Corine Cohen: Sharon, you have the most interesting job. I read you have been involved with the Tribeca Film Festival from the start. As a film lover, I can’t imagine a better job. What is a typical day like at the Festival?
Sharon Badal: Since most of my time during the submission phase (from October to February) involves watching the films, my day starts with some really good coffee! I watch several hours of films each day, and I’m a morning person, so I like the quiet early morning hours to start watching. As we get further along, my co-programmer Ben Thompson and I meet to discuss the films we’ve watched, gradually winnowing that big pool down. The most fun part comes towards the end of the process, after we’ve selected the films, when we create the programs by carefully considering the order of the films within the programs to create a unique journey for the audience, and finally bestowing the program title and descriptive that is the creative ribbon that wraps each program. The best part, of course, is the festival itself, when we finally get to meet the filmmakers behind these films and everything comes to life. I love my job!
Corine Cohen: How many films do you screen to pick each years films?
Sharon Badal: This year we received nearly 3100 submissions. Our programming team consists of myself, a co-programmer, two associate shorts programmers and 6 screeners. We each watch hundreds of films, and I myself watched over 900 shorts, both submissions and recommendations from my team. We selected 60 shorts to play in 9 programs this year.
Corine Cohen: Are there any animated shorts this year and have there been any in the past you were wild about?
Sharon Badal: We select what we believe are the strongest films, and those films dictate the programs, not the other way around. It all depends on the year and the “crop” of films submitted for that year. We do have an animated short in one of our New York shorts programs called “Wrapped”, and we have had animation programs in years past, but we respond to the selections. For example, this year we have a program called “Gallery Opening,” which is very artistic and cerebral, and another called “FML” which is curated for a younger demographic that is technology-driven and will be available for free online concurrent with the festival dates. It’s fun to see what the cultural zeitgeist is each year, and we respond accordingly.
Corine Cohen: What are your favorite shorts this year? If I only could see ten which ten would you suggest watching?
Sharon Badal: We live with these films bouncing around in our heads and hearts for so many months, that I simply can’t pick favorites. Each film, and each filmmaker becomes part of our Tribeca family and we take great efforts to make certain that every film is treated with equal respect and admiration, so they’re all my favorites! In terms of what to see, that depends entirely on your taste – do you prefer docs or narratives? Would you like to see international shorts or homegrown New York shorts? Each shorts program has its own ride within each program a variety of stories and styles.
Corine Cohen: The festival happened right after Sept 11th, what has changed since the inception of the festival?
Sharon Badal: The inaugural festival was our response to 9/11 in order to help with the revitalization of Lower Manhattan and bring people, light and laughter back to our community. As we head into our 14th edition, it’s great to be back downtown and I think that initial mission has remained intact in that we embrace the public, invite them and include them in the festival. With so many free events, such as the Family Festival and the Drive-In, and this year our hub at Spring Studios, the festival definitely has something for everyone and reflects the diversity of New York.
Corine Cohen: Do you have a top ten list of shorts over the past 10 years? Which films moved you and what was it about the film that you loved.
Sharon Badal: I’ve screened so many thousands of shorts over the years that it’s impossible to come up with a list. Personally, I love black comedy so Oscar winners like “Curfew” or “New Tenants” were films that I really enjoyed, and this year’s Oscar winner “The Phone Call,” (which won and qualified it for nomination at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival) is a great example of a film that pulls you in right away and creates an emotional connection to the characters. It’s a beautiful film that’s devastating and hopeful at the same time, which is very difficult to do.
Corine Cohen: Is there anyway to screen old films from past festivals?
Sharon Badal: After the festival run, many filmmakers put the shorts on their website, and you can also find great shorts via Vimeo Staff Picks, Short of the Week, or my weekly shorts pick on our tribecafilm.com website.
Corine Cohen: This is my first year at the festival and I want to see as much as possible do you have any advice?
Sharon Badal: My best advice is to select films that you don’t have the opportunity to see otherwise, such as the shorts programs or international features. In both cases, there are limited opportunities to watch these films on the big screen with an audience, and that definitely is a different experience from watching them at home so I would take advantage of that.
Corine Cohen: Thanks, Sharon for doing this interview. Hope to see you at the Tribeca Film Festival!
SHARON BADAL is director of short film programming and initiatives for Tribeca Enterprises and head of shorts programming for the Tribeca Film Festival. She has been with the festival since its inception and has produced special projects for various Tribeca entities since 1999. She is the author of Swimming Upstream – A Lifesaving Guide to Short Film Distribution. Badal is on the faculty at New York University Tisch School of the Arts Kanbar Institute of Film & Television. She previously held executive positions in motion picture distribution and marketing and has extensive live-event producing experience. She is the executive producer of the feature documentary “Let’s Roll,” which follows a group of Los Angeles firefighters as they bicycle across the United States to reach New York on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. She holds a B.F.A in film & television production and an M.A. in cinema studies/business, both from NYU.