As it does once each year, the very East Coast Tribeca Film Festival picked up its stakes this week and moved to the West Coast to create enthusiasm in Hollywood for this year’s 12th edition, as the fest is still trying to make its mark as it falls between Sundance and SXSW and Cannes. It opens April 17 with the world premiere of the musical documentary Mistaken For Strangers and will feature several world premieres spread among several sections and special screenings over the course of the fest, which concludes April 28th.
Tribeca’s Geoff Gilmore and his programming staff are in town all week making the rounds and also threw a splashy party Monday night at the Beverly Hilton pool to celebrate not only the 2013 festival program but also upcoming releases from Tribeca Film, the distribution arm of the company. Numerous filmmakers and actors from Tribeca entries like the intriguingly titled How To Make Money Selling Drugs, Deep Powder, Some Velvet Morning, Raze (with Zoe Bell), Trust Me, A Single Shot, A Birder’s Guide To Everything, The Diplomat, Farah Goes Bang, GBF, The Moment, Grandma’s Not A Toaster, The Diplomat and The English Teacher (another world premiere with Julianne Moore) were in attendance. Gilmore made brief remarks but later told me he’s especially excited about the many documentaries that will be debuting at Tribeca this year, including Chiemi Karasawa’s Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, Nicholas Wrathall’s Gore Vidal: The United States Of Amnesia, Whoopi Goldberg’s I Got Somethin’ To Tell You (about famed comic Moms Mabley), and Marina Zenovich’s Richard Pryor: Omit The Logic which Zenovich told me will focus on the great talent the comedian was.
With new films having their North American, U.S. or world premieres from filmmakers as diverse as Phil Morrison, Scott Coffey, Neil Jordan, Craig Zisk, Darren Stein, Bruno Baretto, David M. Rosenthal, Neil LaBute and Clark Gregg to name a few, Gilmore thinks the fest is continuing to come into its own with what he calls a “whole range” of movies. Tribeca has not generally been known for breakout award-level movies of the type Gilmore’s previous stint at Sundance produced, but it keeps trying. “For me the kind of quality of competition films we have is what makes this job worthwhile”, he said. “What you are ultimately trying to do is really kind of create an atmosphere for emerging directors, both young filmmakers and directors who people might have expected to see in Sundance or Toronto but instead ended up coming to Tribeca with their new works. It’s great. I feel very good about it.”
After four years at Tribeca as Chief Creative Officer (after 19 years at Sundance), Gilmore is happy the Tribeca festival is continuing to build — but it’s all incremental he says. “It’s got discovery and edge to it. We’ve got a Storyscapes program which is experimental about transmedia which is really cool. We are also doing something about serial writing where the director wrote the first five minutes of a film, put it out on the Internet and had 500 people write the next five minutes and the next five minutes etc and he brought it back and did a film. So it’s a lot of different works in different sections including a lot of strong commercial work. The Midnight section is great, and it is about as strong a group of documentaries as we’ve ever done so I couldn’t be more excited,” he said.
He points out that Tribeca is also becoming a bigger force in securing distribution for many of these independent projects, and that doesn’t just include its own distribution arm that is releasing several films including the current War Witch, a Best Foreign Language Oscar nominee this year. “Last year we had 37 films (get distribution) out of 60 that were available. I don’t know anybody else that is doing it at that level except maybe Sundance”, he said. “This year I think we are in that same vein, a lot of commercial work. We will see how much of it sells and what happens to it. I don’t want to predict things but it is a very unpredictable business. The distribution platform is still a very big part of what we do but to me it is also about this diversity of agendas”.
Any regrets about making the big move to Tribeca four years ago? Not at all. “I love being in New York. I love my different life. I love doing the distribution company and the range of films that we take out”, he said. “We’ve really been successful, but it is something that you hope to keep building because it’s always incremental. Every distribution company fails when they begin but we haven’t failed much. We do need to break out, we need to go to another level, but it’s exciting. In the meantime I get to travel almost as much as I used to but in a different way with Tribeca International’s program, the range of stuff we do. And now I am helping supervise the festival. Too many different hats but interesting to me. I feel very energized by what I’m doing. I lived in L.A. for 28 years and I worked at UCLA for a long time, 19 years of Sundance. I didn’t know what else I was going to do. I’m still not sure where Sundance goes to from now. They’re doing what they do.They do it very well. I am not sure where the steps are, whereas I know where the steps are with us and what we can build to”.