Begin Again

As the event evolves, the fest extends its brand

As the Tribeca Film Festival enters its 13th year, fest leaders feel confident they’ve established an identity for the event as more than just a placeholder between Sundance and Cannes.

Now the only trick is to convince everybody else of that. Although the fest has expanded from its 2002 inception into a wide-frame array of offerings incorporating tech, sports, gaming and civilian-facing neighborhood events, organizers still face questions about what exactly Tribeca stands for.

“We’re still a young festival, relatively speaking, and for us, adolescence means we’ve begun to see who we are,” says Geoff Gilmore, the Sundance alum who added his indie cred to the fest when he signed on as chief creative officer of Tribeca Enterprises in 2009. “When we talk about what Tribeca is, it’s always looking forward to what film festivals need to become.”

One thing film festivals have become is a robust business. TFF boasts healthy sponsorships with AT&T, Bombay Sapphire, Lincoln Motor Co. and others through its hundreds of screenings, multiple funding initiatives and a slew of parties. The brand’s footprint has even expanded to include international events and a distribution company, Tribeca Film.

That bustling activity likely factored into showbiz giant Madison Square Garden Co.’s recent acquisition of a 50% stake in Tribeca Enterprises. The $45 million deal won’t change any of the day-to-day operations, but it will bring the downtown fest to uptown’s Beacon Theatre and stands poised to grow the festival’s brand across the country with MSG’s other national venues.

“I think the ownership gives us resources and options that we’re still trying to figure out,” Gilmore says.

“Discovery,” “community” and “innovation” are the organizing watchwords, as organizers pitch the latest festival centered around a slate of 89 films. That list launches with opening-night entry “Time Is Illmatic,” the music doc about Nas that lends the fest a music-heavy slant culminating in “Begin Again,” the closing-night offering starring a crooning Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo.

With the addition of artistic director Frederic Boyer, who came to Tribeca in 2012 following his tenure at Cannes, the festival also has built a growing profile in international films — as evidenced in recent Oscar nominees “The Broken Circle Breakdown” and “War Witch,” both of which made their U.S. bows at Tribeca. This year’s far-ranging roster of international offerings encompasses everything from Russian road trip tale “I Won’t Come Back” to Burmese-Taiwanese verite outing “Ice Poison.”

Perhaps the most industry heads have been turned, however, by the fest’s ever-growing multiplatform storytelling, hacking, new media and think-tank panels. As the Innovation Week makes clear (see story page 74), Tribeca seems to stake its brand not just on the future of fests but on the future of storytelling itself.

“We can’t, as an industry, exist without acknowledging what’s going on in technology,” says director of programming Genna Terranova.

With Tribeca’s broad range, it can sometimes be easy to forget there are films in the festival, too. “We have juries and awards and red carpets,” Boyer notes. “We’re also a very classic — but not conventional — film festival.”

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