By Tammy Reese
Cara Cusumano is the Festival Director and VP of Programming for the Tribeca Festival. She has been with Tribeca since 2008, during which time the festival has become a globally respected showcase, premiering major work including Oscar-nominated documentaries Virunga and Which Way Home, and first films from Damien Chazelle, Reed Morano, Alma Har’el, Nia DaCosta, and Ryan Coogler. She introduced an episodic programming section to the festival beginning in 2016, making Tribeca the first film festival to add TV as an official section, and subsequently hosting the world premieres of notable series including The Handmaid’s Tale, Chef’s Table, Inside Amy Schumer, The Boys, and Chernobyl. She also oversaw the launch of the festival’s branded content competition Tribeca X in 2016, inaugural standalone Tribeca TV Festival in 2017, and the addition of Tribeca Critics’ Week in 2019, the first of its kind for a North American film festival. In 2021, Tribeca hosted an in-person festival, while also launching three new official categories for the first time since 2016: Tribeca Games, Podcasts, & Tribeca Virtual Premieres.
Prior to Tribeca, Cusumano worked with the Hamptons International Film Festival, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, the Brooklyn International Film Festival, IFP, POV, Chicken & Egg, & Sundance. She frequently serves on festival juries, among them CPH:DOX, Los Cabos Film Festival, DOC NYC, Nordisk Panorama, Bogota Audiovisual Market (BAM), and the Nantucket Film Festival, and has spoken on panels hosted by IFP, the Doha Film Institute, NYU, UnionDocs, the Athena Film Festival, and IndieWire, among others. She has served on the nominating committees for the Cinema Eye Honors, the International Documentary Association Awards, the Gotham Awards, and the Irish Film and Television Academy Awards. She holds degrees in film & cinema studies from Columbia University’s Barnard College and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Cara sat down with us to preview the exciting new updates to the festival this year.
Please tell us the backstory of how you became The Tribeca Festival Director and VP of Programming.
I’ve been with Tribeca for a very long time. This is my 14th year. I was working at festivals in grad school and I liked watching movies. I started out on the screening committee, watching submissions and being part of the programming team. I kept at it, grew to know the festival very well, and here we are 14 years later.
How was the experience for you getting programming together for this year’s Tribeca Festival?
It was challenging but exciting! This is our first festival back in doors since 2019. We’ve grown in that time so I feel this is the most ambitious festival that we have ever launched. We have indoor and outdoor, and online programming. We also have our audio storytelling podcast program and our games program which was launched in the last year. This festival is an expansion in addition to all of the programming that we always do across film, TV, talks, and more. It was a lot to take on but exciting to day to day discover what everybody was able to create in this time and all the amazing work they did. The energy of the creators we were working with all year was really positive.
What are some of the highly anticipated events and programming this year?
The talks are really exciting. Especially because it feels like the kind of events that we haven’t seen come back in quite some time. Being able to experience a film altogether is incredible but also to have the live interaction and appearance by some of the creators at the festival, that’s some of the events that I’m looking forward to.
Taylor Swift is coming, we also have Pharrell Williams and Cynthia Erivo. Common is accepting our Harry Belafonte Award for Social Justice which we just started last year. That will be an hour-long conversation with him.
I really hope people will complement their festival experience with some of these live events.
What went into the Tribeca Film Festival to Tribeca Festival name change?
It was about wanting to capture the full breath of everything that we do. We haven’t been just a film festival since the very first year. The film program has grown and we’re showing more movies than we’ve ever shown before, but on top of that, we’re doing talks, music, podcasts, games, and immersive experiences. We wanted to be sure that those creators felt included and that it is communicated to the audiences the different ranges of experiences they can have in addition to film premieres.
Over 30 members of the New York Woman in Film & Television community have projects in this year’s festival. Alex Cirillo is the Producer of The Captain, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady are the Directors of Endangered, and Jamie Zelermyer’s podcast I Was Never There will premiere at Tribeca, to name a few. What would you like to say to the creatives who were selected to showcase their work at the festival this year?
Thank you! It was so wonderful to discover all of this work and we felt inspired all year long knowing the challenges filmmakers and creators have faced or the last two years to create their work. They turned that into the most original and creative pieces that we’ve seen in the time that I’ve been working here. It’s an incredible testament to the resilience and vibrance of our creative community. We hope that having them at the festival and sharing this work together with an audience, in a theater, for maybe the first time will be the perfect tribute to what everybody has accomplished.
What else would you like our readers to know about the Tribeca Festival?
Tickets are on sale now at https://www.tribecafilm.com/
We have our At Home program as well which I always want to make sure that people know about. So if you’re coming out in person or if you can’t make it to the festival, most of our films are screening online as well. There is a way for everybody to participate.
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