NEW YORK — Since it was founded 12 years ago, the
The festival looks to change that this time around. Tribeca has entered an era in which it hopes the sale last month of a 50% stake to James Dolan's
"People used to say, 'There are so many agendas,'" said Geoffrey Gilmore, the
That doesn't mean there is always a clear through-line to the festival, which on Wednesday kicks off its ambitious 12-day run of narrative and nonfiction films, name-studded live events and unorthodox storytelling initiatives with the world premiere of "Time Is Illmatic," a documentary about the landmark 1994 Nas album that will be followed by a performance from the rapper.
The Tribeca Film Festival was founded shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by Robert Deniro, Jane Rosenthal — De Niro's producing partner and a veteran Hollywood filmmaker — and investor Craig Hatkoff as a way to revitalize lower Manhattan both commercially and creatively. The festival quickly generated buzz and attracted consumer interest — not to mention corporate sponsors — but also spurred confusion thanks to an unusually large number of titles, a varying level of quality even by the loose standards of film festivals, and what to the movie industry could seem like a murky mission.
Though Tribeca has basically halved its slate from a few years ago — there are now just over 80 features in its program — it continues to take shots in a large number of areas, which can make for an enjoyably diverse, if at times frustratingly uneven, film-festival experience.
The biggest change this year is the investment by MSG. Organizers hope the move will allow it to reach beyond a traditional festival audience; the "Illmatic" premiere will take place at the MSG-owned
It is the first step in what organizers say is a bid to lend Tribeca a new sense of scale and purpose based on MSG's experience of mounting big-ticket events including Rockettes performances at its
"To be aligned with an iconic brand that can help with our business and our venues is a really good thing," Rosenthal said. "It's still new so we are figuring it out, but let's put it this way: the festival was a startup, and everyone gets to the point as a startup where they need additional support." (In this regard Tribeca is not alone; festivals from Toronto to Sundance have in recent years embarked on initiatives cementing their evolution from informal fan gatherings to more established businesses.)
The MSG-fueled ambitions aren't the only change at Tribeca.
The festival has been more willing under the direction of artistic director Frédéric Boyer, formerly of the
"What we found was that a lot of international films want the New York premiere as a way to launch in the U.S.," Boyer said. "They're choosing us over other places they could go."
The list of U.S. narrative premieres, meanwhile, is intriguing and leaner and meaner than is once was, if still somewhat scattershot.
Directorial debuts by the actors
The festival also will occasionally venture into decidedly quirky territory. Leading that list this year is "My Brony Tale," Brent Hodge's nonfiction look at the phenomenon of grown, mostly straight men who embrace the fandom of "My Little Pony" collecting, and "Zombeavers," a genre pic that is either a "Sharknado" knockoff or a trenchant comment on feminist politics, maybe both.
"We can be serious but we can also have fun," said Genna Terranova, the festival's director of programming. "I mean, 'Zombeavers.' How could you go wrong?"
Documentaries, meanwhile, continue a pattern of mixing the personality-driven with the issue-oriented, often as world premieres.
Movies that fit the bill this year include such environmental docs as a work-in-progress screening of "6," a look at mass extinction from
The doc section also hopes to tap into a growing interest in secrecy and surveillance issues with two documentaries. Johanna Hamilton's "1971" examines a break-in by activists into FBI offices four decades ago, while James Spione's "Silenced" offers a rare look at two Americans charged by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act.
One of the surprising new sections last year was "Innovation Week," an energized collection of exhibits that mixed technology and storytelling in surprising ways. This year's festival will again seek to bridge the gap between the cinema, digital and art worlds with presentations such as "Choose Your Own Documentary," an interactive nonfiction film that will yield more than 1500 outcomes; a competition, known as #6SecFilms, for the best user-generated Vine; and "On a Human Scale, an interactive film from a creator named Matthew Matthew that allows for viewers' perspectives to shift based on music cues on a city street.
The festival has always been adept at drawing bold-faced names to its live events; this year's highlights include
Despite these well-known figures, however, organizers have avoided the Hollywood premieres that over the years saw studios debut spring tent poles such as
This shift, said organizers, is by design. "Years ago we needed to make these big statements with premieres to say, "Look, we're here; pay attention to us,'" Rosenthal said. "I don't think we need to do that anymore."