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

Special section

M.E.G.A. Films

William Tyler Smith’s “Kiss Me Again” (above) is one of the 26 films competing in this year’s “NY, NY” Competition.

“NY, NY” competition highlights the best of Big Apple films

By Steven Snyder

Director Georgia Lee doesn’t hesitate to credit the Tribeca Film Festival with changing her life.

The director of “Red Doors,” an official entry at last year’s festival, Lee said she was pursuing her MBA at Harvard Business School when she decided to take a leave of absence to pursue her real passion – film.

“When I submitted my first film to Tribeca, I was so surprised we were even selected,” she admitted. “I can’t even explain how much of an underdog we were.”

But the surprises were only beginning. Chosen for the official “NY, NY Competition,” which this year is featuring 13 narrative feature films and 13 documentaries filmed in or about the city — nearly half of the festival’s 59 feature films screening in competition — “Red Doors” was chosen as the winning narrative feature. And during subsequent screenings of last year’s competition winners, Lee said she suddenly found herself meeting video distributors and even television executives who expressed interest in adapting her film into a TV series.

“It’s the classic, Cinderella story,” she said. “It all started at Tribeca.”

Lee is not alone in her enthusiasm for the NY, NY Competition in both launching local talent and attracting production to the city.

David Kwok, one of the NY, NY competition’s senior programmers, said he has seen first-hand the growth of the competition over the years. He said there has always been a mix of both films that were sought out by Tribeca programmers, and films that were submitted by directors hoping to make the cut. In recent years, though, far more filmmakers have started approaching the festival, hoping to be selected as an NY, NY entry.

“We [employ] a bunch of people who go out and seek films at film festivals, and [we receive] blind submissions that pop in out of nowhere,” Kwok said. “But now it’s a little easier [for us to select NY, NY entries] because we’ve seen more people come to us directly in search of what we can offer.

“It’s amazing because people are making a commitment to us — this has been their baby sometimes for their entire life and they’re giving us the shot to present it to the world.”

Now in its fifth year, it seems that many filmmakers are agreeing with Lee that the Tribeca Film Festival has hit its stride — and that the chance to not only screen at the festival, but be chosen one of the year’s NY, NY films is a prominent way to get a local title a moment in the spotlight.

“It’s a major, major event,” said William Tyler Smith, director of “Kiss Me Again,” a relationship drama about a married couple who seeks out a third sexual partner to fulfill their fantasies, and one of this year’s NY, NY entries. “I know my producer’s been getting calls about the film since the competition was announced, and based on the reaction I’ve gotten from people when I’ve told them it’s premiering here, they’re like, ‘It’s huge!’”

This year, the NY, NY Competition highlights a wide mix of films — not all of which were made by New Yorkers. Kwok cites “New York Waiting” as one the competition’s more notable entries, directed and produced by an international team but filmed here in the city with American actors. He also points to films like “H.C.E.,” a “full-on, experimental, avant garde” film, and “East Broadway,” a “straight-forward romantic comedy,” as evidence of the wide range of NY, NY entries.

Kwok has witnessed a shift in the perspective of the competition’s films, away from a narrow focus on New York to stories with a more global consideration.

“I think what we’re seeing is that films have become more eclectic in what they are about,” he said. “Some are still specifically New York stories, but we’re seeing more films that are universal, with a national and international interest.”

He also said the competition has implications for New York film production, sending the film industry a message about the kind of projects that can be made on the streets of Gotham.

“This is not only about highlighting local films,” said Kwok, “But saying, ‘Look, you can make a film in New York that’s within your budget and that’s possible.

“The runaway productions that go to Canada, they think it’s impossible to shoot a film completely in New York; this proves that it is possible.”

He notes that this year’s competitors range from low-budget experiments, like “H.C.E.,” in which Richard Sylvarnes “did almost everything himself,” to films with larger budgets and name actors, such as “Kettle of Fish” which stars Matthew Modine and Gina Gershon.

Lee, who gets to serve as one of the NY, NY Competition’s judges this year as a returning winner, takes this argument even further. Seeing Los Angeles as the home of the major movie studios, but New York as the center of independent film world, and recognizing the Tribeca Film Festival as one of the world’s premiere festivals, Lee said that the NY, NY Competition does not just highlight New York City, but the very best work of today’s independent film scene.

“What they’ve done with this competition is aggregated and selected a great group of upcoming New York filmmakers,” Lee said. “And given how many independent filmmakers flock here, it also becomes kind of a proxy for what’s hot in all of independent American cinema right now.”

Smith, who briefly left New York for U.C.L.A.’s film school before returning to make films, said he sees the differences between the film market in New York and the studio-dominated world of Hollywood. And he said Tribeca provides an invaluable bridge between these two film communities that operate with little overlap.

“In the film industry, it is just so difficult to take risks as a studio, and to get ahead as an unknown,” Smith said. “But to get into this kind of festival and to make a mark is so huge — it’s like market research for studio execs, and a way to finally get on their radar.”

For information on the films in the NY, NY Competition, on view from April 25 – May 7, visit www.tribecafilmfestival.org.


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