIBECA 2003: Previewing An Event That Is Tough to Define
by Eugene Hernandez
It is tough to miss the extensive promotional campaign for the 2nd annual Tribeca Film Festival, running now through Sunday at various locations in Lower Manhattan. Wild posters sponsored by American Express are placed throughout the city, TV spots direct viewers to the festival website, and a program featuring clips and interviews aired Sunday on the local NBC television station. Those are just some elements of the marketing plan that reached a peak over the weekend in New York City, and it is translating to awareness and audiences.
In Tribeca over the weekend, the downtown Manhattan neighborhood that lies just north of the World Trade Center was busy with crowds of festival-goers who attended screenings at the Family Festival (held at the UA Theaters in adjacent Battery Park), while the box office was crowded with people mapping out plans for seeing films once the main program begins on Tuesday.
"The fact is that we needed another film festival here in New York," Martin Scorsese offered, in his remarks published in the festival catalog. "There are many, many excellent pictures made around the world every year, and New Yorkers need a chance to see them."
Yet high-profile local media coverage has questioned the need for this event. "Tribeca Film Festival Seeks an Identity" read the headline of one of two large New York Times features published in the newspaper on Friday. The other article, by film critic A.O. Scott, called the event a work-in-progress and chided, "And probably, Tribeca will not develop, as the similarly audience-friendly Toronto festival has, into a major annual film-world event." Critics have argued that that the festival lacks focus. Organizers, however, counter that the diversity is the young festival's strength.
Indeed, trying to navigate the Tribeca Film Festival feels a lot like trying to navigate New York City -- frustrating, rewarding, sometimes confusing, and also exciting.
"This is a retail festival not a wholesale festival," explained first-year Festival Director Peter Scarlet during a conversation with indieWIRE last week. "The most dyed in the wool film buffs will find a lot of be exited about here and families can spend four very exciting days here."
"In the best sense there is something for everyone here," explained Peter Scarlet, "The programming is very broad." Scarlet, a longtime veteran of the San Francisco International Film Festival who moved to New York last year to take the top job at the fest, programmed the festival with Nancy Schafer, formerly of SXSW, and David Kowk who previously worked at The New Festival,New York's Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. A few others, like Eamonn Bowles or Veronique Godard, helped shore up aspects of the lineup which fills a number of sections.
The Tribeca Film Festival's origins are that of an event aimed at revitalizing a neighborhood that was devasted by the September 11th. Its primary goal, in the words of organizers, is to draw people to the neighborhood and its businesses. Of course, filmmakers are here in New York to unveil their work and to compete for a number of prizes in one of the five juried competitions that are on tap.
Among the jurors for this year's festival are Nora Ephron, Chris Weitz, Art Linson, Dylan Kidd and Chen Kaige who will judge the primary narrative competition. Doc competition jurors include Nick Broomfield, Youssra, Parker Posey, Queen Noor, Jeff Bezos, Miuccia Prada and R.J. Cutler. Judging the Documentary > 2 section will be Sheila Nevins, Barbara Kopple, Micahel Moore, Candice Bergen, Whoopie Goldberg, Graydon Carter, and Nancy Buirski. The short film jurors are Jon Robin Baitz, Bruce Ferguson, Stephen Gaghan, Marlo Thomas and Fisher Stevens while student shorts will be judged by Ann Magnuson, Adrian Grenier, Anne Chaisson, Elizabeth Manley Murray and Veronique Godard.
Special screenings include a number of Hollywood premieres such as Tuesday's opening night showing of Peyton Reed's "Down With Love" starring Ewan McGregor and Renee Zellweger or Damon Dash' directorial debut "Death of a Dynasty". The narrative and documentary competition includes work by first or second time filmmakers, while the new "Documentary > 2" section showcases work by established documentarians. The Showcase section offers work from both emerging and established filmmakers from around the world, while the NY, NY section will present films made in the city. A restored classics section offers just that, movies that have been saved, such as "The Barefoot Contessa" and "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly," and a midnight program is screening genre work such as "The Eye" or "28 Days Later." Still other sections and sidebars include a tribute to the Black Filmmakers Foundation, short film screenings, and the aforementioned Family Festival. There are also a number of star-studded panel discussions as well as seminars for filmmakers and industry only, and finally a few noteworthy outdoor activities.
Aside from the program of 200 films, the festival will host other events. Three thousand people will be welcomed to Manhattan's Pier 25 for three nights of outdoor "drive-in" style movie screenings. On May 8th, organizers will present the winning film from an online contest to select New York's most romantic movie. While on the 9th a screening of "Diner" will include appearances by Kevin Bacon, Mickey Rourke and Daniel Stern. On May 10th the festival will present a sing-a-long screening of "Grease." Prior to each film, the festival will screen a peak at Ken Burns' new documentary, "Horatio's Drive."
"Its great that the festival is not limited to just dark theaters," Scarlet said during the conversation with indieWIRE.
For the second year, the festival will host more than 10,000 people at the outdoor MTV Rock and Comedy concert in Battery Park. Held on Friday night (May 9th), the even will feature performances by Robbie Williams, Norah Jones and The Roots, and others to be announced this week. Tickets for the drive-in movies are free at the Tribeca Film Festival box office on Greenwich St., while tickets to the concert are available by calling a special phone number (212/846-2596). Greenwich Ave in Tribeca will be closed to traffic on Saturday and Sunday for a street fair hosted by festival organizers.
BFF AT TFF
This year, Tribeca will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Black Filmmaker Foundation (BFF). The organization's president and co-founder Warrington Hudlin has curated a list of the the nine most influential black films will be screened. Visitors to the Tribeca Film Festival website (www.tribecafilmfestival.com) can vote for the tenth film. Chosen by Hudlin were "She's Gotta Have It," "Hollywood Shuffle," "Do The Right Thing," "House Party," "Boyz in the Hood," "New Jack City," "Boomerang," "Menace to Society," and "Eve's Bayou."
"The Tribeca Film Festival founders' love of New York City and concern for the welfare of all New Yorkers gave birth to this festival and this is reflected in their ongoing commitment to inclusion and diversity," said Warrington Hudlin, who is also founder & chief of dvRepublic.org., in a prepared statement. "We share these values and are thrilled to celebrate our 25th anniversary through this collaboration with the Festival."
THE FILM INDUSTRY
Alongside the elements of the Tribeca Film Festival that are aimed at general audiences, organizers have made greater efforts to welcome the film industry. A number of buyers will be scouting premiere titles and biz guests will mingle at an array of private parties. The New York Production Alliance will toast festival filmmakers tonight, while on Wednesday morning festival filmmakers will gather for breakfast. IFC Productions, with three films in the festival ("Kill The Poor," Paper Chasers" and "This So-Called Disaster"), will celebrate with a Thursday evening party. Palm will toast its upcoming release of "The Eye" on the same night and AMC will celebrate the restoration of "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly." United Artists will honor Chen Kaige for his festival film, "Together," on Friday night and a number of other films will celebrate with parties during the festival.
During this year's first Filmmaker Forum, in addition to the previously mentioned panel discussions, a number of exclusive industry/filmmaker receptions are on tap. A cocktail recption on Friday will follow a panel discussion about agents and managers, while on Saturday a cocktail reception will follow a panel discussion about the current distribution landscape.
[indieWIRE will be reporting this week on the 2003 Tribeca Film Festival, visit our special section at: http://www.indiewire.com/tribeca.]