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

A Downtown Express Special Supplement

Tribeca Film Festival 2007

Downtown Express photo by Joshua Bright

Director Jeffrey Morgan, whose documentary, “Lillie & Leander: A Legacy of Violence,” was produced in part through Tribeca All Access, a networking program unique to the Tribeca Film Fest.

The filmmaker’s film fest

By David Johnson

The Tribeca Film Festival is about more than just showing films; it’s also in the business of helping films get made.

And this year, some of the top projects the festival has helped make possible in the past are coming back to headline the show — a homecoming that doubles as a milestone for what has come to be known as “Tribeca All Access.” Now in its fourth year, the program helps connect aspiring filmmakers of underrepresented comminutes with interested investors and distributors who can help make their visions a reality.

The most prominent returning film this year, “Planet B-Boy,” will be the featured film Saturday, April 28, at the Tribeca Drive-In, the festival’s premiere event at which a chosen few films are screened outside the World Financial Center, along the banks of the Hudson River. The documentary, about the world of breakdancing and the intensity of an international b-dancing competition, came to the Tribeca All Access program years ago, mostly as a concept that had not yet been filmed.

“The All Access program is a realistic program,” said organizer Beth Janson. “We understand that this is all about relationships, and by getting these people in touch with each other, sometimes it can turn into cash, but it’s mostly about establishing those relationships which can lead to movies, broadcast, DVDs, who knows.”

That is precisely what happened to director Benson Lee in regards to “Planet B-Boy.”

“In a financial sense, Tribeca wasn’t all that helpful,” Lee quickly clarifies, noting that he had to find private investors to help fund the principal photography of these breakdancing competitions around the world. “But what was great was meeting some of the other filmmakers going through the same experiences, to have those people to talk to… And it also helped to forge these relationships with distributors so that this year, we stand out from the sea of films at the festival.”

In addition to “Planet B-Boy,” another All-Access alumnus and documentary, “Lillie & Leander: A Legacy of Violence,” will be screening as part of this year’s festival. Director Jeffrey Morgan was connected with investors and producers at the Tribeca Film Festival, and offered development money by Court TV (which has since pulled out of the project), and now finds himself returning with a finished film that will have a chance at reaching a mass audience.

For his part, Morgan says the All Access program was invaluable in getting the film made.

“Without All Access, this wouldn’t have gotten made, it’s that simple,” Morgan said, reflecting on the sizeable credit card debt he went into before being connected with interested people at Tribeca. “It’s a very special setting where you can have the meetings with people in the industry that you would have never had if you had just been cold calling.”

While it’s a program that takes place outside the public’s view, it is perhaps one of the key building blocks to making the Tribeca Film Festival an essential industry destination, where filmmakers want to go because industry insiders will be present, and where intrigued investors and producers want to go because they know that some of the most creative and original filmmaking talent will be in attendance.
This year, in closed-door screenings, readings and meetings that will take place between April 25 and 29 for those out-of-town industry heavyweights, some 32 All Access projects will be presented, all at different stages of development. Out of those, 11 works are documentaries with only some preliminary footage, and the remaining works-in-progress are little more than scripts, brought to the festival by would-be filmmakers who think they have the keys to developing the next big movie hit.

But those numbers only tell part of the story. The winning submissions came from a mountain of some 400 that poured in this year from hopeful filmmakers around the world who hail from underrepresented communities — a mix that Janson says is growing more diverse every year.

“We take all kinds of projects from all kinds of budget ranges,” she said. “This year, we received a lot more independent projects, last year we had more commercial projects and also several sports projects. But we’re focused in both worlds — mainstream and independent — because the communities these filmmakers hail from, they are not very prevalent in the mainstream, big-budget world either.”

What started as a small program has exploded as the festival has risen into a regional, national, even international event. Today, Hanson presides over one of the top networking events of any film festival on the planet, and has the vantage point of someone who is seeing the surge of independent filmmakers hoping to take the power away from the Hollywood establishment and spread it, through digital cameras and YouTube, among independent artists.

“You definitely see that digital democracy,” she reflects. “But it also has a downside, since film studios now know that filmmakers can make it themselves and that they can decide later if they want to buy the project.”

Which means more hopefuls are having to go out there and do it themselves, and programs like All Access are becoming that much more an essential tool to cut through the cluttered industry conversation.

“This is a great place to premiere for young filmmakers,” Morgan said, comparing Tribeca to other festivals. “It’s so young but it’s come so far in a very short period of time. People are starting to call it the Sundance of the East.”

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