Tribeca Film Festival Winners: History and Importance

All about the long-running downtown New York City film festival

Theater marquee from the 2008 edition of the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City
NEW YORK - APRIL 21: A general view of the marquee at Tribeca Cinemas during The 2008 Tribeca Film Festival on April 21, 2008 in New York City.

Bryan Bedder / Getty Images

The Tribeca Film Festival is an annual U.S.-based film festival held in Manhattan, New York, every spring since 2002.

The Tribeca Film Festival was created by film producer Jane Rosenthal, her real estate investor husband Craig M. Hatkoff, and actor Robert De Niro, who has remained closely associated with the festival and the Tribeca Film Institute, the non-profit organization that hosts the festival.

According to organizers, the economic downtown in Lower Manhattan following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2011 is the impetus behind the creation of the festival.

Did You Know?

The Tribeca Film Institute launched a companion festival for television, the Tribeca TV Festival, in 2017. It is held in September.

The Inaugural Festival, 2002

In addition to independent films produced in New York City and worldwide, the first festival also included a number of premieres of Hollywood features in order to put the festival on the map.

During the inaugural festival, the opening night film was About a Boy (2002), which was produced by Rosenthal and De Niro. The event also featured a charity premiere of Star Wars: Episode II—Attack of the Clones. The opening ceremonies included a speech by Nelson Mandela.

2002 Tribeca Film Festival - Opening Night Ceremony
Nelson Mandela and NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg during 2002 Tribeca Film Festival - Opening Night Ceremony at City Hall in New York City. KMazur / Getty Images

Other major Hollywood releases that have premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival include United 93 (2006), Mission Impossible III (2006), Spider-Man 3 (2007), Shrek Forever After (2010), The Five-Year Engagement (2012), The Avengers (2012), and Yesterday (2019).


A small theater owned by Robert De Niro, Tribeca Cinemas, hosts screenings for the festival. Though the bulk of the events are in downtown Manhattan, several notable venues in New York City also host screenings and events for the Tribeca Film Festival, including the historic Beacon Theatre, Apollo Theater, and Radio City Music Hall. Two colleges also frequently feature screenings during the festival, the School of Visual Arts and the Borough of Manhattan Community College Tribeca Performing Arts Center.

Unsurprisingly, Tribeca Film Festival regularly pays tribute to its New York City locale by featuring special screenings of documentaries that cover the cultural history of the city, including Kill Your Idols (2004), a documentary about New York art punk bands; Brotherhood (2005), a documentary about a New York City firehouse; Live from New York! (2015), a documentary about the production of Saturday Night Live; and Dare to be Different (2017), a documentary about notable New York radio station WLIR in the 1980s. For several years, the festival had special awards for best "New York, New York" documentary and feature.

Festival Programming

25th anniversary of Goodfellas at the closing of the Tribeca Film Festival
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 25: (L-R) Writer Nicholas Pileggi, actors Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco, Robert De Niro, Paul Sorvino and host Jon Stewart attend the closing night screening of "Goodfellas" during the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival at Beacon Theatre on April 25, 2015 in New York City. Mike Coppola / Getty Images

As with other film festivals, much of Tribeca's programming consists of independent features and shorts. In recent years, the festival has celebrated anniversaries of classic films as part of its opening or closing night events, often featuring cast and filmmaker reunions for the occasion. These include The King of Comedy (in 2013), Goodfellas and Monty Python and the Holy Grail (both in 2015), The Godfather and The Godfather Part II (both in 2017), and the world premiere of director Francis Ford Coppola's "Final Cut" of Apocalypse Now and This Is Spinal Tap (both in 2019).

The festival's programming has been supplemented by affiliated community events, including street fairs, outdoor movies, and concerts, and even a live broadcast of the final episode of the TV show Friends (which aired during the 2004 festival).

New Media

The Tribeca Film Festival has made a significant effort to include new forms of media in its programming. For example, video games and virtual reality projects have also been featured at the festival, including the 2017 debut of The Protectors, a VR documentary about ivory poaching co-directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow.

Festival organizers have also partnered with sports television network ESPN to premiere documentaries covering the world of sports, such as the 2013 premiere of Lenny Cooke and the 2017 premiere of Mike and the Mad Dog.

Notable Winners

Veerle Baetens and Johan Heldenbergh in The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012). Tribeca Film

In its inaugural year, the Tribeca Film Festival had awards for Narrative Feature, Narrative Short, Documentary Short, Emerging Filmmaker, Student Visionary, and the Jury Award. Several other awards have been added in subsequent years, including the Audience Award, which is voted on by festival attendees. Beginning in 2013, the Festival has awarded the Nora Ephron Prize to female filmmakers. The Award is named after the Academy Award-nominated screenwriter/director and playwright Nora Ephron (Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle). The first winner was Indian-American filmmaker Meera Menon for her directorial debut Farah Goes Bang.

Actors that have won awards at the Tribeca Film Festival including Ciarán Hinds (for 2009's The Eclipse), Paul Schneider (for 2014's Goodbye to All That), and Jeffrey Wright (for 2018's O.G.)
Actresses who have won include include Zoe Kazan (for 2009's The Exploding Girl), Mackenzie Davis (for 2016's Always Shine), and Alia Shawkat (for 2018's Duck Butter).

"Duck Butter" - 2018 Tribeca Film Festival
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 20: (L-R) Natalie Qasabian, Alia Shawkat, Miguel Arteta, Laia Costa and Mel Eslyn attends the screening of "Duck Butter" during the Tribeca Film Festival at SVA Theatre on April 20, 2018 in New York City. Michael Loccisano / Getty Images

Other notable winners at the Tribeca Film Festival include:

  • Felicity Huffman was awarded Best Actress in a Narrative Feature for 2005's Transamerica, and was later awarded a Golden Globe and an Independent Spirit Award for her performance in the film. Transamerica also received two Oscar nominations, including one for Huffman's performance.
  • The documentary Jesus Camp, which won a Special Jury Prize at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival, was later nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary.
  • The documentary Taxi to the Dark Side, which won Best Documentary Feature at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival, also won an Academy Award for Best Documentary.
  • Let the Right One In (2008) won Best Narrative Feature. This Swedish horror film was later remade as an American version as Let Me In (2010).
  • The Canadian war drama War Witch, which won Best Narrative Feature and Best Actress in a Narrative Feature for nonprofessional actress Rachel Mwanza at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
  • The Belgian film The Broken Circle Breakdown, which won Best Screenplay for a Narrative Feature and Best Actress in a Narrative Feature for actress Veerle Baetens at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
  • The documentary Virunga, which was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary.
  • Felix Thompson, the director of King Jack, which won the Narrative Audience Award at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, won the Independent Spirit "Someone to Watch Award."
  • The documentary LA 92, which premiered at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival, won an Emmy Award for Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking.
  • In addition, the debut movie of Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, had its world premiere out of competition at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival.