Will 2004 Be the Year Tribeca Sells a Film?

It was only four days before the opening of the behemoth nine-day Tribeca Film Festival, and executive director Peter Scarlet confessed that he had only gotten three hours of sleep. Perched on the edge of a U-shaped booth at a downtown coffee shop right around the corner from the festival’s headquarters, Mr. Scarlet was almost giddy, punch-drunk.

“Here’s one little secret,” said Mr. Scarlet conspiratorally. “See these two guys talking over there?” He motioned to two barristas behind the counter. “They can start a film festival tomorrow and in six months they could have a film festival with 50 world premieres-100 world premieres.” He sat back, savoring each morsel of his cookie.

“It’s to get 30 or 40-or whatever- damn good premieres. That’s the trick.”

This year’s Tribeca Film Festival is just that: 30 world premieres (19 more than last year), including six international premieres, 13 North American premieres and 10 U.S. premieres. The films are a testament to Mr. Scarlet’s eclectic tastes, and a large part of the festival’s program is reserved for American independent films without distribution. So the downtown film industry is buzzing that 2004 could be the year that Tribeca finally proves itself a viable marketplace for independent films.

“As a marketplace, the Tribeca Film Festival is going to take a great leap forward this year,” said Tom Ortenberg, a president at Lions Gate, the independent studio that picked up Dogville at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. “And I’m sure there is going to be a tremendous amount of acquisitions activity at the festival this year.”

If Mr. Ortenberg had made this prediction two years ago, even festival co-founder Jane Rosenthal might have enjoyed a hearty laugh. When it was first conceived by Ms. Rosenthal and Robert De Niro, the festival was meant as a boost to the post-9/11 economy of downtown Manhattan-an everyman’s library of films and events that would be accessible to people living in all five boroughs, and beyond. It was the May miracle: Constructed in 120 days, the festival attracted over 150,000 people and pumped $10 million into the struggling downtown economy. Last year, Ms. Rosenthal brought in Mr. Scarlet-who had run the San Francisco International Film Festival for 19 years-doubled the number of films and more than doubled the attendance. The festival now has a budget of $15 million, a slate of over 200 films and enough corporate sponsors to cover the entire fleet of cars at the Daytona 500, and their eyes are set on the World Trade Center site. In the house that Jane and Bob built, life is good.

But from the very beginning, for better or worse, something was missing. Tribeca is the capital of the independent-film world-has been since Ms. Rosenthal and Miramax co-founder Harvey Weinstein moved there back in the early 90′s-yet no film has been bought for distribution during the festival. Just two weeks after the festival closed in May 2002, Artisan, now owned by Lions Gate, bought the North American rights to the dark comedy Roger Dodger , which had premiered there. But it was considered a nice surprise, a drop in the bucket, and any momentum it could have generated for the burgeoning marketplace at Tribeca dissipated quickly. This year, however, organizers are eager to encourage buyers to pay attention. Mr. Scarlet has attempted to make the program clearer; it had suffered from complaints in the past that the schedule kept changing till the last minute, leaving reviewers, reporters and neighborhood people in the lurch. He is on the phone daily with industry people making sure they have all the film materials they need. And for the first time, this year the festival is offering press and industry screenings during its running.

“Regardless of the so-called marketplace, Jane, Bob and Craig [Matkoff] have provided an incredibly important service to filmmakers, filmgoers and the Tribeca community at large,” Mr. Weinstein said through a spokesperson.

“The industry and the market are going to increasingly be important parts of what we do here,” said Mr. Scarlet. “That’s not something you could do in your first year. And it’s not something you can complete in a third year. But I think we’re beginning to set things up to get better and better at that every year.”

This year several high-profile independents will premiere at the festival without distribution lined up. The directorial debut of David Duchovny with House of D , starring Robin Williams; the Ed Burns New York drama Looking for Kitty ; and the Anthony LaPaglia–starrer Winter Solstice are all strong candidates. Not to mention a slew of other indies just itching to brandish their wares.

“What I have been impressed with, and why I generally have a positive attitude toward [the festival], is that they really have gotten a lot of films that haven’t been seen before,” said Arianna Bocco, the head of acquisitions at Miramax.

Steven Raphael, a producer-representative who headed acquisitions at the now-defunct USA Films for three and a half years, said: “The last two years, nothing has really-with the exception of Roger Dodger -come out of the festival as a big sale. I do think that this is the year that could potentially change.”

“I think it’s certainly becoming more viable as a marketplace,” said Richard Abramowitz, a producer’s rep with 20 years of film experience in New York, who most recently brokered the deal for the Academy Award–nominated documentary The Weather Underground .

Robert Baruc, president of Screen Media Films-the distribution company which bought the North American rights to the Spanish film Whore just weeks before its U.S. premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival-didn’t even attend the film festival in its first two years. This year, however, his company has two films in the festival, and he has heard about several promising titles.

“It’s backed by the right people,” he said. “This is the center of the independent-film world. Not Utah. Not Toronto. And certainly not the South of France.”

Death on the Croisette

Mr. Baruc is referring, of course, to the Sundance Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival and the Cannes Film Festival, the reigning triumvirate of the current festival schedule. The three cast a large shadow, and if the Tribeca Film Festival wants to assert itself as a viable marketplace, it has to carve itself a niche that sets it apart from, most importantly, Cannes-that ratfuck on the Croissette that takes place only days after Tribeca.

Everyone in the industry agrees: It takes time for a festival to find its identity. And for Mr. Scarlet, the festival already has one thing going for it.

“The conviviality, the hospitality, the warmth of what we do here are always going to stay important,” he said. “And if you’ve ever been to Cannes-and you can thank your lucky stars if you haven’t-that died on the Croisette years ago.”

Don’t expect Tribeca to evolve into that other schmoozefest in Utah. For the two years that Mr. Scarlet has been aboard the love ship Rosenthal, the program has reflected his own eclectic, almost schizophrenic sensibility. From Hollywood premieres to international documentaries to obscure Canadian dance films to avant-garde cinema, Tribeca lacks the supposed consistency of a Sundance lineup. But the mixing of highbrow and lowbrow recently received validation from none other than the president of Cannes, Gilles Jacob, when he said, “These days, people are not prepared to sit through long, boring art-house films.”

The upcoming Cannes lineup features such commercial fare as Troy , The Ladykillers , Kill Bill: Vol. 2 and Bad Santa .

“Films,” Mr. Jacob said, “have to hold the audience’s interest from beginning to end.”

Mr. Scarlet seems to have taken a page from another French cineaste as well: the legendary Henri Langlois, founder of the Cinematheque Française; indeed, he spent a year running the Cinematheque before coming to Tribeca.

“You could have an Eisenstein movie and then a Japanese monster movie, and then a Hollywood musical, and then a Carl Dreyer movie,” Mr. Scarlet said of the Cinematheque. “There was absolutely no apparent connection between all this stuff, except that after a couple of months’ immersion in it, your brain began to make some connections. And I think that’s something that can happen at a festival, too.”

What separates the Cinematheque Française from T.F.F. (as the Tribeca festival is often called) is the fact that the Eisenstein movies weren’t for sale. And also, there is no guarantee that these independent films will be any good: Some film-industry insiders grumble that they are just the runoff of the bigger and better festivals. And so the pursuit of quality films is Mr. Scarlet’s primary concern. Once that is assured, he assumes, the industry will pay attention.

“I’m not one who thinks first of all about the market,” he said just before he had to run out to introduce a staff screening. “I think if we put this over spiritually, and artistically, and in all these other ways, then the market will follow.”

Go see what everyone is talking about. Here are some of the American indies the industry folk are buzzing about, peppered with some events we just thought you couldn’t miss. Keep in mind, events can either be moved, canceled or sold out-and at the youthful and scrappy Tribeca Film Festival, they often are.

But frankly, Mr. Scarlet, we don’t give a damn.

A Tribeca Itinerary

May 1

“Have you been to these? Do you dress up at the speech?” asked director Garry Marshall about his May 2 tribute at the Tribeca Film Festival. “I’m not trying to be cool; I’m trying to look like a director.”

Mr. Marshall will do his best to impersonate a filmmaker tonight, when he returns to his hometown to kick off the Tribeca Film Festival with the gala premiere of his Kate Hudson vehicle, Raising Helen. In it, a New York career gal gets saddled with her sister’s children and has to give up her fast-paced lifestyle. It seems Ms. Hudson does her best impression of Diane Keaton in Baby Boom.

Meanwhile, Mr. Marshall seems to have bitten a Proustian chocolate-covered macaroon, musing: “I’m so looking forward! Oy, Burbank! I used to walk around Canal Street out of work and with no money. Now-hello, Canal Street! Look, I have enough for a cab!”

Today also begins the Tribeca Family Festival. Take the tyke to the seafaring cartoon feature, Captain Sabertooth, and ponder the question of the day: Are all cartoon pirates and tigers gay?

[Raising Helen, 7:30 p.m. at Tribeca Performing Arts Center, 1 and 8 p.m. at Stuyvesant High School; Captain Sabertooth, 2:30 p.m. at UA Battery Park Stadium 11.]

May 2

Get the kids hopped up on Bubby’s apple pie and then head over to the “Shark Tale Sneak Peak” multimedia interactive event. Be the first to see clips of Martin Scorsese as a bushy-browed puffer fish and Robert De Niro as a shark living in a “fishified version of New York,” said Diana Loomis, head of East Coast communications for DreamWorks. No word yet whether the big fish themselves will make an appearance, but director Vicky Jenson (Shrek) will be on hand for the interactive part. Later tonight, Michelle Williams (The Station Agent) continues working her way out from under the shadow of Dawson’s Creek with A Hole in One. The film, which also stars Bat Out of Hell rocker Meat Loaf Aday, takes place in a small town in the 1950′s and follows a mixed-up girl seeking a transorbital lobotomy. “The circumstances of her life lead her to believe that she is the crazy one,” Ms. Williams said.

Paper Clips marks Miramax vice president and mouthpiece Matthew Hiltzik’s first foray into executive-producing. The documentary follows a rural Tennessee middle-school class as they try to understand the gravity of the Holocaust. They eventually build their own memorial with a donated German rail car and millions of collected paper clips. “Hopefully people can see it and then never look at a paper clip the same way again,” Mr. Hiltzik said. O.K.!

Stick around the neighborhood for “Marshall Magic,” a tribute in which the aforementioned Garry Marshall will converse at length with Good Morning America’s Joel Siegel.

["Shark Tale Sneak Peak,"

4 p.m. at Tribeca Performing Arts Center; A Hole in One,

8 p.m. at Stuyvesant High School; Paper Clips, 9 p.m. at UA Battery Park Stadium 11; "Marshall Magic: A Tribute," 1 p.m. at UA Battery Park

Stadium 11.]

May 3

The New Kid stays in the picture. Tonight, Joey McIntyre proves whether or not he has the right stuff to headline a movie with the screen adaptation of the Off Broadway show Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding. But if you run into the 90′s singing sensation, be sure you’ve brushed up on what he has done recently. “You’re thinking this New Kid here, and he’s got a movie going, man,” Mr. McIntyre said. “I’ve done shit, man.” Of course, film isn’t interactive, really, so the movie’s taking a cue from The Rocky Horror Picture Show and deeming rice-throwing in the theater appropriate.

Director Mark Bamford delivers the next good cry for lovers of Monsoon Wedding and Whale Rider with his ensemble drama Cape of Good Hope. The film tells the tale of a South African animal shelter and the diverse array of people who come into contact with it. Actors were wrangled solely from the continent, including the “African Denzel,” Eriq Ebouaney (Lumumba). “It’s this small little gem, but it’s a real audience film,” said Mr. Bamford. Later tonight, put the Kleenex away and buck up in time for the premiere of Jailbait, a love story about two cellmates played by Michael Pitt-who is beginning to rival Chloë Sevigny for most ubiquitous indie actor-and theater actor Stephen Adly-Guirgis, who will next be seen in Todd Solondz’s upcoming Palindromes.

“This relationship transcends sexuality. It is psychological, it is physical, it is emotional,” said director Brett Leonard, who has a play debuting at the Public Theater this same week. “But what you would imagine would happen to a young guy who gets thrown into a jail cell, it happens. So there’s definitely that event.”

Don’t look for “that event” at tonight’s screening of the documentary Brotherhood, about the Fire Department of New York. Sorry.

[Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding, 5:30 p.m., Stuyvesant High School; Cape of Good Hope, 6:30 p.m. at UA Battery Park Stadium 11; Jailbait, 9 p.m. at UA Battery Park Stadium 11; Brotherhood, 7:30 p.m. at Tribeca Performing Arts Center 1, and 8 p.m. at Stuyvesant High School.]

May 4

If you weren’t invited to this year’s Vanity Fair Oscar party, don’t hold your breath for an invitation to editor Graydon Carter and festival co-founder Robert De Niro’s annual dinner at the State Supreme Court on Centre Street. Some of last year’s guests included actress Angelina Jolie, Sony Corporation of America chairman Sir Howard Stringer, CBS head Les Moonves and designer Ralph Lauren. But not everyone’s so tight-fisted: It’ll undoubtedly be a full house at this afternoon’s New York Minute premiere, as we roll out the red carpet for the much-buzzed-about new Gothamites, the Olsen Twins. Their apple-cheeked mugs were snapped for their high-school yearbook bearing the tagline “Most Likely to be in Page Six During Their Freshman Year of College.” Done and done. Afterwards, drop off the kids with your illegal nanny and catch the much-buzzed-about Poster Boy. In the film, Matt Newton (Van Wilder) plays the son of a Senator who is up for re-election. He is seduced by a political activist played by Jack Noseworthy (Undercover Brother) who then threatens to out him. “It’s so of the right now,” said Mr. Noseworthy. That event again.

Then there’s tonight’s screening of Baadasssss!, the film by and starring Mario Van Peebles (Ali) that chronicles his father’s struggle to bring to the screen the seminal blaxploitation film Sweet Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song. The film received a standing ovation at Sundance-which means that distributors were haggling for rights during the screening. And although Mr. Van Peebles plays his father, Melvin Van Peebles, expect a fair account of the man whose life was “political and sexy and multiracial and all that.” When Mr. Van Peebles asked his father to comp him the rights to his autobiography-on which the movie was to be based-his father replied, “Yeah, I love you, man. But I don’t want to be screwed on the deal.”

[New York Minute, 4:30 p.m. at Tribeca Performing Arts Center 1; Baadasssss!, 9:30 p.m. at UA Battery Park Stadium 11; Poster Boy, 6 p.m. at Stuyvesant High School.]

May 5

Take that, New York Film Festival! For tonight, Tribeca has scored the New York premiere of indie stalwart Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee & Cigarettes. The film, shot in black and white-black for coffee, white for cigarettes-is a filmic disjecta membra of scenes anchored only by coffee and cigarettes as props. Some of the more highly anticipated pairings are Bill Murray with Wu Tang members RZA and GZA, Iggy Pop with Tom Waits, and the White Stripes’ Jack White and Meg White. But Mr. Jarmusch admitted recently in an interview that the most personal scene for him was with veteran actors and East Village nightcrawlers Taylor Mead and Bill Rice. “He’s been promising me a movie for the last 10 or 20 years,” said Mr. Mead over the phone. “I begged him for cue cards-’idiot cards,’ they’re called. And he said, ‘I love the contusion on your face when you forget your lines.’”

Before that premiere, perhaps you can squeeze in the U.S. premiere of the documentary Lipstick & Dynamite, Piss and Vinegar, about lady wrestlers from the 40′s; some of them still get in the ring! These octogenarians had names like the Fabulous Moolah and Gladys (Kill ‘Em) Gillem, and were plucked in their prime from the sticks. Golden Girls Gone Wild, anyone?

As part of the “Restored and Rediscovered” program co-curated by Martin Scorsese, Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song lets you get reacquainted with Mario’s source material.

[Coffee & Cigarettes, 9 p.m. at Stuy-vesant High School; Lipstick and Dynamite, Piss and Vinegar, 8 p.m. at UA Battery Park Stadium 11; Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song, 3 p.m. at Pace University Schimmel Center for the Arts.]

May 6

The kids are all right: Two films premiere tonight which feature the children of some of Hollywood’s greatest actors: The Devil Cats, a mockumentary comedy about a fake band, was written and directed by Sidney Poitier’s daughter Anika Poitier and stars both her and her sister, Sydney, while Last Goodbye is an ensemble drama starring Clementine Ford (Cybill Sheperd’s daughter), Liam Dunaway O’Neill (Faye Dunaway’s son), Dominik García-Lorido (Andy Garcia’s daughter) and Alex A. Quinn (Anthony Quinn’s son).

“Feedback that I would get when I was acting [was] ‘She’s not ghetto enough,’ ‘She’s not urban enough,’” said Ms. Poitier, a one-time model, speaking of her acting career. “I just feel like there could be some diversifying.” The Devil Cats is about a group of friends who decide to form a band, even though they have no musical talent. Ms. Poitier said she watched Spinal Tap and American Movie over and over for inspiration. “It’s a silly movie,” she said.

Last Goodbye, however, is a decidedly not-silly movie. Brooders Nashville and Magnolia were the influences on writer-director Jacob Gentry. Aside from celebrity offspring, the film also features performances by David Carradine (as a traveling Bible salesman) and Ms. Dunaway. “It’s really like going to film school when you work with him,” said Mr. Gentry about the Kill Bill star.

Also tonight, Ed Burns premieres his sixth feature film in nine years with Looking for Kitty. And David Duchovny tries to make us forget his role in 2001′s Evolution with his directorial debut, House of D, starring Robin Williams, Erykah Badu and, of course, the X-Files star himself.

[The Devil Cats, 7:30 p.m. at UA Battery Park Stadium 11; Last Goodbye, 6 p.m. at UA Battery Park Stadium 11; House of D, 7:30 p.m. at Tribeca Performing Arts Center; Looking for Kitty, 6 p.m. at UA Battery Park Stadium 11.]

May 7

Today, “Tribeca Talks.” And guess who’s the mouthpiece? Co-founder and resident blues historian Martin Scorsese. Vanity Fair contributing editor Lisa Robinson lofts softballs at Mr. Scorsese for an hour and a half regarding the influence of music on film.

The Spanish film Whore, which wins the best screening-invitation award for its “First Come, First Served” disclaimer, features some American actresses who probably don’t relish the distinction: Daryl Hannah and Denise Richards. Ms. Hannah is currently kicking ass in the second installment of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, so it’s hard to imagine what may have gotten her the role in this indie.

Some real heroic ladies take center stage in the documentary Three Sisters: Searching for a Cure about Jenifer Estess and her sisters’ fundraising efforts to find a cure for A.L.S., the disease that took the theater producer’s life.

Later tonight, take a jaunt over to Pier 25 for the Tribeca Drive-in Theater’s people’s choice winner. You could end up watching Dr. Strangelove or The Jerk or anything in between-just be thankful it isn’t Friends. (That, of course, screened last night on the pier.)

["Tribeca Talks: Scorsese and Music," 6 p.m. at Stuyvesant High School, 345 Chambers Street; A Touch of Spice, 8 p.m. at Prada Soho; Whore, 9:45 p.m. at UA Theater 8; Three Sisters: Searching for a Cure, 3:30 p.m. at UA Theater 8; people's choice winner for Tribeca Drive-In, 8 p.m. at Pier 25, West Side Highway at N. Moore Street.]

May 8

And now it’s time for “that other event”: the family-friendly Street Fair. Throngs of people-gasp-head downtown to patronize local merchants, schools and community groups, and internationally renowned performers will be on hand. If that fails, just enter the exciting world of hula-hooping-something Tribeca’s P.R. team thinks is such an enticement that it figures prominently in their ad campaign. Put Harvey in one of those-now you’ve got yourself a poster. Take a break from the sun and discover the latest director to be touted as the next Spike Lee: Mad Matthewz. With his debut feature-length film Men Without Jobs, this Brooklyn native hopes that it won’t be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The film follows two charming, eccentric slackers who want to start their own live hip-hop band like the Roots. “We were all in film school because of Spike Lee,” said Mr. Matthewz about his days at SUNY Purchase. Then, drop the tuckered-out toddlers at the screening of Edge of America-basically Hoosiers set on a Native American reservation-and watch Sharon Stone cross and uncross her legs at the “Sex and Cinema” panel. Joining her are Hedwig star John Cameron Mitchell-whose most recent cinematic effort promises real sex scenes-Jennifer Jason Leigh and In the Cut’s Laurie Parker.

[Men Without Jobs, 3:15 p.m. at UA Battery Park Stadium 11; Tribeca Family Festival/Street Fair, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Edge of America, 5 p.m., UA5; "Sex and Cinema" panel, 6 p.m., Tribeca Performing Arts Center.]

May 9

To she or not to she: Leading up to the closing-night gala premiere of Stage Beauty, catch the panel that explains it all: “Stage to Screen Beauty.” Iris director Richard Eyre will be on hand to discuss how the hell he swung an Oscar for Jim Broadbent. Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher and actor Billy Crudup will listen attentively.

In the movie adaptation of Mr. Hatcher’s play, Compleat Female Stage Beauty, Mr. Crudup plays a Shakespearean actor renowned for his ability to play female roles. (It almost makes one think of Patrick Swayze in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar! Almost.) When the king prohibits men from dragging onstage, the actor’s world is thrown in a tizzy. Publicist Peggy Siegal: “It makes Shakespeare in Love look like chopped liver.”

We always liked chopped liver!

["Stage to Screen Beauty," 3:30 p.m., Stuy-vesant High School, 345 Chambers Street.]