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Tribeca - the Success of Diversity

The Tribeca Film Festival - the Success of Diversity

Though pundits have frequently called Tribeca a festival in search of an identity, its founders Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, and Craig Hatkoff, or the co-chair Martin Scorcese are not concerned at all with that question. Nor does the third edition show an emerging branding of the festival. Tribeca is developing very well without the reputation of representing a particular programming philosophy, genres, or niche in the festival market. Conversely film makers do not see their participation in terms of the prestige selection for the Berlinale, the New York Film Festival, Sundance or Cannes entails. Still, Tribeca has a set of characteristics which makes it unique among American film festivals and appealing to the film makers. Its features and objectives appeal to the media industry and the community, not to speak of politicians and corporate figures interested in the revival of the Tribeca section of New York City and the expansion of the media and information sectors. Its programs, such as the “Restored and Rediscovered” section, in part reflect the concerns of established filmmakers De Niro and Scorcese, an orientation no other major film festival has. Also few film makers and production companies would decline cooperating with De Niro and Scorsese.

A festival set up by well established artist with accolades by politicians and large amounts of funding from the founding sponsor American Express which honed into this extraordinary opportunity for a massive marketing campaigns, is bound to be successful. Whereas most new film festivals do not survive, the Tribeca Film Fest continues to expand and has become one of the most important major United States Film Festivals. This growth has been accompanied by effective networking with other ventures and groups ranging from the Tribeca Film Institute, the Alfred Sloan Foundation, to community organizations, and is linked to initiatives only generating kudos. For example this year Tribeca featured a new All Access program which provided exposure for film makers of color and fostered cooperation with media industry execs. It helps, so the claim, to diversify the film making arts. At each Tribeca Festival there is the routine presence of New York City’s mayor (an entrepreneur who made his billion selling information), of the Governor of New York and a coterie of minor officials. Yet it is only the Tribeca Film Festival that had among its guests Desmond Tutu, William J. Clinton, and Nelson Mandela, distinguished individuals who are not known to be habitués of the Film Festival circuit.

Tribeca can be understood as a virtual supermarket of films and events, so diverse that there is something for everybody. The films ranged from Hollywood lightweights to serious documentaries. They included the feature RAISING HELEN (Gary Marshall, Dir). presenting a “heartwarming comedy” of a top model thrown into parenting, the tortured rock and drug saga THE LAST GOOD BYE (Jacob Gentry, Dir) and the political correct audience pleaser AT THE EDGE OF AMERICA (Chris Eyre, Dir)
showing the rise to fame in by an American Indian women’s basket ball team trained by



an African – American coach, overcoming the hostile white environment. The program had a great selection of thought provoking docudramas and documentaries which by and large appeared to be more impressive than the feature films I saw. At the edge of fiction, BLIND FLIGHT (John Furse, Dir.) focuses on the gruesome journey of two Europeans
captured and tortured by militants in the Middle East. RESIST (Dirk Szuszies, Dir.), the documentary , constitutes a superb presentation of the unending relevance of the Living Theatre message, and the reflexive IMAGINARY WITNESS (Daniel Anker, Dir.) provides keen insights into Hollywood’s shifting treatment of the Holocaust best.. Lastly, AFGHANISTAN (Yassamin Maleknasr, Dir.) captures the life and timeless essence” of its people.

Yet in spite of its appeal to the audience and film makers, none of the films selected thus far for the Tribeca Festivals has been a break out success resulting in great commercial success or artistic fame. The absence of such success stories does not inhibit domestic or international film makers from participating given the reputation such invitations have already earned. As Cathy Henckel, an Australian film maker whose film THE MAN WHO STOL:E MY MOTHER”S FACE won the documentary award told me before getting her price , there has been no other film festival in her experience as welcoming and generous as Tribeca. Further Tribeca is laid back, thus successful film makers who owe to Sundance their breakthroughs, frequently prefer being at the Tribeca fest since there is no pressure of a market and of deal making.

Unlike other film festivals in the United States Tribeca incorporates a well organized and very popular community-oriented street festival, accompanied by a family film festival and a plethora of activities events for children in the typical New York carnival atmosphere of a street fair. There are also art exhibits, readings, as well as free concerts and drive-in screenings as well as other events. This street festival and the free events, frequently backed by the ever visible American Express has contributed to a great increase in festival participants, going from 125 000 people in 2002 to an estimated 400.000 this year. The June Medien Fest organized for the public at large, held during the trade oriented Medien Forum and Cologne Conference in Germany, is the only other major public media event I know of drawing as many people.

There is no question that the Tribeca Film Fest provides a service to the community and adds income to Tribeca based restaurants, art galleries, and fairly upscale shops, thus meeting its objective of helping to boost economic growth. Tribeca succeeds in delivering what many other festivals only claim to do. It also helps the film production sector by enlarging it’s infra structure. In that sense the service orientation and differentiation of the festival driven by pragmatic business consideration precludes the establishment of a ‘clear identity’, an identity the Tribeca Film Fest does not require for its success, an identity that could be counter productive.

Claus Mueller
cmueller@hunter.cuny.edu

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