Say what you will about the identity -- or lack thereof -- of the Tribeca Film Festival, which kicked off in NYC tonight. To me, an event like this is not about unique status among the world's many film fests; it's about watching films. And while it's true the narrative premieres have only yielded a few breakouts, such as Let the Right One In and Transamerica, I have never been dissatisfied with Tribeca's documentary selection, which has introduced us to eventual Oscar-winners like Taxi to the Dark Side and Oscar-nominee follow-ups like Marshall Curry's Racing Dreams (soon to be remade as a fictionalized drama).
Of course, I've also seen some terrific non-fiction films at Tribeca that still can't be rented through Netflix or Blockbuster (though you may find DVDs through direct sale by the filmmakers). And that just goes to show why film festivals must be attended with great wonder and curiosity, not ignored with hopes that critical acclaim for each and every worthwhile film will virtually thrust the entire fest into your living room via any number of distribution channels.
Obviously those of you not in the tri-state area or otherwise unable to attend Tribeca would like only to hear about films you'll eventually have an opportunity to see. All I can tell you is that by supporting your own local film fests, regardless of whether or not they have identity issues, you may have your sole opportunity to view those documentaries and other niche films that might never be available to stream free online, let alone play at your nearest arthouse cinema.