Spitzer, virtual fest attract Tribeca attention

Event reports 700 industry attendees

A little more than halfway through the 2010 Tribeca Film Fest, a couple of questions seem to recur.

The first, regarding the fest’s early attention-magnet “Untitled Eliot Spitzer Film”: How viable is a theatrical release for a pic with such a New York-centric subject?

And the second, touching on the indie world’s continuing struggle to hammer out new distribution models: How’s the fest’s new virtual component working out?

It’s too soon for hard numbers regarding the festival’s overall attendance, but organizers report more than 700 industry attendees and strong crowds at most screenings, with pics “Beware the Gonzo,” “Nice Guy Johnny,” Sons of Perdition,” “Gainsbourg Je T’Aime… Moi Non Plus” said to be among the films proving popular with auds.

Those titles, along with “William Vincent” and “Monogamy,” are among the pics that added screenings to accommodate demand.

There was only one screening of Alex Gibney’s Spitzer docu, which played as an almost-complete work-in-progress in front of a packed theater on Saturday. But the home-turf angle of movie, about the rise and fall of the New York pol, helped attract a fair share of Gotham media attention. Among the pre-screening questions: Would Spitzer or former callgirl Ashley Dupre show up? (Neither did.)

The pic — which wasn’t open to review — earned largely positive word-of-mouth and sparked instant talk of distributor interest. Still, some of those fascinated by the movie’s broad take on the Spitzer scandal, and on the New York political intrigue that provided its backdrop, wondered just how intriguing it would all seem to auds outside of Gotham.

Would, for instance, the movie’s revelation of a heretofore unheard-from callgirl — who had had far more interactions with Spitzer than Dupre — resonate as strongly with theatergoers who didn’t spend several weeks buffeted by the images of Dupre on the cover the New York Post?

Some on the fest scene believe the scandal carried a high enough national political profile to make theatrical a good bet, but others said they’re on the fence. John Sloss, pic’s producers rep, said he’s currently fielding strong interest and is now working on making the right deal. (TV rights to the movie, a production of A&E’s Indie Films, are already in the hands of A&E.)

As for the second recurring theme that comes up in talk of the fest: The Tribeca Film Festival Virtual has so far attracted “a robust community,” said the fest’s exec director Nancy Schafer, although she didn’t give an exact figure. (With films still rolling out, not every feature is yet available online for viewing, and the $45 passes to the virtual component are still on sale.)

Unsurprisingly, celeb wattage seems to be a significant factor in the content that attracts virtual fest-goers. The presence of writer-director-actor Edward Burns helped pull eyes to his feature “Nice Guy Johnny,” for instance. And Robert DeNiro’s appearance at the fest’s kickoff press conference also has gotten continued virtual attention.

No one’s quite sure of the practical effect of Tribeca’s online expansion, but everybody’s keeping an eye on it, since it reps an intriguing experiment in an industry grappling with distribution uncertainty.

At the very least, this pilot incarnation of the virtual fest seems to have been successful enough to become a potentially appealing option for filmmakers who weren’t sure what to think about it before now.

It’s stopped scaring the people who were scared by it when we announced,” Schafer said.

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