Tribeca tries to prove video games are the future of film festivals

The inaugural edition of Tribeca Games attempts to create a film festival-worthy buzz around a roster of upcoming video games.

In 2011, the Tribeca Film Festival’s unprecedented decision to include a video game in the Official Selection may have appeared to be nothing more than a glorified cross-promotion between a for-profit festival and an elite publisher. with a new, very expensive blockbuster. to sell. A detective mystery in the tradition of classic films like “The Maltese Falcon” and “The Big Sleep,” Rockstar Games’ “LA Noire” certainly seemed like a natural way to bridge the gap between two different mediums who have been on a trajectory of collision for a long time – according to Rockstar’s Dan Houser, Tribeca felt it was “something new and different that fans of cinematic storytelling would appeal to” – but the choice also reflected the patronizing idea that video games should aspire to be interactive movies.

In the years that followed, however, it gradually became apparent that Tribeca had a broader view of the role video games can play in the arts. Subsequent events became starier and more frequent, and while many of them continued to feature photorealistic AAA titles like Kojima Hideo’s “God of War” and “Death Stranding”, others highlighted independent titles and have focused on the unique elements of interactive storytelling. For each panel on how “Sleeping Beauty” influenced “The Banner Saga”, there was one more on the design of “Firewatch” or the virtual spaces of “The Stanley Parable”.

By 2017, games had become such a pronounced aspect of the Tribeca experience that a mini side event – the Tribeca Games Festival – was created to contain them all. The move sent mixed signals. On the one hand, it made Tribeca the only film festival of its stature to reserve dedicated space for gaming (Sundance, SXSW and other such stalwarts tend to draw the line of VR and multimedia installations). On the other hand, he kept video games away from films in such a way as to isolate their audiences from one another and alter the dialogue between them. It was like a secret area hidden inside the Tribeca device – one that hardcore gamers might know about, but casual types would be free to ignore.

This year, that changes. For the first time in Tribeca’s 20-year history, the festival’s official selections include a full roster of games, with hands-on virtual demos for each one and a jury prize to be decided by a range of heavy hitters. on both sides of the fence (the inaugural panel includes Elijah Wood, Neill Blomkamp, ​​creator of “Into the Mother Lands” Tanya DePass, artistic director of “Hades” Jen Zee and former COO of Nintendo of America Reggie Son-Aime).

The radical change began when Tribeca Games announced last fall a new advisory board made up of Nia DaCosta, Jon Favreau and gaming luminaries like Kiki Wolfkill and Kojima himself. Now, Tribeca is dropping “Film” by its title and rebranding itself as Tribeca Festival in the future, as the 2021 edition of Manhattan’s annual mega-event prepares to officially take a new top-down approach that emphasizes how episodes, immersion, storytelling and video games coexist with cinema rather than just following in its footsteps.

“Lost to chance”

While films are still Tribeca’s main event, the new focus on games is consistent with the festival’s long-term investment in games as a central part of the cultural conversation, and not just one. lateral bar. “It was a natural development,” said Casey Baltes, vice president of Tribeca Games, which has been a key figure at the festival for more than a decade. “When we programmed ‘LA Noire’ in 2011, we really wanted to demonstrate that games are a powerful way to tell stories, and over the years we’ve been able to show that through special events. But our mission is to explore intersectionality – the blurring of lines rather than the separation between mediums. So I think the way we bring the games to the official selection and let them sit next to the movies is unique. “

Baltes said the scheduling process was reminiscent of the film lineup’s assembly routine, although she was more proactive about it this time around. “We had open bids,” she said. “This being the first year, I also wanted to do some outreach just to eliminate the design of what people should submit based on the games we’ve featured in the past. We wanted them to submit based on their interpretation of what storytelling means for video games.

the eight titles that the Baltic team Selected from around 60 participants reflect a striking variety of responses to this prompt, and range from lavish games from major publishers (such as the gothic fairy-tale-inspired action-adventure “Lost in Random”, which is published by Electronic Arts ) to the unique indies of companies that have just made their mark (like the post-apocalyptic puzzle “Signalis” from Humble Games). “The Big Con” is a colorful lo-fi 90s throwback to a cartoon girl trying to save her family’s video store, while the claustrophobic “Twelve Minutes” features the voices of Willem Dafoe, James McAvoy and Daisy Ridley in a Time Loop Story of a Man Stuck in a Violent Home Invasion. Some of the games rely on movie stars and realistic graphics while others (like Shedworks’ gobsmacking, Ghibli-esque desert explorer “Sable”) rely on more generative and ambient forms of world building, but by experiencing them side by side with each one. other – let alone in the context of the other sections of the festival – leaves the visceral impression of an art form developing in several directions at once.

As in a film festival, Baltes pointed out that the lineup showcases talent established alongside creators for the first time, in the hopes that the wide variety of games would reflect the wide variety of people who play them. “Just as the movie audience is diverse in terms of what they would like to see in a movie, so the gaming audience is diverse in terms of the games they would gravitate towards,” she said.

While there is no in-person component to the Tribeca Games in 2021, the phenomenon of COVID-era virtual festivals has opened up a natural opportunity for games to occupy the same space. Those interested in getting their hands on these games can do so by downloading the Parsec app and booking free demo slots for each of the eight titles through the Tribeca website (or at least they could, before most. limited slots are occupied).

The experience isn’t without hiccups – the demos require a ton of bandwidth, some can only be played with a controller plugged into your Mac or PC, and my experience with “The Big Con” ended after that. just seconds when a message popped up that ‘the host is doing something else right now’ – but each of these cleverly self-contained slices of play is structured in such a way that it highlights the storytelling mechanics at work, but never looks like to simple advertisements for the upcoming product.

The art of it all comes first, which is a very different experience than you might get on a booth at E3. Even while playing these games alone at home, you can hear them talking to you, and also to each other. It’s the kind of serious, open-minded dialogue that makes film festivals so vibrant, and hopefully will continue in the physical world when the new incarnation of Tribeca Games hits 3D next year.

As far as Baltes is concerned, this will be the ultimate measure of success. “As a player, I hope people feel seen and validated,” she said. “I hope they’re so excited about what they’re playing that they’re ready and eager to casually talk about it at a table with friends like they would with a movie they saw at the festival. “

The 2021 Tribeca Festival runs from June 9 to 20.

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About Shelly Evans

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