Beyond the Brick and Mortar, TFI Shows Some Initiative
Year-round programs nurture next gen filmmakers
BY RANIA RICHARDSON | “Our main struggle is that we are always considered to be just a festival,” said Beth Janson, Executive Director of the Tribeca Film Institute (TFI). “The Institute is a 501(c)(3) and the Tribeca Film Festival, owned by Tribeca Enterprises, is not.”
The confusion is understandable as Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff founded both entities. Tribeca Enterprises is a global media company that operates the Tribeca Film Festival, Tribeca Cinemas and Tribeca Film. TFI is a nonprofit that is fully active year-round. Designed to support filmmakers through grants and professional development, it also provides educational programs in media literacy for youth. Last year, across initiatives, TFI awarded more than $1.2 million in grant money.
To help the next generation of audiences and mediamakers navigate the current state of the art, TFI’s educational arm takes several approaches. During the academic year, Tribeca Teaches pairs artists with teachers, who provide students with the skills to write and produce their own stories.
Free and open to city students, the Tribeca Youth series has programming year-round — and during this year’s festival, it will give classroom groups the opportunity to attend guided screenings of “Teenage” and “Inside Out: The People’s Art Project.” Additionally, to keep educators up to date, Moving Image Blueprint (in conjunction with the NYC Department of Education and the Mayor’s Office of Media & Entertainment) hosts workshops on topics such as stop-motion animation and writing film proposals.
This year, six films that were supported by TFI will screen at the Tribeca Film Festival. Having that support, however, does not grant automatic acceptance into the festival. TFI filmmakers must submit their work to festivals in the same manner other filmmakers do, and their films are free to premiere or screen anywhere (including Sundance or SXSW). Tribeca Film Festival programmers judge the films as they do every other submission — but ideally, for TFI, the films would premiere at Tribeca.
“A Birder’s Guide to Everything,” Rob Meyer’s directorial debut, is the only narrative film from TFI in this year’s festival. The story follows a group of teenagers in search of a rare duck, and stars Ben Kingsley and James LeGros. The film was funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which provides money for fiction films (at any stage of development) offering fresh perspective on scientific, mathematic or technological themes.
Meyer received his grant in 2011 and benefited from a reading as part of the “Works in Progress” program. He said, “The actors brought such humor and warmth to the performance and, at 10am in a packed theater in Manhattan, it got real laughs. Trying to get your film financed for years can be a lonely process, and ultimately it was the encouragement of a room full of strangers that energized me for that sprint to the finish line.”
According to Janson, “There’s lots of support for documentaries on social issues. Sundance, Cinereach and ITVS are all funding the same films. It’s incredible, and these films can be very powerful. But there is a whole genre being left out in the cold. In this day and age, a film like ‘Salesman’ [a seminal work by the Maysles brothers on door-to-door Bible salesmen] would not get funding. So we created the TFI Documentary Fund to support character driven work that does not necessarily deal with social causes. These films can be artistic, comedic or personal.”
Three documentaries nurtured by the TFI Documentary Fund will screen at the Festival. “Cutie and the Boxer,” by Zachary Heinzerling, is the portrait of two artists who met in New York in 1969 and have weathered many ups and downs during 40 years of marriage. “Teenage,” by Matt Wolf, follows the history of teenagers, from the 1950s (when the term gained widespread recognition), and includes Jena Malone and Ben Whishaw as narrators. “The Genius of Marian,” by Banker White and Anna Fitch, concerns the life of White’s mother, Pam, whose early onset Alzheimer’s threatens to erase the memory of her own mother, Marian, a celebrated painter who died from the disease.
The Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund provided finishing funds for two documentaries in the Festival that “highlight and humanize issues of social importance from around the world.”
Alex Meillier’s “Alias Ruby Blade: A Story of Love and Revolution” follows an Australian activist who became a spy for the Timorese resistance, then fell in love with an imprisoned guerilla leader — and “Big Men,” by Rachel Boynton, investigates the damage caused by American corporations searching for oil in Africa.
There are no films in this year’s festival from Tribeca All Access (which provides grants to filmmakers from underrepresented communities) or from the TFI Latin America Media Arts Fund program (created to that support cutting edge stories from south of our border). Films from these programs, however, are screened at other venues.
The pool of filmmakers who are selected for TFI grants “become part of a family, and we help them in any way we can,” said Janson. “Help can be obtaining a good deal on a post-production facility, providing notes on rough cuts, finding a screening room or press team, or helping with the premiere, no matter where it is.”
Every year, the group of about 30 filmmakers convenes at the festival for two days of intense one-on-one meetings with film industry executives, foundations and investors. They receive a pass for the festival and invitations to networking events with their peers. About 65 percent of the filmmakers are New York-based, but many applicants come from around the world.
Participatory storytelling is the future of filmmaking — and TFI’s Digital Initiatives, helmed by Ingrid Kopp, supports stories with an interactive component, as well as narratives that extend across multimedia platforms.
Social issue projects that aim to create change in the world (which may include video games, mobile apps, social networks or interactive websites) are realized through the support of TFI New Media Fund and TFI Sandbox.
Technology specialists and content creators explore ideas in intensive workshops across the country in Tribeca Hacks. During the festival, experts on film, journalism, gaming and technology will demonstrate and debate the latest innovations in this field at TFI Interactive, an all-day forum with panel discussions that include “Are Adventure Games the New Television?” and “Storyscapes: Creating Immersive Story Experiences.”