I went to New York City over the weekend for some meetings and to also attend the Tribeca Film Festival, which is in full swing, now in its 9th year. With the recent move of former Sundance Film Fest director Geoff Gilmore to Tribeca Enterprises as their new Chief Creative Officer, the festival, like most of the indie film world, is trying to reinvent itself and adapt to new models of distribution and exhibition. Aside from the traditional space of theatrical exhibition, seminars and panels, TFF launched new initiatives such as day-and-date Video-on-Demand of select movies that can be viewed across the country on major cable carriers like Comcast and Time Warner; and also launched TFF Virtual, an online film festival with select films that will be online, as well as webinars, twitter feeds to filmmaker q & a’s, etc. Instead of pay as you view, like what Sundance did with YouTube (it was deemed a disappointment but at least the Fest had balls to try something new), TFF Virtual is a full-fledged film festival with deeper programming and online patrons buy virtual passes to get all access to said virtual fest. You could be anywhere in the world for this. Now, if it was a success or not is still yet to be determined.
One of the best panels I attended was an afternoon with HBO Documentary head, the legendary Sheila Nevins. She is instrumental in forming the contemporary language of documentary film. She was initially hired in the late 70s by the then fledgling HBO to produce cheap content aka documentaries and she built an empire, which to this day is truly formidable. From Real Sex to Taxicab Confessions to Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke, she did em all. Truly a visionary, she transformed the old “talking heads” style of doc making to something deeper and transformative, bringing a voice to underserved subjects and subject matters.
It was also interesting to hear how HBO markets itself. Nevins said because its subscription based, it was like theater — you have subscribers/patrons paying for admission or with HBO, a subscription every month. Different from the networks, where ad rates dictate programming and the life span of a show, HBO is allowed to nurture shows and provide innovative programming. Also, messaging is very strong because their season is divided in a way that the HBO brand and its programming are singular. For example, HBO is promoting THE PACIFIC and HOW TO MAKE IT IN AMERICA and that’s the only original programming it has, aside from movies. Original programming is spread out in a way that makes it easier for HBO to brand its programming. In the end, it was a thoughtful, articulate panel with an incredible pioneer in the indie film world.
I saw some other films and docs but the best one, by far, was a documentary on the Canadian prog rock band Rush called RUSH: BEYOND THE LIGHTED STAGE. It was epic. Granted, I am a huge Rush fan, but it ran the gamut of their history from being maligned by critics as just a bunch of nerds with pretentious lyrics, to their acceptance around the world, to deaths in the family and regrouping. All in all, seeing Geddy Lee was also a major treat.
Finally, my last film at TFF was a world premiere of a small budget political drama called LEGACY starring Idris Elba aka Stringer Bell from THE WIRE. It was cool because the young filmmaker, Thomas Ikimi, was a NYU Film School grad but became a real estate agent for a number of years before his boss finally set his aside and told him to pursue filmmaking and that he would fire him to force him to chase his dream. Ikimi, who was born in Nigeria but raised in the UK, was able to find investors from Nigeria, because they saw him as a future voice for Nigerian filmmaking. What was even cooler was that although the film was set in Brooklyn, it was shot entirely in Glasgow, Scotland because it was cheaper and the architecture is similar.
Here’s a pic from the Q & A. The film also starred Monique Gabriela Curnon of THE DARK KNIGHT and Justin’s FINISHING THE GAME. She looked good! Overall, it was a solid film, with an interesting backstory and Elba showcased his acting chops as an ex-CIA operative suffering from PTSD.
Ah, film festivals bring such a sense of community and gathering. The convergence of film appreciation, critical thinking and industry is key to a good film festival and its many components — screenings, panels, parties. As you may know, YOMYOMF is kicking off its Interpretations Film Initiative at the LA Asian Pacific Film Fest this weekend with a panel chock full of industry folk.
But this is also chock full of purpose. The mission statement of Interpretations is still bridge the gap between the public and the professionals, to provide insight in the working minds of what gatekeepers are looking for, especially in this day and age. And even though the kick-off is in LA, in the words of Justin and yes, the Harlem Globetrotters, we’re going to be “barnstorming” all summer and into the fall, with other events in a city near you (hint-hint, I was in NYC for a meeting). But most of all, this initiative will live online and can only succeed with your participation. Stay tuned!