Film festivals give not only upcoming films an opportunity to make a splash but exhibit many smaller movies that are seeking distribution deals. Of the largest festivals canceled by the pandemic — Cannes, SXSW, Tribeca — each has taken a different approach to the crisis.
France's Cannes Film Festival, scheduled for May, is aiming to postpone to June or July. South by Southwest, in Texas, was closed by the city of Austin just a week before its mid-March opening. On Thursday, it announced plans to stream participating films for a 10-day period later this month on Amazon Prime.
Tribeca is still hoping to hold a festival in the fall, but Jane Rosenthal, Tribeca's co-founder and chief executive, acknowledged that would be a smaller scale event taking place over fewer days. The 19th Tribeca had been scheduled for April 15-26.
“What we do later in the year would clearly be a differently programmed festival than what we would have done in April,” Rosenthal said in a phone interview Thursday. Those plans are in flux. For now, Tribeca will make available participating films from its competition categories — those that are judged by juries for awards — on an online hub for those in the industry and press. SXSW is making its movies available to the public, and offering a screening fee to each participating film's makers.
But that approach also risks giving away, for a brief period, what many films most want — distribution. Tribeca is instead aiming to connect movies with buyers and media while preserving a movie's public launch. Tribeca will also, as SXSW has done, announce awards for it competition categories.
"There’s still more we want to do in addition to what we’re releasing," said Rosenthal. “There are certain programs we’d like to be able to do at a later time this year when that’s safe. But this right now serves the filmmakers and the industry for what they need at this time. Getting those films seen by industry and sales people is vital to those creators.”
Some elements of Tribeca will go straight to viewers, including the festival's virtual reality and immersive storytelling entries (available via Oculus) and the advertising exhibition, Tribeca's X Awards (on tribecafilm.com). The festival has already been hosting “A Short Film a Day Keeps Anxiety Away,” with shorts from the festival and Tribeca alumni.
“It’s been hard mostly just to keep up the morale of our team. We’re a festival that started because of 9/11 and our instinct is always to reach out to community and here is a time when you can’t gather, you can’t do things that filmmakers and entertainment people do," said Rosenthal. "So how do you do that in a new way?"