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Claus Mueller

Claus Mueller is  Senior New York Correspondent

He is based in New York where he covers the festival scene, professor at Hunter University, accredited member of the Foreign Press Center,  U.S. Department of State NY.


New York: Tribeca Film Festival 2016 Innovations

As in past editions the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival continues to expand traditional film festival limits to embrace new areas as eagerly anticipated by its audience. Before the Berlin Film Festival incorporated innovative television in its program schedule several years ago, Tribeca had already shown in 2004 the last episode of the hit show Friends. This year it presented 16 television programs, ‘The Best of the Small Screen on the Big Screen’ incorporating series finales of HBO’s Six Feet Under and the complete O.J.: Made in America program. It also premiered The Night Manager (AMC), the final episode of The Good Wife (CBS) and a sneak preview of ‘Grace and Frankie (Netflix) to name some others. With the boundaries between the media getting smaller each year and established directors eager to produce more programs and features for television, the television section of Tribeca will surely become bigger. The fest also provided for the first time a venue for The Whitney Museum and the Guggenheim Museum holding screenings.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art featured Tribeca’s superb opening night documentary First Monday in May’ about the 2014 annual Met Ball fundraiser at the Costume Institute. The documentary provided a stunning presentation and analysis of the event.  Themed ‘China: Through the Looking Glass’ the impact of Chinese culture on western designers was demonstrated.  As depicted by the documentary, The Met Ball attracted social, political and media celebrities as well as other glitterati and exceeded its fundraising goals.

A focus on interactive story telling had been established by the Tribeca Film Institute in 2012 anticipating the tremendous growth of digital storytelling and virtual reality use was well reflected in the 2016 edition. The current expansion included full time activities at the festival hub on Varick Street with numerous events open to the public which prompted long waiting lines for the most appealing programs. The hub schedule included an experiential section with interactive and VR installations in the Storyscapes part and more than 15 VR projects in the Virtual Arcade. This virtual reality bazaar covered 18 projects showcasing the potential of the new medium’s 360 degree perception.  With its broad range the VR experience offered a mind expanding exposure for novices, though the viewing headsets, still a bit bulky, were sometimes heavy on the head.  In past applications VR has been used commercially for real estate ventures, by the Chinese to increase tourism, and has been the driving force for gaming for many years. Now VR has morphed into a true art form. Spectators are able to move within the images and engage in immersive viewing of brief productions on a wide range of themes from the fate of a Gaza family, horror scenarios, science fiction ventures, and romantic episodes to environmental issues. That section was one of the most popular attractions of the hub. On one stand products  using   transcranial electrical stimulation were explained  which under the guidance of a physician supposedly enhanced cognitive development; another stand promoted  a vest with physical feedback and vibration functionality leading to a  neosensory music experiences. Stepping across the hallway visitors could test their minds ability moving balls without touching them or spend several minutes in a ‘coffin’  reliving through sound and smell the last moments of a celebrities life. In one section the world’s biggest hacking conference was held. The TFI Interactive and Playground addressed the interest in hacking, digital security, and innovative media technologies with a strong emphasis on involving the audience through hands on experiences. It is noteworthy that the Virtual Arcade incorporated many issue and change oriented production’s and that for the first time a day long market pace for digital and online content was held, the Tribeca Digital Creators Market, presenting screenings and discussions. A principal sponsor for the Victual Arcade Imagination Day was the Bloomberg Philanthropies.

This year’s Tribeca expansions edition continues a longlist of innovations ever since the fest was established in 2001.  Before YouTube existed Amazon and TFF held a digital short film context in 2005 with over 1000 entries. The first cell phone shot film This Bad in Afghanistan, a 70 minute film produced for $200 by Cyrus Frisch premiered at Tribeca in 2007.  Three years later Tribeca went online with some of its best features and shorts. The same year the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards were introduced to honor those innovations which disrupted in-the-box mindsets and created new values and markets. Accompanied by breakout seminars this full day event is intellectually stimulating and continues to be one of the most thought provoking parts of the festival. The 2016 awards honored more than 20 individuals including Dr. Richard Leakey for his life time achievements in the environmental and wildlife area, the Theodor Parker prize to Nate Parker for his feature The Birth of a Nation on Nat Turner’s slave rebellion, the Suskind family for, through cartoon imagery and scripts, finding a way of communication for their son Owen who fell silent at the age of three, and Alec Ross for his ground breaking book The Industries of the Future. Others received awards for reforming the juvenile justice system, providing successful training to prison inmates, and initiating online credit avenues.

In a packed breakout session Eric Ross, a former aide to Hillary Clinton, presented a panel on his position on the knowledge industry and the importance of controlling massively expanding data. This control provides power. Scientific and technological breakthroughs could provide solutions to massive problems our societies face though we live in a period of growing uncertainties. Little can be done about growing social inequalities. As a fellow panelist pointed out the conditions for change may be found in control of information and technologies but the principal factor in inducing change is to instill the motivation to act which is more difficult to attain than the mastery of computers or generation of more knowledge. It was striking that the panel’s emphasis on science and technology and motivations is closely tied to the German philosopher Juergen Habermas’ view that the ideology of science and technology masks class bound interest and his view that our principle problem today is the inability to motivate people. ‘The Tribeca Imagination Day  Powered by the Hatchery’ , run by Richard Branson, sponsored  by Bloomberg Philanthropies and located at Tribeca’s hub,  investigated in 16 sessions, with technology and science experts, artists and intellectuals, themes such as artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, medical developments, virtual reality, identity formation  and other relevant issues.

Another of Tribeca’s innovations that has grown since it was introduced in 2011 is its inclusion of a gaming focused section and the establishment of the TFI Media Fund with grants from $50.000 to $100.00, as well as focusing on immersive transmedia works through the 2013 Storyscapes program. The 2014 Virtual Reality / Interactive section and Games for Change Festival were set up in 2014, followed in 2015 by DEF-CON the hacking conference and Tribeca Talks: These sections have been expanded, in particular with the establishment of the VR Arcade this year.

As evidenced by numerous documentaries shown this year at the Tribeca Film Festival, the fest has kept its hard edge by critically covering US and international issues.   In an outstanding presentation in a multimedia format the documentary The Bomb closed the festival preceded by panel with expert activists and filmmakers.  Guided by the goal to revive the debate about the danger of nuclear weapons the one-hour production tracked on six screens surrounding the audience and chronicled the development of nuclear weapons including archival material not shown before. A live score accompanied the screening. A panel preceding the screening included the film maker Smiriti Keshari and activists like Michael Douglas. They stressed that nuclear weapons were the most significant threat we are facing today and the great need to educate the public. Michael Douglas, who is now working on documentary about Boeing’s involvement with a nuclear accident, pointed out that public education about nuclear issues through television and film is a myth. ABC’s ‘The Day After’ is the only exception. Education is the domain of documentary filmmakers.  But as ‘The Bomb’ showed, ever since Hiroshima, the greatest nuclear disasters have been caused by the nuclear energy industry. This includes the worst cases of the 1979 near meltdown of the Three Mile Island reactor, the 1986 meltdown of Chernobyl and the 2011 meltdown of Fukushima which resulted respectively from an operational mistake, political orders overriding safety procedures, and the breakdown of the cooling systems aggravated by the tsunami. Of the existing 15,000 nuclear weapons 90% are controlled by the USA and Russia, with the remainder held by seven other countries, and the design of new smaller nuclear weapons rendering global security increasingly precarious. Past experience shows that with the threat of aging nuclear plants, the unresolved issues of nuclear waste disposal and the problems of maintaining safely, aging nuclear facilities constitute an equally large threat to our existence.

All major international film festivals introduce each year new more differentiated thematic programs and technologies driving all aspects of media developments. Tribeca is unique because compared to  North American film festivals it has proven to be the most innovative one which like the Berlinale is not restricted to the trade but open to the public,

Claus Mueller,


About Claus Mueller