Tribeca Film Festivalkicked off with a party last night, but it's anything but a festive time for independent filmmakers. Tribeca's headquarters are only a few blocks from Wall Street and that proximity has been both a blessing and a curse. Living in the shadow of the financial industry, indie filmmakers have benefited from the generosity of wealthy hedge fund angel investors, and now they're feeling the squeeze. It's harder than ever to raise financing for films and find distribution.
Tribeca Film Festival is reacting to the recession by slimming down and getting more commercial. It's scaling back its slate of films to just 85, less than half the peak number of movies a few years ago. And the festival is also taking a more upbeat tone, opening and closing with comedies. (If you've ever suffered through a grim film fest drama or a depressing documentary you know what a turnaround that is). Festival heads Robert DeNiro and Jane Rosenthal see that comedies are booming at the box office and they're trying to tap into that demand for escapism. That's not to say it's all sweetness and light - a documentary profiling the mortgage crisis called "American Ca$ino" is premiering at the festival.
Tribeca serves as a market for distributors to snap up foreign and domestic rights for films. But that business is suffering along with the economy. Thanks to the global credit crunch and piracy, demand for foreign film rights is on the decline. And buyers of domestic distribution have little incentive to invest - the independent film sector didn't perform well, even in better economic times. One sliver of good news: the films that have made it this far to the festival have a better chance of selling to a distributor.
In the past few years hedge funds and Wall Street poured billions of dollars into the film world, creating a glut of independent films, most of which never saw the light of day. That era is over. Now, a leaner independent film market means only the best content will find funding.
So the movies that do get made will have a better chance at profitability and success.
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