Tribeca Film Fest 2008: Trends, Facts, and Curios

New York–As is known by now, movie star Robert De Niro and executives Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff founded the Tribeca Film Festival in 2001 following the attacks on the World Trade Center to spur the economic and cultural revitalization of lower Manhattan through an annual celebration of film, music and culture.
Unlike the older, smaller, and more elitist New York Film Festival (established in 1963), which shows only 26 to 30 features, from the beginning, the mission of the Tribeca Film Fest has focused on assisting filmmakers to reach the broadest possible audience, enabling the international film community and general public to experience the power of cinema and promoting New York City as a major filmmaking center.

Navigating between mainstream Hollywood and independent cinema from all over the world, this year's edition was book-ended by two high profile world premieres: “Baby Mama,” the timely femme-driven comedy, starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler (of TV's “Saturday Night Live” fame), and the new, technically inventive film from the Wachowski brothers (larry and Andy), “Speed Racer,” a special effects driven family fare (Rating is PG), based on the popukar Japanese anime series. Both pictures received wide theatrical release right after bowing at the festival.

It is common knowledge that the success of festivals is often measured by the number of innovative films, world-premieres, and the display of “hot” pictures that don't have release date yet. In this respect, the Tribeca Film fest still needs its own “sex, lies and videotape,” the 1989 Soderbergh movie that put Sundance Festival—and independent cinema at largeon the pop culture map. Like Sundance this year, sales were slow, reflecting the economic climate and the sad reality that most independent films still have a rather limited commercial appeal.

Even so, as always, there was plenty to see, do, and participate–and not just in the film domain. Music, literary, and cultural events also assumed prominence. About 20 varied musical acts performed at the Tribeca/ASCAP Music Lounge, co-sponsored by American Express. One of those artists, Anya Marina, was signed to Alexandra Patsavas' new record label Chop Shop Records.

Four musical acts performed at “Breaking the Band,” a concert sponsored by Target. During the concert, Bad Veins, an unsigned duo from Ohio, received the first ever Target Music Maker award and a cash prize of $10,000.

Nonetheless, special attention was accorded to the smaller, offbeat indies and foreign-language films that don't have yet theatrical distribution, and the jury selection of award winners reflected that trend.

Award Winners

The seventh annual competition included 120 features and 80 shorts from 40 countries. Tomas Alfredson's “Lat den ratte komma in” (“Let the Right One In”), a bizarre but original tale about first love between a young boy and the vampire next door, won the top feature prize.
Huseyin Karabey won the new narrative filmmaker award for “Gitmek: My Marlon and Brando,” a true story about a love affair between a Turk and a Kurd.

Thomas Turgoose and Piotr Jagiello, in Shane Meadows' “Somers Town,” shared the acting trophy, while Eileen Walsh, from Declan Recks' “Eden,” received the actress prize.

Documentary feature awards went to Gini Reticker's “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” about Liberian women who steered the 2003 peace accords, and one of the most interesting non-foction films I saw this year.
The New Docu Filmmaker Award went to Carlos Carcas for “Old Man Bebo,” about a Cuban musician behind the mambo. The New York Awards honored Daniela Zanzotto's “Zoned In,” a socially relevant feature about race and class in the U.S. educational system, and Richard Ledes' “The Caller,” a noir thriller about corporate corruption.

In the shorts categories, Steph Green's “New Boy” bested 35 other narrative shorts, while Jessica Habie's docu “Mandatory Service” beat 18 contenders. The student visionary Sasie Sealy's “Elephant Garden” was selected over 19 other entries.

Following the practice of the Sundance Flim Fest, all the winning films screened again on the last day of the event, Sunday, May 4, at the AMC Village VII.

“It's especially gratifying and exciting to see that the members of our juries selected an extremely diverse group of films, in terms of both their themes and their countries of production, and that the majority of the prizes are going to filmmakers and performers who are all at an early stage of their careers,” fest artistic director Peter Scarlet said.

The Jurors included famous actors like Oliver Platt, Whoopi Goldberg, Peter Dinklage and Molly Shannon; directors such as Callie Khouri, Peter Hedges and Doug Liman; writers Josh Schwartz and Jay McInerney; and producer Christine Vachon of Killer Films (which has made, among other projects, all of Todd Haynes films, including “Far From Heaven” and I'm Not There”).

Audience Participation

One of our key goals for this years festival was to further enhance the audience experience. To that end, ticket prices were lowered by 20% and screenings and activities were centralized with the new “dual hubs” in Tribeca and the Union Square areas. The film programmers also chose a smaller, tighter line-up of films than in previous years.

“The popular free, community events were extremely successful, with numbers dipping only slightly at our Family Festival due to weather-related factors. It was wonderful to see so many New Yorkers and visitors continue to embrace the Festival and our mission to support lower Manhattans economic revitalization, said Craig Hatkoff, one of the festival's co-founders.

Each year, we seek to give both established and first time filmmakers from around the world and around the corner an opportunity to share their artistic visions and stories with our Festival audiences, said Festival co-founder Jane Rosenthal, who also runs the Tribeca Institute, a year-round operation. From the story of how thousands of women helped bring peace to Liberia and elect Africas first female head of state in Pray the Devil Back to Hell to the stirring documentary about former Sudanese child soldier and hip-hop artist, Emmanuel Jal, who uses his music to raise awareness about the humanitarian crisis occurring in his homeland in War Child, audiences were able to experience a range of emotions and experiences at this years Festival.

Since its founding, the Festival has attracted more than two million attendees from the U.S. and abroad and has generated more than $425 million in economic activity for New York City. The 2008 edition, presented by the major sponsors American Express, saw a total attendance of just under 400,000 at the 2008 Festival. Festival organizers estimated a ticketed attendance of over 155,000 to 700 screenings and 14 panel discussions throughout the 11-day festival.

Approximately 85% of the Festivals available tickets were sold or distributed to pass holders. The Festival, which featured two hubs in Lower Manhattan and the Union Square area and ran from April 23 through May 4, screened 121 features and 79 short films from 41 countries.

A huge crowd of about 225,000 people attended the popular Tribeca Family Festival Street Fair and Tribeca/ESPN Sports Day on Saturday, May 3. Despite the bad weather, it was fun to stroll around the free community event, which took place along eight blocks of Greenwich Street and neighboring side streets in Tribeca, which is going through major gentrification, with lush condos and the stat-of-the art office buildings.

The Tribeca Drive-In, co-sponsored by Snapple and Yahoo! and hosted by Brookfield Properties, Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and United States Department of Housing and Urban Development at the World Financial Center Plaza, drew combined crowds of 10,000 to three evenings of free, outdoor screenings of “Thriller Night: Thriller & The Making of Thriller,” “Meerkat Manor: The Story Begins,” and “We Are Marshall,” which was the winner of the Tribeca/ESPN Fans Favorite Football Flick competition. All three evenings featuredpre-show live interactive entertainment, including the worlds largest zombie disco during Thriller Night.

Facts and Curiosities

* 199 directors attended the festival. Of those 199 directors, 130 directed feature films in the festival and hailed from 23 different countries.

* Most (about 90 percent) of the feature film directors and of the short filmmakers (85 percent) attended the festival.

* With a journey of more than 31 hours, Palden Gyatso (subject of the documentary “Fire Under Snow”) experienced the longest trip to the festival. His journey began with a 13 hour bus ride from Damsala, India to New Delhi, followed by a 1 to 2 hour plane ride from New Delhi to Mumbai and finally, a 17 hour flight from Mumbai to New York.

* About 980 industry delegates attended the festival, of which 832 were from the U.S. and 148 from 25 other countries.

* The festival benefited from the work of 2,750 volunteers, one fourth of which (723 to be precise) were returning volunteers. The oldest volunteer was 77 years old. Approximately 76% of the volunteers were residents of New York State, 10% came from New Jersey or Connecticut and 10% from other U.S. states. In addition, 4% of the volunteers came in from around the world, representing 18 countries, including Austria, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Korea, Denmark, Dominica (West Indies), Germany, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, South Africa, United Kingdom, Turkey, Japan and Bermuda.

* Due to increased star power and security reasons, the New York Police Department increased the number of barricades used during the festival to 400.