If there’s been anything consistent about the Tribeca Film Festival over the past 11 years, it’s contradiction: Edgy indie films bumping up against popcorn movies; Hollywood excess beflecked with New York grit; a devotion to a community where less and less of the festival takes place. So when the festival’s triumvirate of top programmers says the 2012 edition is one of the best in years, it seems natural the reason would seem both obvious and revolutionary.
“Quality, quality, quality,” says Geoff Gilmore, chief creative officer of Tribeca Enterprises. “Program quality — and then figure out how many points in the spectrum you’ve managed to reach.”
What is intended this year by the Tribeca team — director of programming Genna Terranova, artistic director Frederic Boyer, and Gilmore, the former Sundance chief who arrived at Tribeca with much fanfare three years ago — isn’t exactly an abandonment of commercial considerations, but an embrace of a cinephile’s philosophy: Program good stuff, and they will come.
“What’s different is we’re not programming films because we think they might be appealing to buyers, not if the quality’s not there,” Terranova says. “We’re taking a harder look to find the quality and then leaving it up to the marketplace. Like ‘Bully’ last year — who knew the Weinstein Co. was going to pick it up? Or something like ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ or ‘Blackthorn.’ The movies will find their way to the marketplace if that’s what the marketplace is dictating.”
A new decade, a new philosophy, and a new team — sort of: Tribeca vet Terranova was promoted last year from senior programmer; Boyer was brought in from Cannes, where he’d been artistic director of the Directors’ Fortnight. Gilmore, previously with no official programming duties, was dragged back into the process like Michael Corleone after the departure of programmer David Kwok.
“Jane,” Gilmore says, referring to fest co-founder Jane Rosenthal, “asked me to get involved in a way I hadn’t been before. The worst thing that could have happened was being bored. The best thing that’s happened is we got excited about some of the movies we found. Without overhyping and saying everything is great, there are a lot of films I would tell you to see, and in a way we may not have talked about in the past.”
For Boyer — who, thanks to the State Department, spent much of the programming year in Paris trying to secure the proper visa — the experience was “a lot of work, but also a lot of pleasure. Because even if we don’t agree at the end on everything, we also didn’t have to search for films. If you get to look at five, six or seven films and have to choose one, it’s much better.”
Selections range from the Spanish police thriller “Unit 7,” to the Greta Gerwig vehicle “Lola Versus” and the Israeli docu “The Flat.”
“We talked a lot about different kinds of filmmakers and different kinds of films,” Gilmore says. “Frederic brought so many things to the table; he found one called ‘War Witch,’ which is coming out of Berlin — and Berlin doesn’t always have films that make you say ‘You’ve got to see this movie.’ But this was one not a lot of people get to see, about rebel armies and child soldiers, and it has spectrum and breadth.”
So Terranova agrees to a degree with the truism that a festival can only be as good as the films being made.
“You have to be able to get those movies,” she says, adding that Tribeca was seeking films from their infancy, not just in post. “We were uncovering every possible rock, and had consultants and a great young programming team sifting through the submissions. I wouldn’t say it’s a better year than any year before. I think we were more attentive. And more on top of it.”