States of Independence
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‘I want to see documentary become a dominant medium’

Tribeca film festival programmer Cara Cusumano hopes nonfiction will be the way forward in film

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As part of our new summer US project States of Independence we've invited our favourite 30 American curators, magazines, creatives and institutions to takeover Dazed for a day.

Tribeca – the film festival founded by Robert De Niro, among others – are parting the tide to make way for previously unheard voices in cinema through their film festival and Tribeca Film Institute. Today, they provide some insight into the future of film, expound on how they support artists year-round, and select some new talent to keep an eye on.

As one of Tribeca's film festival programmers, Cara Cusumano scours submissions and far-flung festivals for the films that will set Tribeca on fire. The festival – founded in 2002 by Jane Rosenthal, Robert De Niro and Craig Hatkoff – was created in response to the 9/11 attacks with an aim to "redefine the festival experience". Now coming off of its 12th year, TFF has mutated into a draw for millions of people. So with all eyes on Tribeca, we grilled one of their lead programmers about which direction she'd like to see independent cinema heading. Does the future lie in documentary?

I

CONQUER THE MASSES

"For filmmakers today it's hard to get noticed – the landscape is crowded with many films and festivals offering a new crop of premieres every few weeks, yet few opportunities to stand out from the pack. There's a lot of quality work out there, and great curation at festivals, but it can still be hard for filmmakers to connect with the right audiences, who understandably feel overwhelmed by the number of options in terms of both films and start-up distribution platforms.

I think the solution will come as we continue to develop new modes of consumption, as well as through audience cultivation. As a festival programmer, I think festivals play a large part in the solution to this hurdle, providing a platform to showcase great work directly to audiences, press, buyers, and juries, and allow the strongest films to excel. Success at a festival with a strong debut feature is still one of the best ways to get your name on the map as a new voice."

“There’s less and less space for films in the middle ground, and I think that divide will only grow as the technology does” – Cara Cusumano

II

WAITING FOR CHANGE

"I'm not sure it's possible to guess what will be happening in the film industry in 2035 – the way that technology is advancing and changing is happening so fast that it might be a completely unrecognisable landscape by then. I like to think some genuinely revolutionary idea is right around the corner that will completely upend things, the same way the technological revolution did, and even the industrial revolution before that. There needs to be and will be a momentous break from the past that will result in something authentically new and, for the moment, unforeseeable.

If I had to prognosticate, I'd say that today you see big films getting bigger and the smaller films embracing more focused distribution, and I think as the technology develops into the future, it will further enable this dynamic. The big blockbuster movies will have even more technological resources for impressive effects and eye-popping exhibition, while on the other side, the technology will enable even more creative new distribution models for smaller films to reach their target demographics more directly and efficiently. There's less and less space for films in the middle ground, and I think that divide will only grow as the technology does."

“I would recommend new filmmakers focus on nurturing their relationships with collaborators” – Cara Cusumano

III

JAZZ UP THE GENRE

"I want to see documentary become a dominant medium. There are so many exciting storytellers working in nonfiction; the way the form has matured in even just the last ten years has been really exciting. Audiences will come around to docs as just another kind of movie with their own genres just like fiction films (I've seen everything from comedy docs to horror docs). The reality TV movement has been so strong, and I think even though the shows are not typified by high quality, the appeal to the audience really comes from them wanting to see something true. If that impetus can be combined with the current trend towards high quality, prestige television, I think the result could be a movement of sophisticated, artful, massively popular nonfiction programming, which I would love to see happen.

I would recommend new filmmakers focus on nurturing their relationships with collaborators. One struggling filmmaker doesn't have a lot of resources, but we've seen many times when filmmakers band together and pool resources they become a movement and demand attention for themselves. Strength in numbers."

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