Finding a festival within a field of 5,950
New TFF programming team, on making the cut
BY ALINE REYNOLDS | Although the 10th anniversary of 9/11 has come and gone, the Tribeca Film Festival (TFF) — launched in 2002 to help revitalize a neighborhood shattered by the terrorist attacks — continues to thrive as an internationally recognized event that showcases films from all parts of the globe.
Since its inception, TFF has hosted upwards of 3.5 million theatergoers and has generated approximately $725 million in economic activity for New York City.
The festival turns 11 this year with a new programming team of seasoned film curators and movie aficionados who chose 150 films from a record number of 5,950 submissions (including nearly 3,100 features and 2,900 shorts).
TFF’s new artistic director, Frederic Boyer, recently ran the Directors’ Fortnight at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival.
“Programmers not only need to have good taste, they need to have a deep pool of contacts, [which Boyer has,]” said TFF Executive Director Nancy Schafer.
Many of this year’s films are by first-time filmmakers, and more than 50 of them are world premieres, according to new Programming Director Genna Terranova. The themes range from psychological and action thrillers to love tales to documentaries. Nine of them, including four feature films and five shorts, are available for viewing on the festival’s revamped website, tribecafilm.com. Four additional shorts will be available for viewing, starting April 25, once they’ve had their world premieres at the festival.
This season, the festival is also putting on its usual activities targeting the local community, including the Tribeca Drive-In, the Family Festival Street Fair, the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Day and the second annual Tribeca/NYFEST Soccer Day.
To select this year’s feature films and shorts, which represent 46 different countries, Terranova and her team traveled around the world to view them and then spent hours upon hours discussing them to reach a consensus about whether or not they would make the final cut.
The programmers don’t go into the screenings with a set agenda, Terranova noted. “It’s a bit of an organic process,” she said. “It’s never really forced. You want to go in with a clean slate and try and experience every film for what it is.”
The challenge comes when the programmers must explain why they thought a particular film worked, said Terranova, deeming it an “imperfect science” that is comparable to alchemy or wine tasting.
“I think there’s a matter of personal taste, but I wouldn’t say it’s a completely subjective process,” she said. “The films are put through too rigorous of a screening process.”
“In the end,” Terranova added, “the filmmakers are the true tastemakers.”
As the program gets filled, the programmers become increasingly selective as they strategize about what types of films are missing, Terranova said. “There’s a balancing act that goes on,” she said. “If we have 10 movies from one country [for example], maybe we should think about what other countries have quality movies.”
The programmers make a point of cultivating rapport with filmmakers from the get-go so that, following each TFF, they continue to support their work through media visibility and distribution. Tribeca Enterprises’ distribution branch Tribeca Film releases an estimated 25 movies per year through video-on-demand cable providers as well as on DVD, premium TV and in theaters.
“It’s really to try to make this experience go across the country,” said Terranova.
Gauging a film’s success post-TFF screening is difficult, she noted, since it entails predicting the forces of a constantly shifting marketplace.
“Because everything changes so quickly,” said Terranova, “all we can rely on is finding quality films and help launch them on whatever journey they’re going to go on — whether it’s distribution, more film festivals or university tours.”
As in previous years, the programmers settled on a modest count of TFF films to show on the web this year since, while wishing to expand digitally, the festival’s free web-viewing feature is in no way meant to undercut the live experience of going to the theater.
“It’s not meant to replace the festival that’s actually happening on the ground,” commented Schafer. “We’ve chosen the four [feature-length] films because we believe they create an interesting film festival experience online.”
Schafer and Terranova have no short-term plans to wind down the festival’s live element and go completely digital. If anything, they said, smartphones and the Internet have strengthened the movie-going experience by compelling filmmakers and festival curators to nurture a countermovement to web entertainment.
“I feel like every time we step further into the virtual world, someone else is also stepping forward in the real-life world,” said Terranova.
Moving into the digital realm, she said, has been a “natural evolution.”
“We’re thinking about expanding the different ways people are storytelling and exploring what’s happening with narrative in a different medium.”
TFF also has no plans to do away with its local, interactive events, which attract hundreds of thousands of parents and children each year. This season, the festival is aiming for a turnout of 300,000 to 400,000 people for its annual Family Festival Street Fair on April 28, the last Saturday of the TFF season.
The Tribeca Drive-In, held April 19-21, will present screenings of the classic 1970s thriller “Jaws,” the 1980s adventure-comedy “Goonies” and the 2007 sports documentary “Knuckleball.” All three evenings will offer games and activities inspired by the featured movies, including pitching clinics by New York Mets starting pitcher R.A. Dickey and former New York Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton.
The events are first-come, first-served, and all activities are free of charge. For more information, visit tribecafilm.com.