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May 21, 2007

Tribeca x 4: Sydney Meeks


During the 6th Tribeca Film Festival I had the pleasure and honor of interviewing some of the filmmakers, actors, producers and festival executives. Next there is an excerpt from the interview with Sydney Meeks, President of the Tribeca Film Institute.

Durante el 6º Festival de Cine de Tribeca tuve el placer y honor de entrevistar a algunos de los cineastas, actores, productores y ejecutivos del festival. A continuación, un extracto de la entrevista con Sydney Meeks, Presidenta del Tribeca Film Institute.

Pablo Goldbarg: One part of the mission that TFI has is to celebrate filmmaking for all ages. I wonder which is the importance of taking the filmmakers since they are young enough. Probably that’s not happening in most of the film festivals worldwide…

Sydney Meeks: It’s definitely something that we thought about when we were coming out with the programs that we wanted to do. Of course it’s New York city, and there is just a wealth of incredibly interesting people. Especially with the program for teenagers we learned that there were so many young people in New York. It’s such a filmmaking city but we were surprised even to know about all the different organizations out working with youth, and so we want to come out with something to do, to celebrate not only those filmmakers, but the organizations working with them. In addition, this year we started a new program; it’s a pilot program that we hope to expand and perhaps take other schools of the city and maybe even beyond that called “Tribeca Teaches”. And there we even reach a younger set because we work with middle school students. So we have fifth, sixth, seventh grade, and eight grade students along with high school students working in their school, and we brought festival films into the school. So, yes, I do think that a lot of major film festivals I know, certainly there are some children film festivals, and there’s a lot of emphasis on having films that work for all ages, and they have family friendly film festivals, but there aren’t many film festivals that they are working with youth in the way that we are. I don’t think of another or some. But we are doing free screenings, specially for the high school grades, we reach close to three thousand students with free community screenings during the festival, and before hand during the year. So, we are trying to expand and make new and more independent film more accessible to young people thorough the city.

P.G.: The Tribeca All Access connects filmmakers based on New York if they are “diversity” from Latinos to Afro-Americans. New York enjoys this difference and the TFI is enhancing that. How do you feel in terms of working with all these groups which probably they don’t have the same access to everything?

S.M.: That was one of the reasons the TAA program started. Our festival programmers were seeing lots of films coming and they weren’t seeing the kind of diversity of voices we’d like to see. We’d like to see the actual representation our country actually is (laughs)… in terms of the stories that are being told. In TAA we do have a lot of filmmakers who come from New York, but it’s open to filmmakers of color from all over the United States. Most of them are based on L.A. or N.Y., because that’s where you go if you’re trying to make movies, but they do come from other places as well. It’s something we think it’s important if you look to the statistics from, for instance, the WGA or the DGA, there’re still pretty low. I think, and I could be wrong, but the last stat we had from the WGA was that filmmakers of color comprise about six to seven percent of their membership. It’s probably some interesting stats from women as well (laughs)…This program really does focus on men and women, and, you know, the feeling is that there are incredible stories to tell. These are talented filmmakers. It’s a competitive program. They are filmmakers who really persevere. They’re gonna get their stories told with or without TAA, but the idea is that whatever we can do to help them facilitate the process of getting the work made and to help them with their career in some way, shape and form… that’s what we wanna do. Taking more traditional underrepresented and getting it… I mean, the industry is excited about it too. It’s not just us that were thinking “oh, these filmmakers are getting the comments, are meeting these people, and that’s great for them”. It’s great for the industry. They’re getting to see works that probably they wouldn’t see. Not ‘cause they don’t really want to. It’s just such a crazy, competitive and busy world in this business that we are actually helping them by saying “here there are thirty two wonderful projects for you to choose from. Which one are you interested in?”, and they are getting to see: “hey look, we are such and such company, and these three projects are..., and they take the meeting with the filmmaker, and we hope that that connection is gonna go somewhere.

P.G.: Can you tell me please about this year’s experience with the film fellows?

S.M.: Well, the “Film fellows” is obviously a separate program, and that’s for the younger set. That is just for New York based students, and that is students who really enjoy film, most of them already produced or participated in the making of a short film in some capacity. It was really great this year. Lisa Lucas who runs the program worked really hard to make that a diverse slate of programming for the students. So, they did everything from have individuals from the industry that work as film producers, as cinematographers, as PR people, even people from the non-profit world, from a funding organization… they came and they met with the students, and they talked about the different jobs that are possible in the industry. They met with representatives from film schools, universities, so they have a sort of “here are the practical things”, as well as I also think they had a really good time. They learned about networking, they went to film festival events, they went to screenings, they met with other filmmakers, they did Q&A sessions and that type of stuff. So, the idea was really to immerse them in a “Behind the scene” of the festival, and in the film industry. I think it was really successful. At the end they had to present a film pitch to their friends and families and special guests (laughs)... a lot of them were very , very nervous! But they each got up on the microphone in front of the group, and they did a really short one-to-two-minute pitch about the film they want to work on. Lisa is working in getting each of them as another new element she is doing this year: setting internships in the Fall. I know they are working really hard to actually match them well, so if the student says “I really want to be an editor, this is what I’m interested in, I’m working on Final Cut”, well, let’s try to make them set up with another editor or somebody working on post. Different areas, we are trying to set them up for at least a six-week internship in the Fall. The other thing about the Fellows program is that it’s this two-week immersion, this camp or program, so they all become close friends and they are gonna keep in touch. We do activities during the year. We have a screening, we invite them all, we do a workshop just for them or the internships I was just speaking of. But we also ask of them, for instance if we decide there is a movie coming out we want or we get permission to screen maybe for third graders or younger students, we ask the fellows to volunteer time with the Institute so they serve as Ambassadors for youth media thorough the city. So we may say “we need five people for this screening”. So they also have to give us a commitment for service, so we take them to different schools and have them meet with other students and tell them their experiences as a fellow, and how using film can be another way to get your story out there, or your voice.

P.G.: You have a lot of things to do with the New York communities, with different kind of backgrounds, not only with the TAA but also with “Tribeca Teaches” in the Bronx, and different neighborhoods. This is not only Tribeca and Chinatown, you also have a collaboration with the “Made in NY” program from the Mayor’s Office and the New York Council of the Arts. How important is for you this task and mission of integrating New York into the Institute?

Oh, that was very well put. I need to say what you just said. I agree with you (laughs). Yes, it’s very important. You keep hearing it in the press and our founders will say that: The festival itself started over thing. That was 9/11 and what happened down here. The mission was bringing people back town and revitalizing the neighborhood and celebrating. Saying “what can we do to help the community?” One thing was, they’re film producers and they thought about film. And the fact also that film can be healing and it can bring people together. But, in general, most of them who work here they can’t think of a better place to have a film festival than in New York City. It’s just this giant, incredible… all these people that are here. So, it’s important to us to be a festival for New York and about New York. We want to reach out… we started downtown. We care about these neighborhoods, but at the same time we’re moving forward. We want to expand, and we want to be as inclusive as we can of different neighborhoods, different groups, and really try to have a wide representation of the city, because it certainly is a city with lots of vibrant communities that can be and should be celebrated.

P.G.: Thank you for using the power of film to promote understanding, tolerance and global awareness. Those aren’t my words. They belong to the TFI’s mission. Thank you very much.

S.M.: Thank you very much, it has been a pleasure talking to you.

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