Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy

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Tribeca is the name of a Lower Manhattan neighborhood, film festival, institute and production company, and now it has a strong Chicago association as well.

That's because the company founded by actor Robert De Niro, his producing partner Jane Rosenthal and her investor husband Craig Hatkoff has taken a 50 percent interest in the Loop-based two-year digital media vocational school Flashpoint: The Academy of Media Arts and Sciences. The school now will be known as the Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy as it opens a virtual pipeline between the 75,000-square-foot Clark Street facility and Tribeca's New York headquarters.

"It really means amazing opportunities for our students," Flashpoint president/CEO Howard Tullman said, noting that his school was "looking for a strategic partner as much as an investor."

"It's state of the art," Rosenthal said of Flashpoint. "It's really an amazing place. It just happened to be the right fit for what we were looking for."

Tribeca has been in expansion mode of late, overseeing not only the Tribeca Film Festival (launched in 2002 and running Apr. 21-May 2 this year) but also a virtual version of the festival, a cinema, a production facility and an institute involved in community outreach and education. Rosenthal said her company has worked with middle-school and high-school students before, but Flashpoint represents the first such partnership with an institution for more advanced students.

Built out in a high-rise kitty corner to Daley Plaza, Flashpoint welcomed its first students in September 2007 and has seen its enrollment grow from 110 students to the current 450, Flashpoint Dean Paula Froehle said.

"What Howard has pulled together in a very short period of time, it's almost hard to believe," Hatkoff said.

The school takes a contrasting approach to the film program at nearby Columbia College, which offers a traditional four-year liberal arts degree. Flashpoint is a two-year immersive program designed to prepare students, college age or older, for work in the digital media world.

Local-based filmmaker Harold Ramis has close ties to Columbia College, and also appears in Flashpoint's promotional materials. He said he still values a four-year liberal arts education, but he's also impressed with Flashpoint.

"It's a really cool facility," Ramis said. Calling Tribeca an institution that "does things right," he added, "I can't imagine this is a moneymaking enterprise for them, but as a pipeline for talent and well-trained students, it's probably a good thing."

To Rosenthal and Hatkoff, the partnership is less about bringing Flashpoint students into the Tribeca fold than boosting an industry in a state of wild flux.

"I've been in the industry for over 25 years, and I've never seen the industry change more," Rosenthal said. "The jobs and the skills (needed) are changing dramatically, and you need to stay forward thinking. The students that do come out of this program will help us keep our industry healthy."

Hatkoff cited a question posed by a Gates Foundation report: "How do we prepare students for jobs that don't yet exist?" Flashpoint, Hatkoff said, is poised to do just that.

Tullman said he envisions Tribeca Flashpoint students getting involved in various aspects of the film festival, such as working with filmmakers and helping them develop marketing materials and trailers. (Flashpoint students already have done such work on projects such as "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," distributed by Chicago's Music Box Films.)

Rosenthal said the specifics of the interplay have yet to be determined. "It's too soon to say what students at Tribeca Flashpoint will be doing at Tribeca," she said. "If students have the opportunity to work at Tribeca and if we have the opportunity to work with students, that will be fantastic."

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