Industry, New Yorkers convene for Tribeca Fest

Filmmakers see audience mix as a marketplace asset

Talk to some members of the Gotham movie industry, and you’ll get the impression the Tribeca Film Fest — which launches its ninth edition today — is still a work in progress, with questions about its programming choices and viability as a marketplace.

But speak with filmmakers in the fest, and they’ll argue Tribeca’s mix of industry attendees and general auds isn’t a mark of identity confusion, but instead reps a key asset in getting a picture bought or sold.

“It’s a festival where you have industry people, but you also have a real New York audience,” said Robert Walpole, who with Rebecca O’Flanagan produced 2010 entry “My Brothers.” The pair returns to Tribeca after the pic they brought last year, “The Eclipse,” was picked up by Magnolia Pictures in what’s considered one of the larger deals to come out of the festival in recent years.

“If your movie can connect with a real audience, and it can do it in front of buyers, you’ve got a shot,” Walpole added.

The fest’s all-are-welcome approach is reflected as well in the online initiative Tribeca Film Festival Virtual, running April 23-30 and making eight fest entries, including Edward Burns’ “Nice Guy Johnny,” available online for a flat $45 fee.

Producers of one virtual-fest participant, high school hermaphrodite comedy “Spork,” see the Internet component as another way Tribeca might help a pic find an audience beyond an industry crowd that might be put off by the marketing challenges of quirky subject matter.

“Much of who we know will respond to our film are tech-savvy early adopters,” said “Spork” producer Christopher Racster. “We need to go where their eyeballs already are.”

Tribeca’s brand extensions — which encompass a sister fest in Doha, Qatar — now include a new distribution arm, Tribeca Film. The division, whose strategy starts with VOD and includes subsequent theatrical and DVD release, is technically separate from the fest — but this year, seven pics on the 2010 lineup also are among the slate of a dozen movies launching Tribeca Film.

The producer of one of the films in both lineups, environmental awareness docu “Climate of Change,” sees the advantage in Tribeca leveraging its brand beyond Gotham as it explores untested distribution models.

“This is very much where content distribution in general is heading,” said Christopher Gebhardt of Participant Media, the production company on “Climate.” “I think you’ll see more experiments like this, and it’s exciting that a festival like Tribeca is getting into it.”

Still, the fest’s new media mettle may be tested in the coming days, depending on how much international attendance is disrupted by the lingering volcanic ash cloud.

Fest organizers were upbeat on Tuesday, saying they were working to get everyone to New York on time, or, failing that, hoping to get them to the fest virtually, via new-media avenues like Skype.

At a kickoff event Tuesday, fest co-founder Jane Rosenthal noted that one-third of this year’s 96 feature directors were returning after prior stints at the festival, interpreting the stat as a mark of the value placed on the Tribeca experience.

“Plus, we like to throw a good party,” she said.

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