The Tribeca Film Festival is a bit of anomaly in how we think about modern film festivals. It is held in the buzziest cultural center of North America, New York City, is the world premiere for more than 60 films, and is headed-up by Robert De Niro. Yet, most of the press centers not around the films themselves, but the hour-long discussions with filmmakers like J.J. Abrams, Chris Rock, Alfonso Cuaron, Martin Scorsese and Joss Whedon. That’s because Tribeca isn’t an established acquisition film festival. Many of the titles that premiere at the festival will pick up distribution at future festivals, or not at all, and the ones that premiere with distribution already (like Elvis & Nixon and Hologram for the King this year) generally open in theaters in other US cities during the same week. The festival itself concluded at the start of this week, and as of writing, ten films have been picked up for limited distribution, mostly documentaries, while the narrative festival award-winner, Dean, was secured for a wide release by CBS Films.
Why does Tribeca get the short shrift? There are two big factors. First is timing. By the end of April, Tribeca is in a hard spot following both the Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals (and to some extent SXSW, although SXSW is much more of a genre fest) and coming right before Cannes. All those festivals have built up prestige, particularly for acquiring distribution and filmmakers are more likely to submit exclusively to them, first. The second issue, in an idea floated by New York Magazine, is that the festival is in New York City, and because so many VOD and limited release titles focus their theatrical play in only Los Angeles and New York, some distributors are wary that the well-attended festival will count as its NYC showing (since most films here show three to four times), and therefore it’s already lost half off its potential to launch in limited release. Tribeca can’t really move, either, because post-Cannes, the fall film festival circuit is firmly established as the awards-hopeful train goes from Venice to Telluride to Toronto to New York and AFI. Because the New York Film Festival is planted in October there needs to be space between Tribeca and the city’s tentpole fest. As such, it’s hard for filmmakers to get acquired at Tribeca, despite strong buzz at the festival, but it is a great launching pad for filmmakers to take with them to future festivals, due to the number of festival scouts that attend Tribeca to look for films to fill their future programs.
So why should you care about what films Collider and Complex‘s Kristen Yoonsoo Kim enjoyed at the festival? Because Tribeca is positioned similar to how the Sundance Film Festival got its start: as a launching pad for future auteurs and indie mavericks. And because dammit these movies need the digital ink as they go for their next festival, trying to get distribution elsewhere. So below are were our six favorite films from the festival, three of which (Equals, Don’t Think Twice, Dean) currently DO have distribution (Equals and Don’t Think Twice secured distribution prior to their Tribeca screenings, at TIFF and SXSW respectively).
Just reading about the projects that we loved you can get a sense of the verve and uniqueness of the films that grace Tribeca. So let’s pin Equals, Dean, and Don’t Think Twice to your anticipated films list, and put three other films here as a memo to distributors: please secure these ASAP so that others can experience them as they deserve.