Fade in on a typical day at the Tribeca Film Festival: dazzling images flash across the silver screen, while A-listers flash megawatt smiles for a sea of paparazzi. Skyscrapers loom over the cobblestoned streets of downtown Manhattan.
When the festival debuts its first franchise in Qatar on Oct. 29, the setting will be drastically different—towering palm trees, endless seascapes, sweltering temperatures—but the filmmakers and Hollywood names will all be familiar. The roster for the Doha Tribeca Film Festival includes Mira Nair's big-budget biopic about Amelia Earhart; the Coen brothers' new black comedy, A Serious Man; and Spike Lee's latest venture, Kobe Doin' Work, which will be making its international debut. The goal, says Amanda Palmer, executive director of the Doha festival, is to inspire new talent. "Long term, we want to create a film industry," she says. "Our current priority is film education and financing filmmakers."
Tribeca's expansion to the Gulf was the brainchild of the daughter of Qatar's ruler, Sheikha Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who worked as an intern in 2006 to Jane Rosenthal, cofounder of Tribeca along with her husband, Craig Hatkoff, and Robert De Niro. Since Sheikha Mayassa is also the chair of the Qatar Museums Authority, the Museum of Islamic Art will house most of the screenings. As far as the festival's New York board is concerned, opening an outpost in Qatar upholds its mission of community outreach; the event was initially established in response to the World Trade Center attacks on September 11. "Tribeca Film Festival started with a social purpose and has a popularism to it," says Geoff Gilmore, chief creative officer of Tribeca Enterprises. To that end, Scandar Copti, an Arab filmmaker who serves as the Doha festival's community-outreach programmer, has organized workshops with local citizens that have yielded one-minute films. "Movies are an international language," he says. "They speak to everyone because they're about simple issues in everyday life."
Tribeca is not the only film festival to experiment with multi-city programming. For the first time in its 49-year history, the Zlín International Film Festival for Children and Youth will venture outside the Czech Republic; from Oct. 14 to 16, Europe's longest-running showcase of child-friendly flicks will unveil selections at the New York Czech Center. London-based Onedotzero screens films and develops talent, bringing cutting-edge works to more than 60 cities. To commemorate its 30th anniversary in 2007, the U.S.-based Asian American International Film Festival took festivities to Hong Kong.
It is definitely not a fail-safe formula. For one thing, franchising is costly; after a decade of bringing high-profile films and musical acts to six continents, ResFest, a watershed for up-and-comers, collapsed in 2006. For the past three years, the Sundance Film Festival has screened dozens of titles at the Brooklyn Academy of Music; Robert Redford even made an appearance at this year's kickoff. But when the three-year agreement ended in the spring, the two parties amicably split, and BAM launched its own film festival, BAMcinemaFEST. "It was a little bit of a drain on us, resourcewise," says John Cooper, the director of the Sundance Film Festival.
Still, it seems only natural in the globalized era that a system devised to help low-budget and independent filmmakers court attention from distributors and the media has become a vehicle for promoting filmmaking across cultures. It's the kind of feel-good twist that Hollywood loves.