The New Creative Forces Behind the Tribeca Film Festival
Geoff Gilmore, Nancy Schafer, Genna Terranova, and Frederic Boyer at the Varick Room at Tribeca Cinemas
When Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, and Craig Hatkoff founded the Tribeca Film Festival in 2001, its goal was to reinvigorate downtown Manhattan after the devastation of September 11. Eleven years later, the TFF has fulfilled that mission and expanded to inspire the city at large, introducing new audiences to documentaries, independent films, and a plethora of other motion pictures they might not otherwise have discovered. Newer innovations like the online film festival have brought larger audiences to Tribeca, while family-friendly initiatives like the Tribeca Drive-In unite New York in a community spirit. This year, Genna Terranova has been promoted to director of programming, while new artistic director Frederic Boyer, who previously ran the Directors Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival, have joined veteran executive director Nancy Schafer and chief creative officer Geoff Gilmore to bring a new vision to the TFF. Just weeks before the festival’s April 18 launch, the team sits down together, exclusively for Gotham, to discuss what’s in store this year.
FREDERIC BOYER: This is my first time in this festival. It’s a real pleasure because my mission is to bring in new filmmakers, but also to bring in films I like. We have very eclectic tastes, but it’s most important to understand, what is a good film? Even if you don’t like the film, what is a good film for the audience? This is, for me, important.
GEOFF GILMORE: If you say, “I only like this kind of work,” you cut yourself off from the range of film that’s out there. You watch some films that are very cerebral, you watch other films that make you cry. You watch some films that are pure genre and some films that are pure art. And if you have one kind of criteria narrowly defining what that is, that makes you a bad programmer.
GENNA TERRANOVA: You have to go in very open to every film that you are watching.
NANCY SCHAFER: You have to think that every film you watch is the film you were always looking for.
FB: It’s not just watching DVDs—it’s meeting the filmmakers, meeting the producers. The relationship is extremely important. Even if we don’t like the film, we always give arguments why we don’t like the film. I think it’s important and very respectful for the filmmaker to know why the film will not play at Tribeca.
GG: There is a range of different films in the various sections of the festival with New York roots. And then we have things like the special event with the Metropolitan Opera this year with this very established, wonderful filmmaker, Susan Frank Lee.
GT: It’s always an organic role that New Yorkers play, and we are very lucky because this year we have quite a few New York filmmakers. Morgan Spurlock is returning with his new documentary, Mansome, a look at male grooming. We also have Alex Karpovsky, who has been working in American independent cinema for a long time. He has a movie called Rubberneck that he directs and stars in. We have returning filmmaker Bradley Rust Gray with his new film, Jack and Diane, which takes place in New York, with Riley Keough. From a group of Brooklyn filmmakers we have First Winter, which takes a look at a hipster commune and the dynamics of the relationships. We also have a really zany documentary about Morton Downey Jr. called Évocateur, which talks about how pundit talk-show television started.
FB: It is important to have some freshness. The Virgin, the Copts and Me (La Vierge, les Coptes et Moi), shot in Egypt and spoken in French, is a documentary but it’s a funny one. It’s a particularly good selection, good narrative, and the documentary is very diverse. We are always talking about this film together.
NS: New York is such an intellectual, stimulating community that we get to show documentaries that we have conversations about, and literally there are people in the audience who are heads of countries. They come together because it’s New York, and then the topics are really interesting, the conversations are so vibrant.
GG: I always think that the audience’s response to work tends to be very generous. Oftentimes the people who say they don’t like something are watching something they did not expect. It’s not that they are condemning the execution of it; they just did not get the kind of film it was, so they are not able to respond to it. What I look for in films: freshness and originality. When you are watching films 13 hours a day, nothing makes you feel better than finding a film that energizes you.
FB: When it happens by chance—you know nothing about the filmmaker, you just put on the DVD and watch a film—it’s even better.
GG: Something we are especially excited about at this year’s festival is celebrating the 100th anniversary of a major studio, Universal Pictures. We are doing conversations about that studio, showcasing a film at the Tribeca Drive-In that is retrospective, and we are opening the festival with a film from Universal Studios. Again, that’s part of the scope and breadth of Tribeca—that we are willing to celebrate studio film culture while talking about the Turkish movie that I love. It’s rare for film festivals to have that kind of spectrum.
NS: We are a discovery festival, which means that we are always looking for new first-time filmmakers. Age does not matter in their craft. That means really digging deep for those people you believe are going to be the next big filmmakers.
GG: One of the things I wanted to talk about is the future of festivals. A couple of years ago, the issue was finding a theater to show a film on digital; now the question is finding a theatre that showcases a film on 35 millimeter. We have a film in the festival called Side by Side, a Keanu Reeves documentary in which he interviews major players in the industry looking at that issue.
NS: Two years ago we launched this online film festival—it has feature films, short films, and conversations. It’s something we are really behind. None of us feel like film festivals are going away, but we also believe in this future of people watching films in different ways—on video on demand, on the Internet.
GG: When people write about festivals going the way of the dinosaur—not in the world that I live in. People come to Tribeca from around the world, they interact, they meet juries, they meet each other, and we find that people write us letters and e-mails years after a festival remarking on how significant that experience was for them.
photography by sari goodfriend (opener); adam newport-berra (first winter); peter simonite (fairhaven); trevor forest and shlomo godder (nua noche)
Cover shoot: May/June 2014 issue of Gotham magazine.