Proof of non-profit Institute's efforts are in the pudding

The Tribeca Film Institute is carving itself a solid reputation amongst the crowded arena of film fest lab programs, and this year the non-profit arm of Tribeca will see some of its efforts bear fruit as two projects it supported premiere at the festival.

The list of pics that Tribeca has nursed to life is growing in leaps and bounds as the relatively young fund comes into its own. Tribeca-supported projects “Gun Hill Road,” “Pariah,” and “Circumstance” were all acquired at Sundance in January.

Perhaps one of the most high-profile projects to emerge from the TFI program is “Jesus Henry Christ,” which screens at Tribeca on April 23. The Julia Roberts-produced film was helmed by New Yorker Dennis Lee, a beneficiary of Tribeca’s All-Access Fellowship in 2005.

Lee won the narrative section prize for his screenplay, then titled “The Life & Times of H.J. Hermin,” and says his overall experience at TAA has left an indelible impression.

“This was really where my career had a huge jumpstart,” he says.

Lee participated in perhaps the most popular feature of the All-Access program, a whirlwind three-day crash course in networking. Filmmakers sit down for at least 25 face-to-face meetings with producers and execs from major production outfits in hopes of finding interested financiers.

One of Lee’s meetings connected him with executives at ABC/Disney and led to a directing fellowship in Los Angeles. He was also exposed to other contacts who helped secure backing from Roberts’ production shingle, Red Om.

“A lot of the people that I met on my ‘speed dating’ session I still keep in regular contact with,” he says.

TFI exec director Beth Janson says the All-Access program is only one of a multitude of benefits the fund offers.

“What drives us is we say, ‘This project may look niche, but it has the ability to connect with a large audience,’ ” she says.

Tribeca’s Gucci Documentary Fund is a seeding ground for projects the org thinks will leave a cultural impact. Some of the docs include Sundance special jury prize winner “Enemies of the People,” about the Killing Fields of Cambodia, and “The Oath,” about two brothers linked to 9/11.

“Give Up Tomorrow,” screening April 23, was also a Gucci funding recipient. Helmer Michael Collins says Tribeca rescued his project when he was strapped for cash three years into filming.

“We knew that in order to be able to complete it properly we had to get some serious support,” he says.

Collins entered the All-Access program in 2008 and says Tribeca catered to the specific needs of his complex doc, which tracks a double murder trial in the Philippines.

“Before we were released to the wolves they were giving some real hands-on training,” he says. “And you get all of this great feedback in a real nurturing environment.”

Other branches of TFI include the science-centric Sloan Filmmaker fund; a Latin American fund focused on Mexico, Central and South America; and, most recently, a new media fund for videogames, mobile apps and social media founded earlier this year.

Janson says it’s a challenge to simplify the array of funding opportunities and educational programs that fall under the TFI umbrella, but she has come up with one easy way to describe it:

“We’re on the grounds, in the trenches with filmmakers working to help them get their films made.”

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