Volume 79, Number 45 | April 14 - 20, 2010
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Photo courtesy of the Tribeca Film Festival

David Kwok

Programmers of Tribeca Film Festivalspeak out
2010 picks a rebuttal to ‘too many films and being erratic’ criticism


“We are a populist, international film festival,” says David Kwok — the director of programming for the Tribeca Film Festival. In describing the identity of the festival, he says “We are open and inclusive of all types of cinema.”

Indicative of the range of programming, the 2010 edition of the Tribeca Film Festival will open with the new installment in a Hollywood franchise — “Shrek Forever After” — and close with the independent documentary “Freakonomics” (based on the book by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt).

“It’s not just about the movies,” says senior programmer Genna Terranova, “You see the director do a Q&A and it’s more of an event, an experience. There will be someone to speak for every film. And there’s a lot of great energy and enthusiasm here.”

In a disheveled space on N. Moore Street, complete with a shaggy office dog, the two programmers discuss shaping this year’s edition of the downtown film festival. Kwok has worked for Tribeca since its inception in 2002, where he moved from the New York LGBT Festival; and Terranova joined in 2007 from Miramax and The Weinstein Company.  Surprisingly, they were both born in 1977.

“We know the criticism we’ve had for too many films and being erratic” — says Kwok — referring to previous reports of uneven programming and unwatchable movies in the mix. “So we’ve cut down the program and that helped in terms of focus. On the question of quality, it’s all subjective. There are films that are going to be the critical darlings and films that don’t have that standing, but are going to be audience pleasers.”

“We keep in mind who the audience is for every movie. It’s pretty diverse. We have an art house audience, we have a very commercial audience, we have families, and we have people from many cultures in New York,” says Terranova.

“We also serve as a launch pad for distributors releasing their summer movies,” she continues. “They bring the cast in, and New York is perfect with all the press that’s here.” Sony Classics, a regular presence at Tribeca, will debut Nicole Holofcener’s highly-anticipated “Please Give” prior to its April 30th theatrical release (with stars Catherine Keener, Amanda Peet, Rebecca Hall, and Oliver Platt in attendance).

This year’s program consists of 85 features, down from a whopping average of 166 from 2003 to 2007.  More than half — 44 — are world premieres. Feature submissions were culled from 2,333 entries, double the number from the festival’s first year.

Along with five associate programmers and a team that includes experienced “screeners” who just view films, Kwok and Terranova choose films by committee — taking special interest in work that divides the group in extremes of pro and con, because that adds interest to a program. As with any festival, the selection is based on what’s submitted and what titles are available in time for the dates.

“As programmers, we look for something interesting going on in a film. It might not be fully successful in all ways, but there is something we want to share and give exposure to. It could be the talent of a new director or the performance of an actor or actress. There might be content or subject matter that’s really driving it,” Kwok says.

Just a handful of films out of Tribeca have gone on to greater recognition — most notably Alex Gibney’s “Taxi to the Dark Side” (which world premiered at the festival in 2007 and went on to win an Academy Award for best documentary). This year, Gibney will unveil “My Trip to Al-Qaeda” (the cinematic portrayal of a play with that name), along with “Freakonomics,” on which he is one of several local directors, including Morgan Spurlock and Eugene Jarecki.

“David and I travel around the world year-round, so we’re seeing the movies that play in Toronto, Berlin, Pusan and other festivals,” says Terranova. “Not only are we looking for films to select, but we’re also looking at the landscape of what’s out there, what we haven’t seen lately, and what’s the next thing. That gives you a strong perspective when you’re shaping the program. In that way, we’re a step ahead of the general audience because they haven’t had the chance to see the mass of films that we have throughout the year.”

Asked to pick a favorite discovery from this year’s lineup, Terranova chooses the low-budget psychological drama, “Snap” by first-time director and Irish playwright Carmel Winters — distinguished by with a strong performance from actor Stephen Moran, who plays a 15-year-old who abducts a toddler.

Kwok chooses the “The Arbor” — the debut feature of British artist Clio Barnard, which straddles narrative and documentary filmmaking in the true story of playwright Andrea Dunbar and her dramatic relationship with her daughter. The real-life story is one of many in the lineup.

Portraits of people, through biography and fiction, are the leading trend in this year’s program. “Gainsbourg, Je T’Aime...Moi Non Plus” — about Serge Gainsbourg; and “The Chameleon” based on a real-life character with multiple identities, exemplify fictional portraits. “Last Play at Shea” (about Billy Joel’s final concert at Sea Stadium) and “Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston” are documentary examples of the trend.

Outside the context of the festival (in fact, across the arts in general), the current preference is for true stories over invented ones — a subject that’s illustrated in “Reality Hunger,” a new book by David Shields.

“Biographies have always been rich source material for film. What’s interesting about the selections this year is that they’re all done in a different way, not your standard biopic,” says Kwok.

“Often the trends tend to reveal themselves to us when we’re programming,” notes Terranova. “We realized that we have three titles from French directors who are doing their first English language movie — ‘Dog Pound’ by Kim Chapiron, ‘My Own Love Song’ by Olivier Dahan, and ‘The Chameleon’ by Jean-Paul Salomé.”

In his first year as chief creative officer of the festival’s parent company, Tribeca Enterprises, Geoffrey Gilmore brings his 19 years of experience as director of the Sundance Film Festival to introduce two new initiatives in the evolution of the festival — Tribeca Film Festival Virtual (TFF Virtual), an online extension of the festival, and Tribeca Film, a multi-platform distribution arm.

“It’s always been part of our mission to get as big an audience as possible, but how do we go national and extend Tribeca outside the borders of New York without doing a traveling festival?” Kwok asks rhetorically.

As such, a $45 TFF Virtual pass will allow Internet access to watch eight feature length films from the festival, including Ed Burns’ “Nice Guy Johnny” as well as exclusive live coverage of celebrity red carpet entrances and director Q&As. “ ‘Virtual’ is testing the waters on expansion, and in the way that more people are viewing film — online. We can bring the experience to those beyond the area or who can’t get out here,” says Terranova.

Tribeca Film’s video-on-demand series will run concurrently with the festival and include a few films from the lineup. “We’re using the promotional and marketing wave from the festival to build awareness for these movies that come here and build a lot of buzz,” Terranova says.  Titles on offer will include “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll” — about British punk rocker Ian Dury. A few weeks after the festival, some selections will have a theatrical release in Los Angeles andNew York’s Tribeca Cinemas.



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