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Tribeca Carves Out Identity as Next Gen New Media Fest

At this year’s 15th Tribeca Film Festival, attendees can lose themselves in a virtual-reality psychedelic dance party, learn about living in a wireless future, or watch the complete 7½-hour miniseries of “O.J.: Made in America” — oh yeah, and watch some movies, too.

Don’t call it simply a film festival — call it a “storytelling” festival, say TFF organizers of the event running April 13-24.

Originally founded in 2002 to reenergize a moribund Lower Manhattan in the wake of 9/11, Tribeca has gone through many iterations over the years (i.e., red-carpet magnet, VOD acquisition market, documentary launchpad). But it may have finally carved out an identity of its own as a next-gen new-media haven.

“It’s not just defining what Tribeca is now,” says Paula Weinstein, exec VP of Tribeca Enterprises. “It’s illuminating where storytelling is going.”

Tribeca still shows about 100 feature films, which matches previous years, but the festival’s multi-platform programming has exploded. This year, TFF is launching its inaugural TV program, Tribeca Tune In, an expanded lineup of more than 32 virtual reality and interactive projects, and the Digital Creators Market, a bazaar for new digital and online talent.
“It might feel like something we’ve done overnight, but it’s been gestating for a long time,” says Tribeca fest director Genna Terranova.

She points to such initiatives as the TFI Interactive conference, launched in 2012 to celebrate digital storytelling; the Storyscapes program of interactive works, which began in 2013; and even its celebration of the finale of TV’s “Friends,” back in 2004.

“Films are not going away,” says Terranova, who notes feature film submissions were up this year. “But it’s like a Venn diagram with more overlapping areas and the convergence of these different worlds.”

This year’s festival is a testament to the industry’s increasing “cross-pollination,” says Terranova, referring to the premieres of the TV series “Animal Kingdom,” based on the 2010 Australian feature film; Morgan Spurlock’s “Vlogumentary” doc; and nonfiction filmmaker Whitney Dow’s digital installation “Intersection of I.”

TFF’s inaugural Digital Creators Market, developed with the help of CAA, is a direct response to this hybridity in the marketplace. According to Jesse Uram, an agent in CAA’s Digital Talent and Packaging group, the next generation of great filmmakers is liable to start out in the online world, so it’s vital for the industry to have a market “to respond to the ever-evolving definition of a creator,” he says. “The space is growing up. The content, positioning and process needs to, as well.”

Storyscapes programmer Ingrid Kopp, who has been at the forefront of shepherding and curating online, interactive and VR works, sees the festival’s role as a place to give audiences “a survey of approaches and ways of thinking about storytelling,” she says. “Being in New York City, where film, commerce and tech collide, it makes sense for Tribeca,” she adds. “It would be weird if it didn’t.”

Weinstein acknowledges the festival’s new-media presentations may be more expensive to present than one more digitally projected movie. “But it’s well worth it,” she says, pointing specifically to TFF’s year-old Hub, which hosts the virtual reality and interactive installations, as well as Imagination Day, which features talks with tech leaders, the Interactive Playground and a Games and Media Summit, among other activities.

“The whole idea is to create a vibrant home where everyone can mix it up and feel like you’re part of a community,” Weinstein says.

For creators in the new digital space, the programming is a blessing. “It’s really helped the projects we’ve launched there to get the attention they need in the media, art world and film world,” says Loc Dao, chief digital officer and executive director of the National Film Board of Canada’s Interactive Studios, which has had several works at the festival, including last year’s favorite “Do Not Track” and this year’s “Seances” by Guy Maddin.

For some audiences, however, Tribeca’s embrace of so much nontraditional programming may seem out of place; all this futurecasting could just as easily be suited to a museum exhibition as a film festival.

But Amy Rose, co-director of the interactive project “Door Into the Dark,” winner of last year’s Storyscapes award, begs to differ. “It should go without saying that the way we make, consume and experience films — or, just stories — is radically changing,” she says. “So some part of the industry needs to make sure that with all these new whims, tastes and desires flying around, the filmmakers and industry aren’t the ones who end up in the museum, locked away in a glass case.”

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