Online, bringing the TFF experience to wider audiences


Free screenings — but with limited (cyber) seating

This year, everything is free at the newly named Tribeca Online Film Festival, where you can follow the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival from the comfort of home. Jon Patricof, chief operating officer of the festival, spearheaded the multi-faceted digital strategy. The initiative includes online streaming of films, web access to events, Q&As with key players, an industry blog and live social media updates by filmmakers.

Easily located on the main website, the Festival Streaming Room presents six features and nine shorts from the official film lineup. Viewers can register to “reserve a seat” for one of the 24-hour online screening windows that commence with the first live theater screening.

 “I’m excited about ‘Donor Unknown’ because it’s about technology and how the web allows families to connect,” Patricof said, in a discussion of the films available for streaming. Directed by Jerry Rothwell, the documentary explores the definition of family as it follows a young woman conceived in the first generation of “test-tube babies” who searches for her siblings and prolific sperm donor father.

A stand-out short on the streaming list is “The Dungeon Master,” written and directed by brothers Rider and Shiloh Strong, who are recognizable from their many television acting credits. The film takes on Dungeons & Dragons, a game often favored by geeky obsessives, in a tale of friends revisiting the role-playing pastime of their youth.

There is a limit of 500 attendees per online screening to control the release of these films, which are available to be acquired commercially. Tribeca is just the exhibitor, not the distributor here, said Patricof. Audience members can vote for the best online feature, which will be awarded $25,000, and the best online short, which will receive $5,000. Statistics on audience size and viewing trends will be shared with the filmmakers.

Tribeca’s chief creative officer, Geoff Gilmore, launched last year’s pilot online effort, Tribeca Film Festival Virtual, which cost $45 for an entry pass. “We’re still in the experimental phase of this new frontier,” said Patricof. “I’m focused, along with Geoff, to continue to innovate and make this as strong a platform as it can be. This is how festivals are evolving now, to gain broader audiences. I hope we get it close to right.”

Like last year, a Live From… section allows web viewers inside invitation-only and ticketed events. On tap are opening night festivities, red carpet premieres, panel discussions and the awards show.

Similar to the “Quora” or “Yahoo! Answers” models, Tribeca Q&A offers online visitors the opportunity to ask questions to a selection of filmmakers and festival brass. According to Patricof, “Some respond in real time, others in 24 hours, still others respond in one swoop.” Gilmore and festival juror Whoopi Goldberg have answered queries via video clip.

Writer/directors Rider and Shiloh Strong have responded to a number of questions, such as “Is writing/directing/photography full-time jobs for each of you? Do you do other things to make ends meet between projects?”  Shiloh answered, “Full-time job for me is the endless mission to get a job in acting/writing/directing or photography. I guess my ‘day job’ is photography. I get some gigs shooting events, or portraits at my studio here and there. I also assist and digital tech (work the computer) on some high-end commercial photography jobs to pay the bills. Somehow it seems to work itself out every month, but I never know what is coming next. The life of the freelancer.”

A customized page on Filmmaker Feed lets directors promote their work with statements, bios, links, videos, and Facebook and Twitter updates. In addition to social media feeds, European-born David Dusa, director of “Flowers of Evil,” included a link to his YouTube channel and to the Sciapode production company — founded in 2003 to produce European films — as well as an embedded trailer for his film, in which a young girl moves to Paris from Tehran during political unrest.

There is a notably high ratio of blogger responses to comments left on entries in the Future of Film blog (written by experts in film, media and technology). Topping the list of comments is “Movie Theaters Should Think Like Netflix” — a plan of action to save the movie-going experience by digital media consultant Chris Dorr. He asks, “What if we could create a new model for going to the movies at your local theater that is as consumer-friendly as Netflix? Could this dramatically increase attendance?” More than 80 comments to date have been followed by quick responses by Dorr. Among the other bloggers are Peter Guber, CEO of Mandalay Entertainment, and Brad Wechsler, Chairman of IMAX.

The Tribeca Online Film Festival website is so visually striking, the designer deserves applause. Patricof used his mother’s experience to gauge its navigability. “Was it easy or was it hard?” he asked her, and made modifications accordingly.

As an adjunct to the online festival, Tribeca Film, the comprehensive distribution label under the Tribeca Enterprises umbrella, has made four selections from the official festival lineup available nationwide via television and web on-demand services, from the start of the festival on April 20.  According to Patricof, filmmakers received a “minimum guarantee” or advance from Tribeca Film, which acquired all rights. The cost to watch a film on-demand is determined by the price structure of the platform, such as cable VOD, Netflix Watch Instantly and iTunes, he said. On Time Warner Cable in Manhattan, the films are available on channel 1000.

One highlight in the group is “The Bang Bang Club,” a drama based on the true story of four risk-taking photojournalists in South Africa — starring Ryan Phillippe and Taylor Kitsch — who capture the turmoil in the final days of apartheid from 1990-1994. The Canadian-South African co-production is written and directed by Steven Silver, based on the memoir of two of the photojournalists.

Another pick is “Last Night,” a U.S. production directed by Iranian-born Massy Tadjedin that stars Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington and Eva Mendes, in a New York story about marriage and sexual temptation. As part of the distribution plan, films in this program will screen in theaters across the country after the film festival. Beginning in June, Tribeca Film will begin releasing films year-round, concurrently in theaters and on-demand.