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The Tribeca Film Festival features cutting-edge documentaries and independent narrative films, along with big stars and the promise of massive movie deals. But this year, it has added a new category that prioritizes and embraces short films made with the sponsorship of brands. In another setting, it would be advertising. Here, it looks nearly like any other entertainment.

A key element of these short, brand-sponsored films is their effort to seem “authentic.” That means that the story must be compelling, the cinematography needs to be beautiful, and the lighting must be good. But it also implies that the brand sponsorship should be clear and evident, because otherwise it would appear manipulative.

Some of the best examples rely on creative filmmakers who can leverage the support of a brand to make a great piece. Whereas in the past, artists might have shied away from commercial work, the vast creative license, and substantial budgets, they enjoy from brands that want to make a mark has attracted many personalities to engage.

For example, Carrie Brownstein is known for her contributions to punk music as a founding member of the riot grrl band Sleater-Kinney and for her satirical perspective on Portlandia. But she also wrote and directed a funny, seven-minute movie poking fun at social media habits. The clothing brand Kenzo sponsored it, and though all the actors (including Oscar winner Mahershala Ali and Natasha Lyonne) certainly are sporting cool clothes, the only mentions of Kenzo come in the opening and closing credits.

The iPhone entry to the Tribeca contest has a bit more to do with the product, in that the entire shoot was obtained with the cameras that come in the iPhone 6s model. But the topic is mountain climbing in Bangladesh, not technology or cameras.

Although these combinations of advertising and film are not as widely available as more traditional forms, they can be found on streaming services such as YouTube or Vimeo. Some brands post them on their own website too, and The Atlantic has a special section devoted to the Tribeca entrants. Then through the Festival itself, the best examples are eligible for a special jury award, the Tribeca X Award, that puts the filmmakers on the same podium as documentary and narrative creators.

Discussion Question:

  1. How can brands and filmmakers get their creative products in front of consumers? Which channels should they prioritize?

Source: Sapna Maheswari, “The Ad Feels a Bit Like Oscar Bait, But It’s Trying to Sell You and iPhone,” The New York Times, April 2, 2016

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