Five years ago Robert De Niro founded the Tribeca Film Festival with the intention of bringing life, commerce and art back into downtown Manhattan. Walking through the clean, stroller-filled streets of Tribeca last week, it seems he’s accomplished his goal. Now in its sixth year, it’s clear: the festival is no longer here to bring life back to Downtown. Screenings have spread uptown as far as Harlem. This year, a bit of Tribeca, the most expensive zip code in the United States, has even made its way to the South Bronx—more than most Manhattanites can say.
Tribeca Teaches is a new, five-week program taught by Tribeca Film Institute Teaching Artists and visiting filmmakers, during which students will produce their own films and create a “classroom snapshot.” The program was launched a few weeks ago at Bronx Prep, a beautiful blue island populated with a team of committed teachers and students in a dismal urban landscape, littered with garbage and a notorious history.
Bronx Prep is a charter school that was founded with 100 fifth and sixth graders in 2000 with the goal of preparing underserved kids for college. This year they will graduate their first senior class. All of them got into college, nearly all with financial-aid packages.
“This is a very exciting time for us,” says Kristin Kearns Jordan, executive director of Bronx Prep. “It’s spring, our first class is graduating and having Tribeca here has been a wonderful opportunity for our students—not only to learn how films are made, but also to see the other side of filmmaking, beyond the actors. The invisible jobs that go into making movies, exposing them to careers they might never have heard of. At the same time, they get a chance to tell their own stories; what makes each of them unique, and to see that their story is valid.”
Shaunte Edmonds, a seventh grade literacy teacher and participant in the program, has noticed a difference in her kids. “We always encourage conversation here; my kids talk to each other. But this gave them an opportunity to learn things they didn’t know about each other, the things that make them unique as individuals. Also, they learned that having those differences, with room for each person to be his or herself, are what makes us a community.”
When I spoke to the students at Bronx Prep involved in the program, they all said they loved the process, not just the filmmaking—which was harder than they thought it would be—but the whole experience: learning how to tell stories, learning about themselves.
Monique, a shy sixth grader, told us that even though she didn’t see a career as a filmmaker in her future, she would participate again because, “I think I could help people.”
Garfield, a sixth grader from Jamaica, showed me his collage, pointing out each item and explaining the meaning of the pictures. The beautiful fashion model? “She will one day be my wife,” he said with a straight face.
Each class did individual projects—ranging from music videos, with the kids making up their own rap and dance moves, to straight short films. No matter how much I begged, they would not perform their dance or rap for me live, forcing me to wait for the screen version. These short video pieces will then be professionally edited and then screened for nearly 600 students, staff, families and friends as part of the Bronx Prep Community Day.
Part of the Tribeca Teaches program has also been watching influential youth-made films, such as A Girl Like Me (Reelworks Teen Filmmaking) and Sonata (Ghetto Film School), in addition to learning from the filmmakers themselves. They watched Matt Ruskin’s The Hip Hop Project, which premiered at the TFF last year and is set to be released nationwide May 11. Another Tribeca alumni, filmmaker Andre Robert Lee, hosted a discussion about his film-in-progress, The Prep School Negro, and shared what he experienced while attending the elite Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia. Benson Lee’s current film, Planet B-Boy, premieres this Saturday during Tribeca and will be screened at a special event in the Bronx.
I’ve heard a few folks grumbling about the expansion of the TFF, complaining that it’s called “Tribeca” but the screenings and events are now all over the city, but the Tribeca staff, as is to be expected, sees the growth as a positive change.
“By bringing talented artists and unique films to classrooms in the Bronx, we will be able to foster a larger number of students’ appreciation for film and enrich their educational experience,” explained Sydney Meeks, president of the Tribeca Film Institute. “Our goal with the TFI and the Bronx Preparatory Charter School collaboration is to extend the reach of the Tribeca Film Festival beyond the neighborhoods of Manhattan. It is our hope that the program will pave the way for future partnerships with schools in every borough.”
Although the whiners that complain the festival’s original purpose to bring energy downtown is being forgotten (Tribeca seems to be doing just fine on its own these days), the overall intent of infusing energy into areas that need it, has not.
The timing of the festival is noteworthy as well, according to TFF’s executive director, Peter Scarlet.
“We have been at war every year since the festival began,” said Scarlet. “This is not a peace-time festival. More than anything else, this film festival is about connection because it is only through connection and communication that we can have understanding.” Certainly connecting with our neighbors throughout the city, including the outer boroughs, is a good place to start.
The Tribeca Teaches program culminates in two events, including an in-school film festival for the Bronx Prep community, which essentially expands the Tribeca Film Festival experience to the Bronx Prep student body, bridging the gap between Tribeca and the Bronx.
April 27: Three 2007 Tribeca Film Festival films will be screened at the in-school mini festival.
April 28: Community Day will be held in celebration of the conclusion of “Tribeca Teaches: Films In Motion.” Planet B-Boy will have a simultaneous free screening at the “Drive-In,” located in the World Financial Center Plaza, as well as in the Bronx. Both screenings will open with a battle between b-boys from all over the world. Bronx screening, 3872 3rd Ave.; Drive-In located betw. South & Vesey Sts. (betw. West Side Hwy. & Hudson River); approx. 8., free.
May 4-5: Our City, My Story, NYC-made youth media, highlights the city’s young filmmakers. May 4, AMC 34th St., 312 W. 34th St. (betw. 8th & 9th Aves.); 7:30. free.
For more information visit www.tribecafilmfestival.org or call 646-452-5296.
Check out our reporter Sara Karl’s mighty fine elocution skills in this video supplement to her article, Tribeca in the Bronx. After all, it’s more than a pricey film fest for the elite.