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by Brian Brooks
March 3, 2010 12:48 AM
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UPDATE: Tribeca Moves Into Distribution, Launches Virtual Film Fest

An image from "Climate of Change."

Robert DeNiro and Jane Rosenthal's Tribeca Enterprises is launching Tribeca Film, a new distribution initiative building on their annual Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Ten films are set to kick-off the new initiative.

In the major announcement today, DeNiro and Rosenthal's Tribeca Enterprises, the for-profit wing of the umbrella group that produces the annual Tribeca Film Festival, unveiled Tribeca Film today as, "a comprehensive distribution and marketing platform for independent film." Additionally the group will launch Tribeca Film Festival Virtual (TFFV), an online venture that will offer work screening in the April festival to audiences through its website: www.tribecafilm.com/virtual. American Express, which is the premiere sponsor of the Tribeca Film Festival, will come on board with these initiatives as the "Founding Partner of Tribeca Film and TFFV."

EDITORS NOTE: This article has been updated from its original version tonight to include comments from conversations with Geoff Gilmore and Nancy Schafer.

Tribeca Film will acquire and release films year-round and nationwide through a variety of distribution partners they said today. Beginning with the festival, running this year from April 21 - May 2, the new venture will launch a branded VOD offering featuring day-and-date films linked to the festival and then expanding the movies into theatrical distribution, home entertainment, airline, hotel, subscription and advertising-supported digital platforms.

The moves come a year after Geoff Gilmore, former head of the Sundance Film Festival, joined Tribeca with a mandate to develop new initiatives that expand the organization and also address the distribution challenges facing the film industry right now.

"I don't think it's just a good time, it's [because of] the moment [and] what's going on in our industry," Tribeca Enterprises head Geoff Gilmore told indieWIRE Tuesday afternoon. "There needs to be a lot of different kinds of new initiatives, and both of these are steps in the direction we need to be looking at for audiences for independent film. I really believe we're doing this the right way."

Gilmore continued to say that he believes all festivals need to transform, adding that their traditional role as a showcase are not sufficient in serving their filmmakers and audiences. "I think festivals need to reinvent themselves. The old model of a customary promotion needs to be amplified, and that's what we're trying to do. Other festivals have started doing some of this, and we're trying to take it to a whole other level."

Tribeca Film's first acquisitions include 10 feature titles, seven of which will be screened day-and-date during TFF. Potential viewership includes over 40 million households via partners such as Comcast, Cablevision and Verizon FiOS. The titles will be available on a Tribeca-branded menu for a minimum of 60 days.

Along with the announcements of VOD, Gilmore said he sees room for theatrical releases as well, but on a case by case basis. Above it all, he said that finding audiences -- no matter where and how they view independent film -- is tantamount.

"All movies that have potential audiences need the opportunity to find them," Gilmore said today. "And it's this kind of creative thinking at festivals and companies that is required."

Tribeca Film will release more than 10 titles on VOD under the Tribeca Film banner, with over half planned as day and date releases with the 2010 festival, including the North American premiere of Participant Media and the Alliance for Climate Protection's "Climate of Change," an environmental documentary narrated by Academy Award winner Tilda Swinton; the world premiere of "Birth of Big Air," an ESPN documentary produced by Spike Jonze and Johnny Knoxville about extreme sports athlete Mat Hoffman; the North American premiere of "sex & drugs & rock & roll," the story of punk rock pioneer Ian Dury, played by Andy Serkis; and the U.S. premiere of "Road, Movie," the tale of a young man's life-changing drive across India, from the producers of "In The Bedroom" and "Lost In Translation." Additional Tribeca Film titles include "TiMER," described as a brain-teasing romantic comedy that screened at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival.

"I think from Tribeca's perspective, we wanted to figure out a way to help filmmakers beyond the festival and year-round," explained Tribeca Film Festival Executive Director Nancy Schafer (who is also SVP of Tribeca Enterprises). She helped spearhead the initiative with Gilmore and Adam Sloan, EVP of Sales, Marketing and Strategic Partnerships for Tribeca Enterprises.

Tribeca Film Festival Virtual will extend the fest outside its New York base via the Internet. Online audiences will have access to the event, including features, shorts, panels, filmmaker interviews, red carpet coverage. TFFV will open April 23 with the world premiere of Edward Burns' "Nice Guy Johnny," which will play simultaneously with the film's premiere at TFF. A limited number of premium pass buyers will be able to watch a selection of full-length 2010 TFF features, which will screen day-and-date with each film's festival premiere. Premium passes will be available to U.S. residents for $45 each, and will go on sale March 8 on the Tribeca website for American Express Cardmembers and March 15 for the general public.

"We hope and think we're providing a solution to the challenges in the distribution world," Nancy Schafer said, adding that she expects Tribeca Film to acquire titles during the upcoming TFF and beyond at other events as well.

"I see us acquiring titles outside of [the Tribeca Film Festival]. After a breather, we'll regroup and go forward to others. I can say that we've now acquired 12 titles - with various rights for each."

The initiative will surely be followed closely by the industry as producers and distributors seek new ways to monetize movies.

"We have always sought to help filmmakers find audiences for their works, and now we can really take that mission to the next level," commented Tribeca Enterprises co-founder Robert De Niro in a statement. "I'm proud to see how much Tribeca has grown from its beginnings less than a decade ago." While Tribeca Enterprises co-founder Jane Rosenthal, in a statement, added, "This year marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter for Tribeca, as well as for audiences and the entire film community.

"These initiatives put all the pieces together and provide new platforms for how film can be experienced," Rosenthal said in a statement, "While supporting filmmakers and introducing audiences to films they might not otherwise see."

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