Volume 18 • Issue 49 | April 21 - 27, 2006

Special section

Behind the Screens at the Tribeca Film Festival

By Rania Richardson

Most people associate the Tribeca Film Festival with its famous founder Robert De Niro. Behind the scenes, though, hundreds of staff members and volunteers work tirelessly to put together the multi-faceted festival. We contacted a small sampling of the key players to describe their jobs, backgrounds, and favorite spots in Tribeca. Here are the highlights from their answers.

Mark Steele
Technical Director
Job description: To show the films... and make sure the films are ready for the festival and get to the festival. I talk to an infinite number of filmmakers and post-production companies, put technology sponsorship in place, give filmmakers hugs over phone and email, negotiate with the unions, fix every movie screen, and handle vendor contracts, I even buy cookies for my staff.

Background: Mechanical engineer, sculptor, video editor, web developer, wilderness therapist, dotcom entrepreneur and now film festivals.

Festival favorite: Opening night when the lights go down, the projector speeds up and the light hits the screen.

Tribeca favorite: Bar Panini has the best espresso in Tribeca and is my secret second office.

Nancy Schafer
Managing Director/ Programmer

Job description: I pick the films and oversee most of the day-to-day logistics of the festival. That makes it sound easy! It’s so much less glamorous than it sounds. I do travel, even trans-continentally, to watch movies. But basically, the life of a programmer means being alone in the dark, slogging through hours of tapes at a time. What we are looking for is a story that is well told, well acted, well shot (hopefully all at the same time) that is fresh — whether it’s a narrative or documentary.

Background: I was hired to start up the SXSW (South by Southwest) Film Festival in 1993. I got sick of living in Texas, moved to New York, and started working on the first Tribeca Film Festival a year later.

Festival favorite: There are little bright spots in every day—when we hear certain people are coming, or when we hear about little press stunts that are going to happen during the event. These make the festival come alive. A film in the festival called, “A Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus,” is going to have life-37
size dodos roaming the festival! I love that stuff.

Tribeca favorite: Currently, my favorite spot is the bench in front of Pecan at 9 a.m. with a coffee.

Annie Leahy
Director, Tribeca Talks  
Job description: I oversee all of the programming elements for our panel discussions and our newly added music program which includes the Tribeca/ASCAP Music Lounge. The best part  about my job is that there is no such thing as a typical day.

Background: I was a Producer at ABC news — mostly of long-form documentaries — and I worked for “Peter Jennings Reporting,” which was his documentary unit at ABC. I knew Jennifer Maguire Isham, the president of the festival, from my ABC News days. She brought me in.

Festival favorite: My panels! I’m stunned every year at how lucky we are to get top notch talent from all aspects of the movie business — actors, directors, writers — to talk about craft and commerce, and to share incredible details about the industry and their experiences. We have brilliant Q&A sessions and it breaks my heart sometimes to have to end them to set up for the next event.
Tribeca favorite: The small firehouse at N. Moore and Varick Street. It was the setting for the film “Ghostbusters,” and it lost one firefighters on September 11th.  Every time I pass by it, I am reminded of how passionate I feel about being a New Yorker.  

Nancy Lefkowitz
Director of Talent Relations

Job description: Part Julie McCoy, cruise director, and part firefighter, I oversee the daily comings and goings of the jury.  I work to ensure that each of our jurors has a rewarding experience at the festival. Additionally, I manage the Art Award program. I track down artists to contribute a piece of artwork that will become some of the filmmaker awards. 

Background: A “four second” stint in PR led me to a job as a set PA on “Marvin’s Room,” where I met Jane Rosenthal, one of the film’s producers. I went on to work as Jane’s assistant for several years. This was 1994, and I never quite left the Tribeca fold.

Festival favorite: Each year among the group of jurors there is always a surprise — two unexpected people striking up an unlikely friendship, as in the case with Tom Wolfe and Damon Dash in 2005, or a jury that is so moved by a film that it is palpable and infectious, as was the case with the doc jury and “Arna’s Children” in 2004.

Tribeca favorite: Indoor play spaces for kids — Sydney’s Playground and The Nest. And shopping for baby clothes at Bu and the Duck.


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