Chiefs exit as events realign focus

With the economy in the tank and corporate sponsors in retreat, it’s not easy running a film festival these days.

Toppers at U.S. fests are spinning like revolving doors, and the whole fest map is on the verge of being redrawn.

Talk in Gotham for instance, has centered recently on a potential shift of Tribeca from the spring into a fall slot, at the instigation of Geoff Gilmore. The longtime Sundance guru joined Tribeca Enterprises this month as chief creative officer.

A date shift for the Tribeca Fest has long been buzzed about, but fest organizers officially scotch any such talk. One major hurdle, they say, is the November date of a Tribeca extension into Doha, Qatar. That fest’s first edition this year will be overseen largely by Gilmore and other Tribeca organizers.

Were it to happen, of course, the date change would also upend other conventions. Pics not ready for Toronto, such as last year’s “Revolutionary Road” or “The Reader,” would have a new place to bow, and in the world media capital, to boot.

The biggest impact in Gotham would hit the august New York Film Festival. A fall fixture for 46 years, that event would be undercut by a shift of Tribeca.

As fest regulars contemplate the chess moves and their repercussions, the scorecard now requires constant updating.

Peter Scarlet departed in February as Tribeca Fest artistic director, not long after Gilmore’s hiring was announced. The gap at Sundance was filled by exec John Cooper, who was upped to replace Gilmore on March 11.

Other fest chiefs doing the hop include Rebecca Yeldham, filling the top slot at the Los Angeles Film Fest after Richard Raddon‘s departure; Janet Pierson replacing Matt Dentler at South by Southwest; and Kent Jones, associate director of programming at the Film Society at Lincoln Center, who resigned March 12 after 10 years at the org.

Such shifts might suggest that the future of fests is hardly bright.

But these shuffles are largely cyclical, with an open berth creating chances for toppers at other confabs to seize new opportunities.

“I don’t see any kind of domino effect (among festivals themselves),” says Graham Leggat, head of the San Francisco Film Festival. “The organizations are far greater than the front-person’s personality. Festivals will always serve as a de facto distribution mechanism for films that are under the radar.”

Leggat says the fests are strong enough to survive and thrive. And some see a chance for the confabs to have greater impact on the indie film scene in lean times.

“With distribution models in flux, this is a great opportunity for festivals to take the lead,” says Dawn Hudson, exec director of the Los Angeles Film Festival.

The indie world is keeping a close watch on Gilmore and his new role at Tribeca, and whether it means the fest might move itself out of the shadow of Cannes.

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