Geoff Gilmore and Jane Rosenthal of Tribeca Enterprises
LOS ANGELES — Entering its ninth year, the Tribeca Film Festival is set to become associated with a new venture to distribute films digitally and in theaters under the Tribeca name. It is also embarking on another initiative to make some offerings available online to the paying public at the same time that they are screening at the festival.
The dual strategy, disclosed by Tribeca executives this week, puts this Manhattan-based festival and its corporate parent, Tribeca Enterprises, in the thick of a fight to revive the faltering independent film world with new distribution schemes. Those are typically built around video-on-demand operations and have often traded on the cachet of film festivals, including Sundance and South by Southwest.
Just this week, one such service, FilmBuff, said it had acquired the right to show a pair of films, “Erasing David” and “Crying With Laughter,” on iTunes and Amazon.com, simultaneously with their premieres at South by Southwest, in Austin, Tex., later this month.
But Tribeca’s foray stands out as a particularly bold effort to combine the promotional pop of a major festival — which gets marketing support from American Express, a longtime partner — with a new distributor that will acquire and release movies under the name Tribeca Film, even if they have no direct connection to the festival.
This is about getting as many eyeballs on that film as possible,” said Jane Rosenthal, a producer and Tribeca co-founder, who discussed the plan in a telephone interview.
Ms. Rosenthal said she expected the new distribution venture — which has backing from the investor Jonathan Tisch, a member of the Tribeca Enterprises board, and his Walnut Hill Media group — to release 10 films a year. It will focus on video-on-demand distribution, but sometimes, at least, it will include a theatrical release in commercial theaters.
Five of the new venture’s first releases, Ms. Rosenthal said, are to be distributed simultaneously with their showings at the Tribeca Film Festival, which runs from April 21 to May 2. Those include “Climate of Change,” a documentary about environmental activism narrated by Tilda Swinton, and “Road, Movie,” a film by the director Dev Benegal that tells the story of a road trip in India.
Ms. Rosenthal founded the Tribeca festival with her husband, Craig Hatkoff, and her business partner, Robert DeNiro, in 2002, to help revive Lower Manhattan after the 9/11 terror attacks.
She has talked for years about turning the festival into a platform for the distribution of at least some of the thousands of independent films produced each year. But she and her partners only recently struck deals with cable and telecom operators like Comcast, Cablevision and Verizon FiOS to distribute movies on a pay-per-view basis to about 40 million households. Those films will be available for a period of at least 60 days, Ms. Rosenthal said.
Separately, the Tribeca festival is expected to make a number of feature films, shorts and filmmaker events available to 5,000 purchasers of an online premium pass that will cost $45.
Geoff Gilmore, who was the director of the Sundance festival before joining Tribeca Enterprises as its chief creative officer last year, said that such efforts were needed to keep film festivals from losing their appeal at a time when independent movie-making has been troubled by the collapse of traditional financiers and distributors like Miramax Films and Warner Independent Pictures.
“Festivals don’t have the kind of promotional force they might have had a decade ago,” Mr. Gilmore said.
He acknowledged that it would take time to find a balance between the commercial purpose of Tribeca Film and the curatorial function of the festival, but described such accommodations as necessary.
“It has to do with the changing nature of what a festival does,” he added.
At the Sundance festival in January, YouTube introduced a movie rental option that offered five films, including “One Too Many Mornings” and “Bass Ackwards,” as soon as they had festival premieres. Sundance has also made films available via cable and satellite on-demand services through a program called Sundance Selects.
Cablevision’s Rainbow Media, which owns the Sundance Channel and IFC, has aggressively promoted on-demand arrangements that have increasingly supplanted a theatrical release for less expensive films.
Ms. Rosenthal said that Tribeca had not yet decided how its films would be handled theatrically, though she said the company’s emphasis would be digital media, including DVDs.
Reached by telephone this week, John Sloss, a lawyer and filmmaker representative who helped to found FilmBuff through his interest in Cinetic Rights Management, said he welcomed the proliferation of on-demand services.
“I think it’s a good thing all the way around,” Mr. Sloss said. He noted that FilmBuff, which operates both online and through cable operators, was intended to offer both old and new films, while avoiding association with any one festival or library.
“Trusted filters are going to become more and more critical,” he said.
by Fred R. Conrad