Tribeca Festival Founders On WGA Strike, What To Watch For As 2023 Edition Set To Kick Off; NYC Mayor Plans Announcement With Robert De Niro

Tribeca Festival Founders On WGA Strike, What To Watch For As 2023 Edition Set To Kick Off; NYC Mayor Plans Announcement With Robert De Niro

The Tribeca Festival brings its unusual brand of film, music, TV, games, reunions and talks, audio and immersive storytelling to New York City this week, a blend that draws fans out in (hopefully) sunny summer weather and is the latest stop for the film community after a short post-Cannes break.

The fest, which runs June 7-18, kicks off Wednesday with Kiss the Future, a documentary by Nenad Cicin-Sain produced by Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Sarah Anthony. It closes with a 30th anniversary screening of A Bronx Tale, produced by and starring, respectively, Tribeca co-founders Jane Rosenthal and Robert De Niro. Just before the fest kickoff, NYC Mayor Eric Adams — who is attending opening night — will make an arts- and culture-related announcement with the actor.

The festival yanked the word “Film” from its title several years ago to reflect the expansive nature of the event created after 9/11 to help revive a physically, emotionally devastated lower Manhattan. It skipped 2020 because of the pandemic but was one of the first successful in-person industry events of 2021 when it shifted from April to June, where it remains.

In a Deadline Q&A with Rosenthal and De Niro, and a Zoom press conference with the programming team, the founders, and director Cara Cusumano, weighed in on the 2023 edition, the first domestic festival to unspool during the ongoing WGA strike.

“We are 100% supportive…of the writers on the issues that they have,” said Rosenthal, who is also CEO of Tribeca Enterprises. She said organizers sought guidance from the guild on two programs: “One involved a call for submissions for writers for a program that we do. And we’ve decided not to do that at this time. We’ll wait until after the strike. Another was … with industry executives on a program where writers can pitch their programs, and we’ve switched that around. And we did so in consultation with the guild.”

One “very high profile” writer-director pulled out because of the strike, Rosenthal said. A WGA East member “will be talking about the issues that the writers are facing” as part of the festival’s Creator’s Market. The program, now in its 8th year, is shifting to a workshop format this year in solidarity with the WGA strike. It’s now a two-day event for creators to collaborate and learn about one another’s current projects. Over 60 creators are participating.

The interviews took place before the DGA and AMPTP agreed on a tentative deal this past weekend. But the WGA has different issues and says its work stoppage will continue. TV was hit first, but a number of indie films large and small – it’s not yet clear how many — have fallen away in recent months. The writers were first but there had been the threat of a triple strike if the DGA and SAG-AFTRA joined when those contracts expire at the end of June. SAG-AFTRA members overwhelmingly approved a strike authorization yesterday.

“I don’t think anybody right now will greenlight a movie. And I…think, you know, that it’s going to be very hard right now to raise any money for a film, because you can’t do rewrites,” said Rosenthal. “So that’s a problem…right now, until those issues are resolved. But that’s going to be for the better of all of us in the industry if those issues are resolved.”

Record Submissions

Lack of product was no problem this year for Tribeca as submissions exploded to 12,000, and were narrowed down to 112 features – “the most curated and selective” festival yet, said Cusumano. Some 70% of helmers are women. Forty-three are first-time directors, including a posse of actor-directed films like Chelsea Peretti’s comedy First Time Female Director, John Slattery’s Maggie Moore(s), Steve Buscemi’s The Listener and David Duchovny’s Bucky F*cking Dent.

Other narrative features include Ethan Berger’s The Line, set at a fictional college fraternity, with Alex Wolff and Halle Bailey; Robert Schwartzman’s The Good Half with Nick Jonas and Brittany Snow; Downtown Owl by Hamish Linklater and Lily Rabe; and Flight by H.P. Mendoza.

International offerings include Dead Girls Dancing, Anna Roller’s feature debut following three German teenagers on a road trip in Italy; The Future by Noam Kaplan, about an assassination in the lead-up to Israel’s first mission to the moon; and Melody of Love, by Edmundo Bejarano, about a Michael Jackson impersonator in Addis Ababa.

Opening night’s Kiss the Future, which first screened as a Berlinale Special Gala presentation, follows an underground creative community during the nearly four-year Siege of Sarajevo (1992-1996). They were encouraged by U2 after an American aid worker made a long-shot pitch to the band to help raise awareness. The group immediately agreed and started a series of live satellite interviews with locals during its 1993 Zoo TV Tour, promising a live concert when the conflict ended. It performed there in 1997.

“It is a subject matter that is very close to our hearts at Tribeca … the work that artists do and the power of art and storytelling to heal communities after a trauma, which is where Tribeca came from, and something you’ll see very much threaded throughout the festival,” said Cusumano. “This just felt like it set the table for what we’re all about in a really beautiful way.”

The film also bridges a Tribeca focus on music that this year is pairing more docs than ever with live events featuring Carlos Santana, Cyndi Lauper, Gloria Gaynor, Alicia Keys, Indigo Girls, French Montana, Global Bordello and others. The Storytellers Series features Paul McCartney, John Mellencamp, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Chance the Rapper, Billy Porter and music producer Diplo.

The 2023 festival hits on the 50th anniversary of hip hop, a centerpiece. Charlie Ahearn, Lee Quiñones, Fab 5 Freddy and Grand Wizzard Theodore reunite for a special 40th anniversary celebration of Wild Style, Ahearn’s classic hip hop movie. Mario Van Peebles, Michael Michele and Fab 5 also reunite for New Jack City, and Kevin Sullivan and Angela Bassett for the 25th anniversary of How Stella Got Her Groove Back.

In All Up in the Biz, director Sacha Jenkins uses celebrity interviews, archival footage, reenactments with puppets and animation for the story of Biz Markie. Anthem sees composer Kris Bowers and music producer Dahi traveling across America to create a new sound, inspired by what the national anthem might be if written in today’s time. Ryan Coogler is a producer.

Some other docs: The Secret Art of Human Happy Clothes: A Film About Patricia Field by Michael Selditch; Minted by Nicholas Bruckman about the NFT craze; Rock Hudson: All the Heaven Allowed by Stephen Kijak; David Gregory’s Enter the Clones of Bruce, which tracks the history of the Bruceploitation subgenre through the eyes of those who created it; The Gullspång Miracle by Maria Fredriksson about devout Norwegian sisters and a shocking revelation; Between the Rains on a community in Northern Kenya contending with prolonged drought, by Andrew H. Brown and Moses Thuranira; and Transition, where documentarian Jordan Byron embeds in a Taliban unit for the New York Times as he is undergoing a gender transition.

The fest’s 75 shorts were culled from over 8,000 submissions and include Francesca Scorsese’s Fish Out of Water, which screened at Cannes; Last Call by Harry Holland, starring his brother, Tom Holland; Troy Kotsur’s To My Father; Misty Copeland’s Flower; Alden Ehrenreich’s Shadow Brother Sunday; Xiaopeng Tian’s animated Deep Sea; and Spinning by Isabel Vaca and Arturo Mendicuti.

TV has been an official part of the fest since 2016. This year features the premiere of The Walking Dead: Dead City, the latest spinoff of the wildly popular zombie universe set this time in NYC, ahead of its June 18 debut on AMC Networks, followed by a conversation with EPs and cast members. The Long, Long Night, created by and starring Mark Duplass and Barret O’Brien, is a featured indie episodic original.

Tribeca’s website calls film “the core” of its program. But Rosenthal notes the fest will continue to evolve with audiences, who have more choice than ever. “We’ve always been a festival that has looked at technology and new ways of storytelling,” she said. “And when you look at a game, it’s kind of nonlinear storytelling…So for us, it was a way of looking at the game creators, the way you look at a director, and bringing that as part of the festival. Immersive has changed over the years since we’ve had that in the festival.” She said artists often go “through all the different platforms themselves, to express themselves. And that’s what we’ve done as a festival.”

It makes for a sprawling event that can be hard to schedule. One film-industry attendee wished upon a star for, say, three consecutive days devoted to just one medium, then another, instead of overlapping events. But a consumer focused cornucopia is Tribeca’s origin and kind of the point.

Some industry insiders also preferred the previous April fest date to this post-Cannes June spot. It promises balmier weather. But, like SXSW in March, April felt like a more timely launchpad for a film that didn’t make it to Sundance. Tribeca shifted to June in 2021 in a nod to Covid, benefitting from a large outdoor footprint, and has stayed.

Asked about the move, Rosenthal said, “It will be interesting to talk to me after this festival. It’s a great date for us because…we’re going to be outside, and it’s great time to be in New York.” It was “fortuitous just after Covid…when we created all these theaters outside in parks…Fortuitous that we were in tune. And, you know, I believe we’ll stay here. But you never know.”