There Goes the Neighborhood

family-festival-madame-tussauds-by-tribeca-citizenI’ve been wondering aloud for a few weeks now about the Tribeca Film Festival’s relationship with Tribeca, given that so few of the movies were actually shown here this year, but I concluded that that was the price of success, and that the festival did still contribute to the neighborhood with its “drive-in” screenings at the World Financial Center and with the Family Festival.

family-festival-fandango-by-tribeca-citizenfamily-festival-time-warner-tattoos-by-tribeca-citizenfamily-festival-bloomberg-by-tribeca-citizenfamily-festival-shirts-by-tribeca-citizenI had never been to the Family Festival, at least on purpose (I recall accidentally ending up near it one year, and turning away, because I don’t have kids), so I was surprised to see how little it was about Tribeca, either. As I walked up and down Greenwich Street today, the phrase “children’s-industrial complex” came to mind: Big companies dangled kids’ activities as bait to get the parents’ attention, and conceivably the kids’ attention as well. (Get ’em hooked early!) Kids could pose with the Fandango paper-bag puppet or the Time Warner Cable Road Runner (or even get a temporary tattoo of the bird, complete with the phrase “Hook up with me!” on it); jump around in the Coca-Cola inflatable playpen, shaped like the company’s polar bear mascot; do sporting activities with many professional sports’ teams/brands—the Giants, the  Jets, the Knicks, the Rangers, et al; get their picture taken in a Polaroid, AT&T, or Madame Tussaud’s photo-op; and eat free Bloomberg popcorn. Some local businesses, mostly restaurants, were granted had tables along Greenwich, and only after poring over the map did I see that a bunch of Tribeca businesses were under a tent on the lower level of BMCC (see the last photo below). I had walked right by it without noticing it. Among the T-shirts being sold by the Tribeca Film Festival was one that said “Here Comes the Neighborhood.” What neighborhood? Times Square?

It’s ironic that I’m taking the festival to task for being overly commercialized, given that I was wearing my Tribeca Citizen T-shirt and planning on handing out promo cards. But at Greenwich and Harrison it hit me: This was the kind of corporate orgy I work hard to avoid. Perhaps local businesses see a boost from the influx of people, although that’s never seemed the case with street fairs—and this was a street fair on steroids.

I went home without having handed out one card. While telling my partner about it, I asked, “What exactly does this event do for Tribeca?” To which he replied, “It helps our brand.” Does it? The Tribeca Film Festival used to stand for quality, coolness, a bit of outsiderness—it stood in scrappy opposition to the established New York Film Festival. But now it’s become much more about the marketing possibilities, about cross-promotional opportunities. The opening film this year was the fourth installment in the Shrek series, and you don’t get much more middle-of-the-corporate-road than that. Then again, that may represent Tribeca—and Manhattan—these days more than many of us care to admit.

P.S. The kids loved it.




  1. I had similar thoughts. It all felt weird!!! Not what I expected, but then again I always have a quixotic expectation about street fairs…

  2. Me too! I’m the guy who complains about Verizon having a booth at a street fair—as if they have less of a right than he sock vendor to be there. But seriously, today’s festival was like a trade show: You could never forget that everyone was selling something

  3. I kept referring to it as the corporate fair all day long…

  4. This was the worst tff day I’ve been to (and I’ve been to them all) It seemed like all local color was leached out of the event, I couldn’t find the local exhibitor booths that I’ve visited every year (they may have been secreted away somewhere, but they weren’t on the main drag) and there were no local performers, the big stage wasn’t even present. It felt really bare, and I was wondering what all these people were coming to see…

  5. Yeah, this was soooo great for the residents. Thank YOU, Tribeca Film Festival! Just wish every weekend was filled with throngs of people, all-day loud music and drumming vibrating off the buildings into my apt. Not to mention the sweet sound of beeping trucks and workers yelling as they set-up and broke down. And don’t get me started with the baby strollers!!! Maybe next year try and do it out on a Pier and leave us (me) in peace! Now where did I put my needlepoint?

  6. Agreed on all counts…but the Moishe’s moving box “castle” was inspired.

  7. As a parent of children who have performed at the festival for the last I don’t know how many years, I find many aspects of the day fabulous, including the chance for kids in the neighborhood to perform. In fact, the activities inside BMCC for kids were really great this year–an animation studio, how to make a movie etc. These were much better thought through and interesting for kids than previous years. In fact, I think they put all the cool things inside and let all the large commercial entities fend for themselves on the sidewalks where the foot traffic was considerably lower. Also, the child industrial complex is flourishing in Tribeca–just try to buy kids sweater for under $150. Personally, all the high end boutiques and “clubs” are annoying, but look around the neighborhood, that is a $1200 stroller running you down.

  8. I was shocked, too, about the trade show aspect of this year’s Festival. It used to be about THIS neighborhood!!! On the first year, my little (then) daughter enjoyed tumbling around in NYC Elite booth, and she started gymnastics with them. We bought this and that from local venders just to be supportive.
    Where did they go? Did Festival people chose these corporations over local businesses? Did local business decided that the event is not profitable? I was looking for PS234 merchandise booth.
    My daughter and I personally miss the stages right on the street. I’m sure it’s cheaper and make more sense to do performances indoors, but the kids I was with didn’t want to bother going to separate locations, so we missed them all.
    Oh, well, I guess it is the price we pay for the success of the Festival.
    I agree, though not the local vender, thumbs up for Moishe’s moving box “castle”! Very refreshing for this digital age.
    An out-of-town mother commented that “It’s so nice that all the activities are free.” That is true.

  9. my kids loved all the free stuff (that only comes with ridiculous corporate sponsorship) and Moishe’s was inspired–but I was sorry to only hear of the BMCC space just now. We would have gone. We even had a map! Even so, we barely managed to find the imagination playground and the bubbles. Felt really sorry for the Montessori school’s Hop for Hope–their annual anti-cancer fund raiser on Beach Street was a block past where corporation row abruptly ended this year–thanks to the big North stage vanishing. No foot traffic, less hope for kids. And their event is the best in the place for the just-walking set.