Tribeca Film Festival Is All Over the Map

By Ted Kruckel May 2, 2011, 3:30 PM EDT

Photo: Billy Farrell/

When I sat down on the eve of the 10th annual Tribeca Film Festival to plot my coverage, I started by printing out the schedule of films, after-parties, and ancillary events. An hour later, after a trip to the store for more color ink and 100-plus sheets of paper, I still hadn’t selected one screening, and I knew that trying to capture the scale and scope of this event was the wrong assignment for this blowhard.

Ten years ago, when Tribeca Films principals Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, and Craig Hatkoff founded the festival, it was in response to 9/11 when no one wanted to eat dinner or buy handbags anywhere near the World Trade Center.  

Having not been in years, I had no idea what a behemoth this little screener had become. I count about 90 feature films, each screened three to four times. (The lion’s share of the screenings are in Chelsea now, as are the press and filmmakers' lounges, creating an ideal five-block walk for most of my efforts.) Some of these are world premieres with the red carpet and all that hubbub. There were just less than 10 collections of short films, ranging from three to eight works in each, and each collection again screened three or four times.

It was impossible to get a seat at any of the Tribeca Talks forums, which were variously for writers, directors, industry types, and the general public. I tried to sign up for one called “L.A. Noire,” about a movie of the same name that was inspired by a computer game, thinking that with no big stars I would just sail in, but the publicist told me that only names specially approved by the gaming company were approved for the list. That company’s name?  Rockstar. What was I thinking?

There’s a series of drive-ins that are free and open to the public at the World Financial Center Plaza, including a family day where they screened golden oldie The Muppets Take Manhattan, and where a kids’ zone had face painting and muppets in person (well, almost).

Did I mention the dizzying mini-festivals within the festival? There’s an ESPN film festival about, you guessed it, sports. If you didn’t know that the Doha Tribeca Film Festival is in its third year of being the leading event of its kind in the Middle East, and that some of its films are screened here, then you are not alone. It is staged in Qatar. But you could get a feel for it by taking in the ginormous, floor-to-ceiling Brigitte Lacombe photographs that graced the filmmaker’s lounge.

For the geeks, you can experience the festival online with streaming movies online. For luddites (me!) too lazy to brave the crazy red carpet scene for the opening of The Bang Bang Club, you can watch it on pay-per-view. Should I just stop here for a second and say how sad yet prescient the timing is of this film about photojournalists screening at the same time that Restrepo guy got killed in Afghanistan? I should.

One festival producer explained that the festival was “platform agnostic,” meaning, I think, that the it was open to attendance and participation via all channels. I loved learning that nifty new phrase and even used it at the dentist the other day, when I was asked if I wanted the music or the TV on during my teeth cleaning.

I haven’t even mentioned the five pages of color-coded after-parties, where different hues and letters corresponded with the various passes and which my Ivy League education did not provide me with the requisite skills to navigate. So I just threw myself into the arms of the festival publicity team, which is run overall by Tribeca Enterprises vice president of communications Tammie Rosen, who has been with the organization for eight years. She, in turn, was variously assisted by staff members; Rubenstein PR, who ran the press room; Shadow PR, who handled the after parties; and a dizzying variety of freelance producers, volunteers, and crew members.

Finally there’s the non-profit Tribeca Films Institute, which last year gave away just over a million dollars to a variety of budding filmmaker-related causes.

Of course by the time I finally made my requests for screenings and events I was perilously late to the system, but I must say I have never been refused access to so many different events in such a nice way.

There were some hiccups. On the first full day of the festival, I called the press room and got a gentleman who kind of unwisely admitted to me that there was no one in the press office picking up the phone—he didn’t know why, but could I call back in an hour? “Things are really crazy down there and I don’t know what to tell you.” Oops.

At the screening for Blackthorn, I approached five different crew members hoping to find a volunteer (I like to meet and interview volunteers), only to be told that everyone buzzing around the theater entrance was a paid staff member. So when the spokeslady got up to introduce the Spanish director Mateo Gil, the room was mystified when the microphone didn’t work. A techie rushed up, tapped it a few times, then started talking feverishly into his headset. The guy next to me said “try turning it on,” not loud enough to be heard, sadly, so we watched patiently until, lo and behold, he looked at the bottom of the microphone and discovered the on/off switch.

Blackthorn is a re-imagining of the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid story, in which they survive the Bolivian army shootout and Butch lives to a ripe old age. It’s a old fashioned western, perfectly enjoyable with Sam Shepard in the lead role—hard to be more authentic than the Days of Heaven/The Right Stuff guy, right? But why is all the lighting so fashion magazine-y?

American Express is the founding sponsor of this festival. Card members get to buy tickets early, and they host a bunch of different events and programs during the festival.

One idea I loved is their “My Movie Pitch” idea. You submit a one-minute pitch video about your movie idea on They select the winner, then produce a short film of your concept by pairing you up with an experienced director and writer. This year’s winner was Mr. Stache, a movie about guys and their mustaches. They celebrated, mais bien sur, with a mustache-themed party at hipster hangout Trilby in the lobby of the Cooper Square Hotel. Bartenders wore mustaches (they ran short) and a lady at a station with an iPad let you pick from a variety of staches and then took your picture and promised to send it to you. (I haven’t seen mine.) There was also a “find your inner mustache” wall, which was basically a mirror with a bunch of Sharpies; I enjoyed making mine very much, thank you.

Quick analysis of Trilby: For a very crowded party the staff was fast, efficient, and friendly. No waiting at the bar; waiters were passing drinks and taking orders. At this kind of party, late on a Saturday night, that’s just what you want. The hors d’oeuvres were less successful.

Time to stop eatin’, drinkin’, and stachin’, and do some interviewin’. I first came across an older gentleman, Mr. Tiger, who had a resplendent mustache. He told me that his son (and his son’s mustache) was in the movie, in the role of Hipster Number 1. I asked father Tiger how his son’s mustache compared with his own: “He’s trying,” Dad answered diplomatically.

Then I got to meet Hipster Number 1 and Hipster Number 2, who were banqueting it along with the film’s producer, Jennifer Glynn. Both men were young actors making their way in Hollywood, and both copped to being willing to ditch their beloved staches in a second for the right role. Can’t blame them.

The Tribeca Film Festival also has a whole hidden world of V.I.P. dinners and meetings, where indie directors try and get their fair shake with Harvey Weinstein. I finagled my way in to one super tony affair, a dinner celebrating the Tribeca Film Festival Artist Awards Program sponsored by Chanel and hosted at the Odeon (finally! I’m in Tribeca!).

The idea here, which I absolutely love, is that they select filmmakers and award them with an actual painting or artwork. The works, which were on exhibit at 111 Franklin Street through April 27, were diverse, interesting, and clearly valuable. I recognized Inka Essenhigh and Tom Otterness, and I have known of Robert De Niro’s father’s works for a long time (disclaimer: we have worked together), and coincidentally two back-to-back shows at the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, where I am an active member, featured him as well. To find out which filmmaker received which painting look here.

The dinner was uber-chic. Julian Schnabel and Jeff Koons were there with their young and beautiful lady friends. Conde Nast editors Linda Wells and Amy Astley, both of the white blond persuasion, were in elaborate gear one would assume was at least in part by Chanel. Patti Smith breezed in—she’s my idol—but one look at my ultra suede jacket with a pocket square and I was dead to her.

This being Chanel, everything looked super chic. Instead of a vinyl sign, the step and repeat was a wall of white and ivory roses. Flowers and decor were done by Bronson Van Wyck. This is the third year the dinner has been held here at the Odeon, but this year they got a little surprise in the form of one of those gigantic scaffolds in front of the restaurant’s instantly-recognizable neon logo. What to do? As Robert Isabell used to say, “Moss it up!”

The metal rods and corrugated panels were wrapped, stapled, and glued with greenery within an inch of their life. A completely random ladder, part of the work crew’s gear I guess, hung oddly horizontally at the very front, with green shoots woven in and out of the rungs. There was one little dinner table set under the scaffold, lonesome and fabulous. Exactly where I would want to sit.

Tables had red glasses to play off the restaurant’s red banquettes, and fully bloomed pink peonies in very simple arrangements. I didn’t stay for dinner, but I saw all sorts of celebrity names on the tip sheet that People’s Jeffrey Slonim had on hand (unlike me, he’s a pro), like Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber. Mr. De Niro and his charming wife, Grace Hightower De Niro, were expected.

I ran into Maya, an Odeon manager. Lovely and beautifully turned out in a striped taffeta dress with an enormous bow at the waist, she admitted to being a little nervous because they were a smidge over capacity. Their answer? Not to pass any food, drinks only, until the guests were seated. Smart.

As a nod to the event’s purpose, guests were given coffee table books by various artists. I watched as girls in high heels and flimsy evening garb groaned under the weight of the piles of books, placing them on seats at the very last minute. It was all a kind of a crazy stylish high wire act.

As I left, a very hard-at-work Tammie Rosen was yammering into her phone, already focused on the next day’s issues of photo requests, B-roll feeds, and guest lists. It took me a few blocks before I finally exhaled and breathed a sigh of relief.

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