Tribeca Film Festival Makes Big Move … to Tribeca

With construction no longer clogging downtown streets, the festival can return to the neighborhood that inspired it

Last Updated: April 15, 2015 @ 8:09 PM

Moviegoers who attend this year’s Tribeca Film Festival will get to see something largely absent from the festival in years past:

Tribeca.

That’s right, after spending many years in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, the Tribeca Film Festival event has moved back to the Lower Manhattan neighborhood in which it was born. Beginning with its Wednesday-night kickoff, a gala screening of the “Saturday Night Live” documentary “Live From New York!,” Tribeca (the festival) will have a hub in Tribeca (the neighborhood).

“That’s been a dream of the festival from the time when Jane and Bob started it,” said Tribeca Film executive vice president Paula Weinstein of the festival started by Jane Rosenthal and Robert DeNiro in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

“And now we finally have a central place in Tribeca where filmmakers and press and the public can hang out and experience the festival in every way.”

The problem in the past, Weinstein told TheWrap this week, is that the very thing that moved DeNiro and Rosenthal to launch a festival celebrating the downtown arts community made it hard to locate too much of the festival in that community.

“There was a lot of construction going on, so we had to move,” said Weinstein of the festival’s decision to head farther uptown. “But now the Freedom Tower is open, it’s not a construction site anymore, and the whole idea is to embrace the community and the action down here.”

The festival program itself is typical of Tribeca, mixing narrative features and documentaries with strong music and sports programming, a hefty dose of transmedia and technically innovative programming, and special events that include outdoor “Drive In” screenings and a 25th-anniversary screening of Martin Scorsese’s “GoodFellas” on closing night.

“We started to talk about it in May of last year, right after the last festival was over,” said Weinstein of the programming. “What we wanted to do was have storytelling of every kind … We wanted people who are breaking new ground with their storytelling, people who are eclectic and agnostic with the way their work is shown.

“There are no walls between forms of storytelling anymore,” she added, “and that’s what we want to explore.”

So the program includes more than 60 world premieres, and includes experimental, multi-media installations, but also conversations between George Lucas and Stephen Colbert, Christopher Nolan and Bennett Miller, and Brad Bird and Cary Fukanaga.

“It’s all within the scope of, what feeds your imagination, what leads you to explore new areas,” Weinstein said. “That’s really the prism within which we’ve programmed.”

Senior programmer Cara Cusumano added that TFF programmers didn’t start with the idea of specific themes or types of films. “It’s up to us to recognize trends and amplify them as opposed to pushing for what we want,” she told TheWrap.

And what trends did they recognize this year? “More than 25 percent of the feature directors are female, which is a record for us,” she said. “And we also found a really strong theme of fatherhood this year — a lot of films looking at flawed fathers, surrogate fathers, particularly from female directors.”

She laughed. “I’m hesitant to say what that means, but it’s interesting when a theme like that pops up.”

The underlying tension at any film festival these days, though — both festivals that cater to the film business, like Sundance and Toronto, and ones that are more “public-facing,” as Weinstein called Tribeca — is the question of the value of festivals at a time when it’s never been easier to get a movie shown somewhere, and never harder to make money doing it.

“It’s a confusing time in the film business, but it’s also a thrilling time,” Weinstein said. “The world is changing so quickly, and how are we going to experience it? What’s going to take us to the next stage? Because out of this are going to come new voices and new works and new experiences, but all with a human story at their center.

“It’s a thrilling, unclear path, and it’s our obligation to curate it.”