Volume 19 Issue 50 | April 27 - May 3, 2007

A Downtown Express Special Supplement

Tribeca Film Festival 2007

Thomas Brown, a firefighter and a film lover, is one of the thousands who volunteer at the Tribeca Film Festival every year.

The back door to the best seat in the theater

By Sarah Norris

The Tribeca Film Festival is a hot destination for filmmakers, distributors, moviegoers — and volunteers. This year, there are more than 2,800 helpers, whose compensation comes in the form of ticket vouchers, celebrity encounters, new friends, free burritos and a party in their honor. Three-quarters of the volunteers live in New York City, but many people travel from out of state, or country.

While visiting his son’s family in Manhattan, Lood Myburgh, who lives in South Africa, has been volunteering at the festival full-time for the past two weeks. His daughter-in-law was eight-and-a-half months pregnant on September 11, when she found herself in the World Trade Center. She survived and gave birth to a little girl named Mikaila, now a kindergartner at P.S. 234 in Tribeca. Myburgh has been working as a volunteer register, “the nicest section of all,” where he directs people on where to go and distributes T-shirts, gift bags and invitations to the volunteer party. “The best is still to come,” he says. “‘Spiderman 3’ is something that I’m really looking forward to.”

The desire to help Downtown rebuild itself after September 11 is a major motivating factor for volunteers. Betty Eng, a longtime resident of Chinatown, has been volunteering since the first TFF in 2002, and has done everything from counting audience ballots to assisting with the opening ceremonies. “Being a part of this world also means giving back to the world,” she says. “We all need healing and this festival has been a part of the healing. It brings people back to face what sometimes is hard to face.”

Westchester firefighter Thomas Brown spent three nights volunteering at Ground Zero following September 11. Committed to helping Lower Manhattan, Brown is also a film lover who signed up for the festival as soon as he heard about it. “The coolest thing that’s happened to me was at a party, where it was my job to make sure the green room had plenty of refreshments.” When he walked in, Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick offered him a seat. “They said, ‘Come on in, take a load off’ and gave me a beer and asked me about myself.” The encounter, Brown says, “pretty much made me a fan for life.”

A former public school teacher, Vivian Grams has been living in Tribeca since 1969, before it was called Tribeca. “The festival came into my life just when I thought I couldn’t find anything very interesting to do after I retired,” she said. In a few weeks, she’s planning to depart for a trip to Argentina with a friend she met while volunteering at a screening last year. Grams says that volunteering at the festival is not only a way to meet interesting people, but also a great opportunity to keep in touch with creative, young artists.

“A huge number of the volunteers are college students,” says festival volunteer manager, Danielle Reisigl. People are assigned to jobs based on their availability, and their ability to do heavy lifting. Reisigl explains that a lot of the volunteers recently moved to New York and are trying to get to know the city; involvement has given people a whole new group of friends.

Volunteering entails a commitment to three shifts, of four to six hours each, in exchange for one movie voucher per shift. The deal is apparently so worthwhile to would-be helpers, there are 200 names on the waiting list. “The volume of response has been overwhelming,” says Reisigl. “But next January, we’ll be looking for another 3,000 volunteers. Simply put, this festival couldn’t run without them.”

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