Our reporter Nolan Kelly examines what’s included in Tribeca 2018, one of New York’s most exclusive film industry events.
The visual theme for this year’s promotion of the Tribeca Film Festival, the two-week media sensation taking place throughout lower Manhattan through April 29, features ripped up pastel pages – an appealing pastiche of different media.
Their temporary headquarters on 50 Varick Street looked pretty similar when I visited for my press pass this past Monday. Walls were being painted and covered with glossy signage, televisions and projectors were hung, the front steps sealed off to accommodate a red carpet. Like a multimillion-dollar circus or a studio film set, the grounds are built and deconstructed in a matter of days bookending the highly attended, round-the-clock events of the festival itself.
The Tribeca Film Institute, which operates and curates the program, is stashed away up on the 27thfloor of a brown brick building across the avenue from the neighborhood’s eponymous park. It is one of their only permanent spaces, save a small screening room on Greenwich Street, squished between the extravagant Tribeca Grill and exclusory Greenwich Hotel, which held select press screenings for the past three weeks. I can only imagine the rent.
The Tribeca Film Festival was started in 2002 by the neighborhood’s de facto emperor, Robert De Niro, in conjunction with producer Jane Rosenthal and real estate developer Craig Hatkoff, supposedly intended to revitalize the area in the wake of 9/11. Their investment appears to have paid off, as the Tribeca neighborhood is now one of the most opulent and attractive areas of New York City, in addition to being one of the least lived in.
If the once-bohemian West Village has become a playground for millionaires, Tribeca is where Wall St. goes home to.
With that in mind, it’s fascinating to think of the neighborhood as a major patron of the arts, especially since it lacks the institutional accommodation of somewhere like Lincoln Center, which holds the far sleepier New York Film Festival each fall. Tribeca is also, notably, never without a major corporate sponsor. The full title of this year’s event is technically The 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, Presented by AT&T.
Do large sponsors have the corporate consciousness to potentially lose business in order to allow for more noble, moving, and democratic art forms?
But so be it; film is an obstinately pay-to-play industry, and at the end of the day this festival, while probably the exact opposite of independent, competes for Sundance the North American kingmaker for emerging cinematic artists.
The typical Tribeca director is on their first or second feature film, which in turn may be on its way to this summer’s international festival circuit, and a limited or wide release. The festival is often predictive of upcoming trends in moviemaking, and they seek out innovation in both form and content. A sharp contrast to Cannes – which is currently in a dispute with Netflix over presenting films which will not appear in theaters – Tribeca has whole programs dedicated to what’s next in television and virtual reality.
The festival is often predictive of upcoming trends in moviemaking, and they seek out innovation in both form and content. A sharp contrast to Cannes – which is currently in a dispute with Netflix over presenting films which will not appear in theaters – Tribeca has whole programs dedicated to what’s next in television and virtual reality.
Also something quite newfangled this year: the first instance I’ve seen of what Frances McDormand described in her Oscar’s acceptance speech as an ‘inclusion rider.’ That term means a commitment not only to equally pay but equally employ across gender. For Tribeca, that means that 44 of the 96 films showcased this year are directed by women, part of an initiative started by co-founder Jane Rosenthal. A flip through the program lineup proves just how unfamiliar we are with this kind of equity in practice. In the first three weeks of press screenings, I probably watched more films by and about women than I’ve seen in the last six months.
In fact, the most exciting films on the roster this year seem adroitly focused on the subject of women and feminity. There’s Mary Shelley, a film by Saudi director Haifaa al-Mansour showcasing the young life of the author of Frankenstein, whose sense of voice and independence was always in question.
Blowin’ Up, an early favorite for the documentary competition is a fantastic look at a sex trafficking court in Queens that questions the legitimacy of criminalizing prostitution. And Daughter of Mine, a remarkable film by Italian director Laura Bispuri, portrays two women engaged in a battle for motherhood.
This timely work toward equity is both a laudable statement by Tribeca, and a gambit by their sponsors. Across industries, corporations and executive boards have now been tasked with taking up the reins of radical action handed to them by women of the #MeToo movement, and many wonder if they’re up to the task.
The filmic version of this is Time’s Up, which holds its first major fundraising event at Tribeca this year. That’s an important step forward, but ultimately, festivals like Tribeca are beholden to their sponsors. Do megaliths like AT&T have the corporate consciousness to potentially lose business in order to allow for more noble, moving, and democratic art forms? I guess the time spent waiting to find out is also up.