Tribeca is that rarest of beasts – a proper filmmakers festival

Tribeca is one of those hallowed festivals that gets filmmakers excited. It’s part of the top tier that you forever aspire towards, but never really believe you’ll get into. They program 50 films from 5000 submissions. It’s big enough that Producer Collie McCarthy checked whether I was “sitting down” when he called to break the news that our family-action-adventure Earthy Encounters had been selected. I wasn’t. I fell over.

Thanks to the support of the British Council Travel Grant, Collie and I were soon descending upon New York, accompanied by Earthy composer David Saunders and editor Theo Cowen. Also along for the ride was Steve Kenny, director of Time Traveller – another Collie McCarthy produced film playing at the festival. As if one wasn’t enough. Most people never get a single film selected. Collie had two. The luck of the Irish.

The following is my (frequently breathless) recollection of the events of Tribeca 2018.

DAY ONE – Football

April 21st, 2018. A Saturday morning. Under the Brooklyn Bridge, I experience the ultimate introduction to New York, Tribeca and its filmmakers: A 5-aside soccer tournament. Every year, Tribeca submits a couple of teams to ‘NYFest’, a 42-team industry extravaganza where the cities major companies do battle. Comedy Central are there. Sony too. TIME magazine are considered the pre-tournament favourites.

We, on the other hand, are a team of journeyman has-beens or never-weres. Documentarians from South Korea. Experimental filmmakers from Italy. Out of shape family-action-adventurers from the UK. Gallantly led by Tribeca programmer Ben Thompson we battle through the group stages. I’m determined to make a good impression, scampering around like a maniac. Never mind that it’s all played out in searing twenty-five degree heat, or that tomorrow we’ve got our film’s red carpet premiere. I score a brace against The Hollywood Reporter in a 6-2 demolition. No quarter was given (unwise, considering the power they wield). Just as expectations begin to grow, we are humbled in the quarterfinals – all those years spent in dark edit suites catching up with us.

I limp home and sleep for 16 hours.

DAY TWO – Earthy Encounters premiere

The big day. Our red carpet moment. Interviews. Photos. Glory.

Except Collie is late. He’s literally never been late for anything for as long as I’ve known him. Mercifully programmer Sharon Badal is on hand to give me, Theo and David some red carpet tips. Collie eventually turns up, cool as a cucumber. He leads us onto the carpet where we throw various shades of blue steel – Sharon’s advice immediately forgotten.

Mercifully, the film goes down a storm. Earthy Encounters was the first short to be shot on the Alexa 65, so it’s amazing to see it on such a large screen. We play alongside How Tommy Lemmenchick became a Grade 7 Legend from Canada, and Mirette, also from the UK. Both are brilliant – there are no false notes like you get at many festivals – the quality unnervingly consistent.

Afterwards I take to the podium for a Q&A with fellow directors Bastien and Helen. It’s the last time we’ll be together sober. Ever.

That evening we have celebratory drinks on the roof of the Tribeca Hub. Steve Buscemi and Paul Dano are there (for us, we assume). As if this isn’t enough, we then have the short filmmaker party. The drinks are complimentary, the company wonderful – filmmakers are notoriously good at humoring one another – so things move on apace. I can’t remember anything after 10.30pm. A quick check the next morning tells me I called my Mum at 1.45am, so I’m sure it was a good night.


DAY THREE – Brunch with Robert De Niro

The following morning, Steve Kenny and I attend the festival’s ‘Director’s Brunch’. We’re thrown in with all the feature directors – the festival at pains to make us short filmmakers feel an equal part of proceedings. This is much less common than you think, and to Tribeca’s enduring credit. Co-founders Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal give an opening address, then hang around for some French toast.

I love this festival.

In the evening we have the SAG Cast and Crew party. They’ve hired a bowling alley for the occasion. Collie and I end up locking horns on a pool table. Years of repressed angst – fueled by missed deadlines, screened phone calls and ridiculous requests (“Can we wreck two cars Collie?”) – spills out into our game of 9-ball.

Collie will deny it, but I won convincingly.



A small break in our festival itinerary allows for some much needed R&R – so of course we spend the day watching wall-to-wall films. Some personal favorites from the festival include features We the Animals and Cargo, along with shorts Souls of Totality and 9 at 38. I should also say that Steve’s Time Traveller is legitimately superb. But then we’ve been touring the festival circuit together and I’ve seen it 14 times.

That afternoon we learn that a New York film critic has referred to Earthy Encounters as ‘Spielbergian’. I’m insufferable company (even more so than usual) for the rest of the day.


DAY FIVE – Filmmaker Quiz

Our last day. Already gripped by end of holiday blues – we’d long ceased kidding ourselves this was work – we watch more films and do another Q&A. All eyes though, are trained firmly on the evening’s festivities – the annual Tribeca filmmaker Quiz.

Held in the festival Hub, the competition is populated, like most quizzes, with a mixture of those who have come for the company (and cocktails), and those there for the competition. For those in the latter camp, many more friends are made, and a few others lost. Collie names our team Forty Foot (trumping my choice – Les Quizerables) after his production company. Every the producer. Improbably, we finish in second place. The celebrations are prolonged and raucous.

It is a fitting end to a quite superb festival experience. As we board our plane the following morning, shamelessly clad in our Tribeca memorabilia, we conclude that it’s the best festival any of us has experienced. In amongst the inevitable ‘glamour’ (did I mention Robert De Niro and Steve Buscemi?), what’s most striking is the festival’s commitment to the films and the filmmakers. The programme – packed with diverse voices and an admirable breadth of subjects and themes – remains front and center throughout. Championing its contents is so clearly the drive for all involved.

Tribeca is that rarest of beasts – a proper filmmakers festival.

Earthy Encounters is a short family action adventure. It stars Fionn O’shea (Handsome Devil) and Jessica Barden (The End of the F*cking World), and was the first ever short film to be shot on the Arri Alexa 65 camera. It was funded by the BFI and Creative England’s ‘emerging talent scheme’.

Sam Johnson, Earthly Encounters


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