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New York Tribeca Film Festival - the future Cannes of North America?

This film festival continues to expand, though it lacks a clear profile, compared to other major fests like the New York Film Festival, Sundance, or the Berlinale. Each year it adds new components. If current trends prevail Tribeca will rank among the biggest film festivals in the world. During the last edition (April 25 – May 6, 2007), the number of premieres had increased, more industry executives attended and a consensus emerged in the trades that Tribeca had become a viable place for discovering and buying new product. Press coverage grew to about 1300 accredited journalist this year, though still distant to the more than 4000 journalist attending the 2007 Berlinale.

The 2007 edition brought new programs, new venues, new sponsors and more cash rewards -- approximating $230,000 with the largest prize of $50,000 for the best narrative feature. A “Sports Saturday” program, the Tribeca/ ESPN Sports Film Festival, was added to the other free outdoor events which already feature the Tribeca Family Festival and the popular “Drive-In”. New venues were added expanding the festival to in Manhattan’s midtown area and the East and West sides. There were no apparent problems selling tickets though they now max out at $18 per ticket (possibly still a bargain compared to the New York Film Festival’s maximum charge of $40). From the first edition in 2002 running 5 days with 150 000 visitors Tribeca has now morphed into a 12 day event , or as some observers had it, four ring circus with close to half a million attendees.

Tribeca organizers state that the fest has resulted in more than $325 million in economic revenues during the first five years and that $120 million were generated in 2006. More than one and a half million visitors have been participating in its programs since it started in 2002. Contrary to common assumptions, the Tribeca Film Festival is a for-profit venture managed by the for-profit Tribeca Enterprises established in 2003 by Jane Rosenthal, Craig Hatkoff and Robert de Niro. It has been funded through a combination of public and private sources including foundations, the Lower Manhattan Development Authority and most importantly American Express, the founding sponsor. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Amex, which has a long term contract with Tribeca, covered $2.6 of the $13 million costs of the 2007 edition. The largest public funder, the Development Authority provided $ 3 million in 2004 and 2005, and $600 000 to the Tribeca Film Institute in 2006 (the non-profit division of Tribeca.) nonetheless, the festival allegedly has a $1 million deficit covered by personal funds from the founders.

The expansion of the Berlinale’s under Dieter Kosslick has been largely trade oriented as expressed in the relocation and rapid expansion of the European Film Market, the establishment of funding mechanism for films from developing countries known as “the World Cinema Fund”, and the 2007 addition of high level industry seminars. Tribeca’s growth seems to be more audience oriented, reflected in the concern with having insufficient venues and the addition of the Sports Film Fest component. Yet Tribeca has set the stage with its peculiar combination of mainline Hollywood films (such a Spiderman 3) , independent ventures in virtually all program categories, numerous first rate productions (as amply demonstrated in the documentary programs), and the commanding but risky specials such as Paolo Cherchei Usai’s PASSIO and DJ Spooky – Rebirth of a Nation. Further there are

several Tribeca program components which provide the necessary growth framework including, but not restricted to: the tax exempt Tribeca Film Institute, the development programs and the Tribeca ALL Access programs for minorities, the Family Festival, and links established to other fests such as the Rome Film Festival. There are also continuing attempts to transform part of Tribeca into year long enterprise or in Rosenthal’s words an ongoing “media event”. This already holds for events of the Film Institute and special screenings at the Tribeca Cinemas.

Cinephiles reared on the programming of the New York Film Festival continue to deplore the commercial nature of Tribeca, the incorporation of block buster fare and Tribeca’s close cooperation with Hollywood. Sometimes demonstrating ignorance, these critics belittle the quality of productions screened and Tribeca’s audience orientation-- a critique though more muted also articulated about the Berlinale. For some writers Tribeca’s lack of an identity seems be a problem. Yet the Tribeca’s eclectic profile and programming approach as administered with great business acumen of Tribeca is a decided advantage of the festival. Jane Rosenthal and her associates embrace the notion of constant expansion. As quoted by the Hollywood Reporter, Craig Hatkoff maintains that “Not having [the festival] grow will just exacerbate the cost structure”. Several weeks ago Peter Scarlet reiterated two points he made last year when I interviewed him. First he still hates festival parties and does not bother to attend Cannes. Second, the establishment of a Tribeca film market is still under discussion by festival founders and management.

The location of such a market is still problematic, though the Tribeca Film Festival together with the Cirque du Soleil is involved in securing approval for a major entertainment complex on the 14-acre lower Manhattan Hudson Pier 40.This complex would include film theatres and a 28,650 square-foot-event space that could easily be transformed into a film market. There is significant community opposition to this $ 626 million development project, yet a public agency responsible for Pier 40, the Hudson River Park Trust, emphasizes that Pier 40 has to be developed to generate revenues. If that rational prevails, the Tribeca Film Festival will be able to add a film market and reach what some pundits discern as the objective of the festival…becoming the Cannes of North America

Claus Mueller, New York Correspondent


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