You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Tribeca finds footing as buzz incubator

Fest balances appeal to industry, Gotham public

The Tribeca Film Festival kicks off its 2011 edition tonight with “The Union,” Cameron Crowe’s docu about the collaboration between musicians Elton John and Leon Russell. Rather than an exclusive gala, the event is a public, outdoor screening that incorporates a live performance from John.

It’s that slant toward accessibility that, industry types say, has come to define a festival that has struggled, in its decade of existence, with the perception that it’s a fest in search of an identity.

“Tribeca is a real populist festival,” said Tom Bernard, co-topper of Sony Pictures Classics, which has Tribeca screenings for upcoming releases “The Guard,” “Higher Ground” and “Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest.” “They’ve kind of found their identity.”

Tribeca may not have gained a rep as a high-profile marketplace like Sundance and Cannes but instead has evolved into a media-magnet launchpad for films targeting a summer release.

“In the same way that Toronto takes advantage of being in September to be a kickoff for fall films, I think Tribeca does the same in the spring,” said Arianna Bocco, head of acquisitions for Sundance Selects/IFC Films, which will screen Michael Winterbottom’s Steve Coogan comedy “The Trip” and Yves Saint Laurent doc “L’Amour fou” in the fest.

Thanks to Tribeca’s annual publicity blitz — not to mention the marketing muscle of the fest’s numerous sponsors, including American Express — New York press pays attention to the fest. And with so many Gotham outlets exerting national influence, that’s a handy thing for distributors looking to build buzz for a summer pic.

“There’s a lot of press attendance,” said Peter Goldwyn of Samuel Goldwyn Films, prepping for the world preem of Jason Sudeikis starrer “A Good Old Fashioned Orgy” during the fest ahead of a theatrical release later in the summer. “By having the cast of ‘Orgy’ come out for Tribeca, it’s a good way to start the hype on it.”

As for acquisitions activity, most observers agree Tribeca remains a tier below Cannes or Sundance. Still, some say the fest has become an important stop for the more indie-minded film sales agents and distributor scouts.

“Over the past 10 years, it’s become a real market,” said the Film Sales Co.’s Andrew Herwitz, who last year sold pics including “Meet Monica Velour” and “Spork” out of Tribeca. This year he’s hawking Kathleen Turner topliner “The Perfect Family” and documentaries “Carol Channing: Larger Than Life” and “Semper Fi: Always Faithful.”

What Tribeca hasn’t had, according to a number of industry types, is a major, fest-defining sale. “They haven’t had their ‘Sex, Lies and Videotape’ yet,” noted Ed Burns, the filmmaker who has bowed a total of five films in past fests and returns this year with the world preem of “Newlyweds,” the comedy that closes the festival.

It’s often the broad variety of offerings that bizzers cite as a major factor in the fest’s identity uncertainty. According to organizers, though, the inclusiveness has always been part of the point.

“We’ve always been very consistent in the types of films we program, from experimental to international to New York independents to studio films, and everything in between,” said Tribeca programming director David Kwok. “We never called ourselves an independent film festival. For us, we always look to create a balanced program of contemporary world cinema.”

Due in part to the fest’s concerted outreach to auds beyond the usual fest circuit, more commercial fare and star-cast projects tend to attract plenty of attention.

Thesps on Tribeca screens this year include Ryan Phillippe (“The Bang Bang Club”), Adrien Brody (“Detachment”), Orlando Bloom (“The Good Doctor”), Chris Evans (“Puncture”) and Jeremy Piven (“Angels Crest”). There’s also Michael Sheen and Toni Collette in comedy “Jesus Henry Christ” and Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington in drama “Last Night” to attract festgoers looking for recognizable faces.

But among industry auds, many see the fest’s docu offerings as the most interesting element of its lineup. Docs that have turned heads already include “Bombay Beach,” Alma Har’el’s experimental nonfiction hybrid about the idiosyncratic inhabitants of the Salton Sea, and the latest from Alex Gibney, the baseball-themed “Catching Hell.” (Gibney’s then-untitled doc “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer” was one of the buzzed-about titles of the 2010 festival.)

Also drawing attention are docus about well-known figures looking to break out of the fest in the same way as last year’s “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.” That lineup includes the Channing and Saint Laurent docs, as well as “God Bless Ozzy Osbourne.”

Complaints about the scheduling of Tribeca can still be heard, especially among those for whom the late-April Tribeca skedding impacts their prep for Cannes. This year the fest faces the added hurdle of coinciding with Good Friday and Easter, which fall unusually late.

Tribeca launched in 2002 in an effort to reactivate downtown Manhattan in the wake of 9/11. Because of those roots in community rejuvenation, public events — including the annual street fair and outdoor screenings such as “The Union” and, in coming days, “Fame,” “When the Drum Is Beating” and “The Muppets Take Manhattan” — have come to be considered as integral to the fest’s identity as the rest of its slate.

“We have three broad communities: the Tribeca neighborhood, the New York community and the industry community,” said fest exec director Nancy Schafer.

Fest organizers also hope the event will be defined by its online initiatives, including this year’s Tribeca Festival Films Online. There’s also the affiliated distribution platform Tribeca Film, which aims to benefit from the brand established by the fest.

“The whole idea is to use the festival as a platform to extend film to a larger audience,” Kwok said. “I think that’s the direction we’re going to go in the future.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Beyonce Knowles'The Lion King' film premiere,

    ABC Announces Behind-the-Scenes Special for Beyoncé's 'Lion King' LP

    ABC has announced a new behind-the-scenes look into the making of Beyoncé’s “The Lion King: The Gift” LP, which is set to air September 16 on ABC at 10 p.m. EST. Titled “Beyoncé Presents: Making the Gift,” the new hour-long special will allow viewers to “experience the process” behind the “Lion King” companion album, according [...]

  • Jason Lei Howden, Samara Weaving and

    Daniel Radcliffe On Acting With Weapons Nailed To Your Hands

    How did “Guns Akimbo” director and writer Jason Lei Howden convince Daniel Radcliffe to play a character with guns nailed to his hands? Easy, he sent him the script. Radcliffe joined Howden and “Ready or Not’s” breakout star Samara Weaving in the Variety’s Toronto Film Festival studio, presented by AT&T to talk the limits of [...]

  • Box Office: It Chapter Two Maintains

    Box Office: 'It: Chapter Two' Continues International Reign With $47 Million

    Pennywise’s reign of terror hasn’t wavered: Warner Bros.’ “It Chapter Two” maintained first place on box office charts, led by another strong showing overseas. The sequel, based on Stephen King’s horror novel, generated another $47 million at the international box office for a foreign tally of $169 million. After two weeks of release, “It Chapter [...]

  • First still from the set of

    Taika Waititi’s 'Jojo Rabbit' Wins Top Prize at Toronto Film Festival Awards

    Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit” has won the coveted People’s Choice Award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. The honor positions the film for a potential Oscar run and bolsters its awards chances. That’s good news for Fox Searchlight, which must have been disappointed by the lackluster critical reception for the movie, a dark comedy [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Box Office: 'Hustlers' Racks Up Solid $33 Million Debut, 'Goldfinch' Bombs

    “Hustlers” rolled in the Benjamins this weekend, collecting $33.2 million when it debuted in 3,250 North American theaters. Boosted by rave reviews and stellar word of mouth, “Hustlers” beat expectations and now ranks as the best start for an STX film, along with the biggest live-action opening weekend for stars Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu. [...]

  • German Cinema Is Diverse, But Is

    German Cinema Is Varied, But Is It Too Risk Averse?

    One of the strengths of German cinema is its diversity, says Simone Baumann, managing director of the national film promotion agency German Films. As well as the three films at Toronto directed by female German helmers, there was also German filmmaker Thomas Heise’s documentary film essay “Heimat Is a Space in Time.” Then there were [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content