Monday, April 13, 2009

Tribeca's New Image

As Festival Director with Sundance for two decades, Geoffrey Gilmore witnessed the metamorphosis of independent film's low budget image to studio feature film-level production value. More product not under studio control infiltrated the film markets vying for the same theatrical exhibition regions and ancillary routes. The dam burst and in the past year we witnessed several distribution arms closings, reorganizations, financial difficulties turning it's vise grip several notches tighter, wringing out little of what's left of a fairly good financial and highly visible run for indie films and film festivals. Perhaps this is what Gilmore means when he said film festivals must change or become dinosaurs. Maybe bringing Gilmore to New York is thought to be a way for Tribeca to change its image. 

Former festival and creative director, Peter Scarlet now heads the Middle East Film Festival coming up in October. This was recently announced since his late February resignation. That makes it just six weeks for Gilmore to take over the reins (reign?) and just a week away before the festival insanity starts. Can he do in seven weeks what Scarlet did for seven years? I found Peter Scarlet to be very accessible, meeting him at several pre festival screenings at the original Tribeca Film Festival theater, Tribeca Cinemas. He introduced the films with exceptional cinema knowledge and wit, engaging an intimate media audience staying afterwards in the lobby catching up with the local media writers and bloggers during a time when you normally can't reach or talk to someone in his position. It's a tough act to follow. Just how accessible can Gilmore be? During the past several years at Sundance, I'd see him at Festival headquarters, but he never had a moment for me or anyone during the ten days of Film Festival mayhem outside of the Sundance sanctioned media. 

Although I've been an accredited press person for Tribeca Film Festival these past three years with my Film Festival reViews podcasts, I found it increasingly media unfriendly. Decisions were made to create a Hollywood East image complete with red carpet celebrity intros, ET media and paparazzi mentality handled by an elite security force of hulking, black-suited figures equipped with ear pieces staunchly turning away anyone not on "the list" or past security checkpoints. It became almost impossible to meet filmmakers or to see their films as the sprawl mentality broke away from the original Tribeca neighborhood and spread into Midtown and Uptown locations not easily found. Combined with high ticket prices, it has become difficult - especially for students and independent filmmakers whose films were not accepted - to access the film festival. While the Tribeca Film Festival took on a life of its own creating platforms for celebrities and famous directors, the New York independent filmmaking community, along with the local contributing writers, podcasters and bloggers were left out in the cold. I did not get accreditation this year, but I'm still on their Email list. According to a Tribeca press release, American Express, a founding partner, along with new sponsor relationships promise to enhance the "Filmgoer's" (their word, not mine) experience, providing Cardmembers access to private screenings, filmmaker interviews, red carpet premieres and panels. Maybe that's the new way to go.

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