Volume 16 • Issue 38 | February 20 - 26, 2004

Tribeca Film Festival gears up 1800 volunteers are sought

By Danielle Stein

Cree Nevins, left, Peggy Gormley, center, and Jessica Smith, core staff of the Tribeca Film Festival. They are recruiting 1800 volunteers for the event to be held in May.

Looking at the handful of employees occupying a sliver of hardwood-floored space on North Moore Street, you’d think you were observing the daily workings of a small temp agency or a start-up public relations firm. You’d never guess what the sparse group is really up to: putting together one of the largest film festivals in the world.

Like Park City, Utah’s Sundance, the Tribeca Film Festival will feature movies that will make little-known actors and directors tomorrow’s stars, and will include parties and premieres that will be documented in local press and gossip columns.

The Tribeca Film Festival, which began in 2002 as a September 11th charity event produced by the not-for-profit Tribeca Film Institute, has brought nearly half a million people and $100 million in revenue to downtown Manhattan’s local economy in just 2 years of existence.

This year’s event, to be held May 1-9, will bring filmmakers and industry honchos to view the independent films, short films, and documentaries. They will also attend the panels to be held in venues throughout lower Manhattan. But it won’t be just industry insiders coming. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers are expected as well.

“It’s a populist film festival,” said David Earls, director of development.

Which is why the handful of people now toiling in the North Moore office are seeking volunteers: 1,800 of them.

“I compare this to a political campaign,” said Peggy Gormley, volunteer coordinator for the festival. You come into town with a core, skeleton group and collaborate with hundreds of local volunteers to get the job done.”

So Gormley is calling all aspiring producers, accountants, event planners, PR representatives, and travel agents — as well as anyone with a love for the silver screen — to sign up for one of her 15 committees.

“There are a variety of tasks that cater to people with diverse interests,” said Jessica Smith, 24, who volunteered at the festival last year when she was still a student at NYU and this year was hired as a production assistant. “And it’s a great opportunity to see how hard people work in the film business. As an attendee, you think, ‘I could run a film festival.’ But it’s amazing how many components need to exist.”

Volunteers are required to make a minimum commitment of three six-hour shifts, which they can fulfill in a range of departments. A “Screenings” volunteer might serve as an usher or a doorperson at screenings, while a “Travel” volunteer might organize transportation and accommodations for filmmakers and other important guests. A “Production” volunteer will do everything from lifting heavy equipment to fixing lighting emergencies to making sure all the local Starbucks are adequately stocked with festival mini-guides.

“For people interested in working in film, you really learn something in production,” said Cree Nevins, who heads up the division. “It’s like being a real-life, on-set grip or roadie. You work with every other department. You’re the framework of the whole house.”

Of course, it’s not just the desire to learn that drives people to volunteer. Perhaps even more alluring is the opportunity to see movies for free and the ever-present possibility of a brush with celebrity (one reason that the “Special Events” division, which oversees premieres and parties, is such a popular preference choice on the application).

“You’ll get to see any number of famous people going to see the screenings,” said Dan Cento, 22, who volunteered last year and is interning for credit this year. Volunteers in the “Panels” department in previous years provided support for such events as a discussion of “Love in the Movies” with participants like Nora Ephron and Lauren Bacall and a panel on “What Makes a Movie Funny” that included Nathan Lane and Paul Rudnick.

But volunteers are first required to attend an orientation session that emphasizes professional behavior.

“This is not a networking opportunity,” Gormley said.

Most of those who sign up to volunteer are students, many of whom will seek jobs in the film industry after graduation. But volunteer applicants come from all over the place – Gormley has received applications from foreigners who will travel to New York for the festival and from professionals who want to donate time during evenings and weekends. The application, which asks applicants to list their skills and the departments they’d most like to work for, can be found on the festival’s web site, www.tribecafilmfestival.org.

Recruitment starts early, as volunteers for certain departments may be called for duty as soon as next month. The barebones staff must swell up well in advance of the crowds that will gather, oblivious to the exorbitant labor and thousands of bodies required to make everything flow like clockwork.

“It’s fascinating,” said Smith of her volunteering experience, “to see what it takes to make something look effortlessly glamorous.”

For information on volunteer recruitment news and events, call 212-941-2404 or visit www.tribecafilmfestival.org.


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