Tribeca Film Festival: History and Legacy

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March 17th, 2014

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Tribeca Film Festival is a world-renowned event that was founded in 2002 by actor Robert De Niro, producer Jane Rosenthal and real estate investor Craig Hatkoff. While it does not have the history of older festivals like Sundance or Cannes, Tribeca quickly established itself as a premier destination for films to be showcased, appreciated and marketed. The festival currently draws crowds of up to 3 million people each year. It also generates over $600 million annually. The festival's name comes from an acronym that abbreviates "triangle below Canal Street." The Tribeca neighborhoods have gone up in value since the festival's inception. The area is also a popular filming location, making it an ideal destination for a film festival. Tribeca is held in the spring, usually at the end of April or early May.


Tribeca Film Festival began at a very important time for New York City. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 were still fresh in people's minds. The festival gave the city a positive reason to congregate and interact. Robert De Niro was a driving force behind the festival, joined by the husband-and-wife pairing of Craig Hatkoff and Jane Rosenthal. The event was designed to feature independent films that audiences might otherwise miss. However, the inaugural festival also featured the New York premiere of the big-budget "Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones." New York native and renowned director Martin Scorsese was also involved, curating a "Best of New York" film series that focused on films shot in or featuring New York City.


While many festivals often focus on a specific genre for selected films, Tribeca wanted to be different. From the beginning, the festival offered a wide variety of narrative and documentary movies. Organizers even included an all-day, family-friendly lineup. A street fair was also added to make the festival an experience families could enjoy together. Tribeca teamed with ESPN in 2006 to offer sports-themed movies and panels. Short films have always been featured at Tribeca, and the lineup of shorts available has expanded as well. In 2011, Tribeca even started recognizing video games, showcasing the game "L.A. Noire" due to its groundbreaking face-scanning technology, complex story and powerful acting performances.

Tribeca Cinemas

In December of 2003, the three founding members of Tribeca Film Festival purchased the recently closed "The Screening Room," an art house movie theater on Varick Street in New York City. The facility was remodeled, becoming Tribeca Cinemas. The theater became a new screening location during the festival, and it now houses a mixture of screenings and film panels year round. The theater has since become a tourist attraction in its own right, due to the influence of De Niro and the brand name of the festival.

Special Screenings

The founders of Tribeca Film Festival not only wanted to celebrate current films and help locate the artists of tomorrow, they also wanted to celebrate great films of the past. As a result, the festival's screening lineup often includes a selection of film classics. This gives today's audiences a chance to see older films on the big screen for the first time. "2001: A Space Odyssey" screened at Tribeca in 2008. "A Beautiful Mind" was screened for its 10th anniversary in 2011. "Beetlejuice" was revisited by Tribeca in 2013. The festival has become a popular destination for fans of newer and older films alike.


Tribeca started on a smaller stage, with about 200,000 people visiting the event in 2002. However, as the numbers have steadily increased each year, more workers and more space have been needed to keep up with demand. While the festival was originally held mainly in the neighborhoods below Canal Street that gave Tribeca its name, it has now expanded its screening rooms to other areas throughout Manhattan to meet demand and limit congestion. While the festival was originally overseen by its three founders, it is now its own corporation. Tribeca officially became a company, Tribeca Enterprises, in 2010. People come from all over the world to visit New York during the festival to experience the city, the films and Tribeca events.

The film industry is often associated with Hollywood, Los Angeles and the West Coast. Tribeca Film Festival successfully brought attention and acclaim back to the Big Apple, especially during a time when the city was suffering under the weight of tragedy. Tribeca Film Festival receives over 5,000 film submissions a year, and it selects about 100 shorts and 170 features for screening during the two-week event. The festival continues to evolve every year and is likely to remain a festival powerhouse for decades to come.