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PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 25.1 (2003) 39-47

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Ain't Nothin' Like the Real Thing
Hollywood Comes to New York

Daryl Chin and Larry Qualls


When Robert De Niro's production company, Tribeca Films, announced its plans for a major film festival, there were murmurs of concern, if not outright consternation. For one thing, film festivals can take years to put together, and Tribeca Films claimed that their festival would be up and running in four months; another claim was that the Tribeca Film Festival would rival Cannes in its stellar quality. The purpose of the festival, of course, was the promotion of the downtown Manhattan area, so hard hit after the events of September 11, 2001. Could a major festival be organized in four months? From January 2002, when the announcement was made, to the beginning of May, could an entire festival be created? Would motion picture industry heavyweights (De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, Martin Scorsese, et al.) be able to delegate responsibility effectively, in order to ensure effective facilitation of day-to-day festival management? The downtown Manhattan area already had played a significant role in the dramatic history of independent filmmaking in the United States; right now, many individuals and organizations important to independent filmmaking are domiciled in lower Manhattan, and one question was whether the true independent filmmaking community would be allowed some visibility in the industry-oriented Tribeca Film Festival. (Examples of independent film organizations in lower Manhattan would include the Filmmakers Coop, Anthology Film Archives, the Millennium Film Workshop, the Association of Independent Video and Film, Film/Video Arts, MIX, and The New Festival.)

Would these organizations be included in any of the proposed festival's activities? Obviously, the answer was "No." The Tribeca Film Festival was definitely industry defined. Even the choices of independent films that were shown proclaimed an allegiance to the dictates of commercial distribution. Getting sponsorship for any cultural event in New York City is almost impossible, yet De Niro and Rosenthal were able to extract major financial commitments from corporate sponsors in record time (less than three months). Did this impact other cultural organizations? The answer to that question is unclear: probably most of the money (which was considerable) given to the Tribeca Film Festival would not have gone to other organizations anyway, but the fact that corporations such as American Express were able to donate record sums only highlights the impoverishment of arts funding at [End Page 39] this time, when most of these same corporations would never even condescend to acknowledge the arts. But the Tribeca Film Festival was not packaged, promoted, or perceived as an "arts" festival: it was a commercial entity designed to revitalize business interests in the lower Manhattan area by means of the movies. Yet this event was structured as a nonprofit event, so that there were major tax write-offs, enormous publicity accrued to the corporations which gave donations, and a great deal of in-kind contributions were designed to facilitate further economic interaction.

The festival itself had several components: there was a competition section, with both narrative and documentary works, a section devoted to film classics (selected by Martin Scorsese), and a variety of special events, movie premieres of high-profile studio productions, beginning with About a Boy and ending with Star Wars II: The Attack of the Clones. The festival itself took place in as many of the auditoriums in lower Manhattan as possible, including the Battery Park Cinema multiplex, which had been in difficulty even before the attacks of September 11 caused the entire lower tip of Manhattan to become a frozen zone for months and necessitated its closing. The Tribeca Film Festival raised many issues, irrespective of the quality of the event itself, because the event highlighted the precarious nature of the enterprise now called "film festivals." What is the purpose of a film festival? For that matter, what is the purpose of any arts festival? What is the combination of aesthetic merit and...


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