Tribeca Film raises questions for fest

Concern that distib'n arm has scooped up most commercial product

In search of hot films at Tribeca, acquisitions folks have scoured the lineup, scored screeners and schmoozed filmmakers. But there is a concern among some executives that Tribeca’s new distribution arm, Tribeca Film, has already scooped up most of the commercial product.

In advance of the festival, Tribeca Film announced its had acquired several fest pics, including “Janie Jones” “The Bang Bang Club” and “Last Night”; two midnight movies, “Grave Encounters” and “Bleeding House”; and Peter Mullan’s British drama “Neds.”

Like many distributors with movies at the festival, Tribeca Film will use fest screenings as a launch pad for theatrical release; “The Bang Bang Club” opens in select markets on April 22 and “Last Night” on May 6. Several others will be available on VOD.

While Tribeca Enterprises maintains what it calls a “Chinese wall” between its film festival and its distribution entity, some sales agents and distribution rivals are wondering whether Tribeca’s acquisition department has an unfair advantage. “If a distributor’s job is seeing the film first,” said one insider, “then they’re getting an inside track.”

But Tribeca Film Fest and Tribeca Enterprises exec Nancy Schafer argues they’re totally distinct, with sales and programming offers existing “in completely separate discussions,” she said. Tribeca Film “has actually lost films because (the fest) wouldn’t program them. But that’s how it should work.”

Tribeca Film has the same access as other distribs, Schafer said.

“Filmmakers are only going to show it to us if they’re showing it to other people,” she said.

An exec with a rival distrib, Magnolia Pictures’ senior VP Tom Quinn, believes that Tribeca has “done a good job of separating the festival from their distribution efforts.” But others aren’t so sure.

“I do think there’s some confusion over where the Tribeca Festival ends and where Tribeca Film begins,” said Cinetic Rights Management’s Matt Dentler. “Festivals have to be delicate when entering the world of distribution. It’s problematic when a festival stands to financially benefit from the performance of a film, especially when those films are also playing at the festival.”

Cinetic’s own FilmBuff distribution arm has been accused of similar overlapping motivations. “What happens if they’re not looking out for the best interests of filmmakers/producers, but more so for their own pipeline?” asked another insider.

At the SXSW Film Festival, where Dentler and Schafer used to work, fest titles have gone out simultaneously with fest screenings on VOD, but through a third party, IFC Films. Similarly, at Sundance, a handful of festival titles were distributed by Sundance Selects, but aside from sharing a name, the entity is a subsidiary of Rainbow Media, with no corporate connection to the festival.

Schafer admits, “It could become a conflict of interest. But I care too much about the Tribeca Film Festival to have it been seen as something that is just being used.” The festival gets films in and the distributor asks to see them. And we get ‘no’ a lot. But we do ask.”