Bright Lights Film Journal

Notes from the Tribeca Film Festival Underground

This Tribeca Film Festival is on, and I live on 12th St. and 2nd Ave, across the street from one and a block away from another theaters at which it was being held, so I am hereby appointing myself Bright Lights After Dark’s accidental man on the scene!

SATURDAY – 8 AM– Still awake after an all night video editing session, I go outside to score some diet Pepsi and there, chipper as can be, are about 8 volunteer intern-ushers standing around in the dead middle of the empty sidewalk, with their laminates and clipboards, surveying the long rows of cold gray metal ticket line dividers across the street from my door. They’re looking at me as if I’m trying to grab a comp ticket to the new Guy Maddin flick. Dudes, no one is on the street! Your gray line dividing stalls are empty. Now give me a fuckin’ comp ticket to the new Guy Maddin…

Tribeca Film Festival is just awash in Am Ex sponsorship, oh and some idiotically pretentious beer whose name I am proud to say they’ve failed to make stick in my head. Stella Artois? D’oh! This beer is so pretentious that the bartender will stop the train just to pour it off the tap without too much foam. Target demographic? ex-frat boy Wall Streeters still wet behind the ears. What do they have to do with cinema? Promoters clearly don’t know how to “brand” this film festival so it becomes an extension of the whole cigars-steaks-sports-American Psycho aesthetic.

SATURDAY – 2 PM — After a long nap, I go out to buy cigarettes. My neighborhood, Manhattan’s East Village, once a haven for weird artist types, has become a combination NYU campus and Asian ex-pat drinking ground. Now I know how the Parisians must have felt when they had Earnest Hemingway and F. Scott lording it around back in the 1920s, flush with exchange rate relative wealth. I feel like some crying Native American watching the litter along the highway.

The question is, what are all these bleached Midwestern tourists doing this far down from Times Square? Suddenly it hits me like the cold rush off a dirty crack pipe: Am Ex and that stupid beer have turned Tribeca Film Festival into a tourist attraction, ala Mardi Gras, “jazz fest” and– not long from now I imagine–Burning Man. Dudes! Can you imagine soccer moms with five kids and their same-aged best friends (they all get to bring one along– so ten kids total) all clinging to each other and treating each new environment as if another new store at the local mall as they walk through Burning Man, or like, 1970 Altamont? Oh Hell’s Angel’s dagger, where is thy sting?

Don’t these tourists realize that you can’t just “see” the festival? You have to pick your movies wisely and the good ones are sold out by the director’s friends six days before you get there? Hmmm, maybe they’re the relatives of the film crews on these “underdog” indies. Either way, I just don’t get it. Most of the stuff on the roster is usually unsigned for a reason. Some are great, most are padded shorts seething with unconscious film grad misogyny.

Now it’s Wednesday, another beautiful gray dawn… and still the volunteers in the laminates stand awaiting… waiting for their stalls to be filled. And me, I’m just an ordinary guy on his way to his ordinary job, who just happens to be living right across the street… just one of five million stories in the naked city.