Born in Montreal and a graduate of York University in Toronto, Beth Janson first came to New York to pursue a life in the theater.
"I was one of those people giving out tickets at the Delacorte." Beth said, referring to the outdoor theater that puts on acclaimed free Shakespeare productions every summer in Central Park. "So I pretty much saw every type of New Yorker there is. They were all begging me for tickets."
Beth rose up in the ranks of the Public Theater, the producing company of Shakespeare in the Park, and became inspired by George C. Wolfe, the company's artistic director. Wolfe had brought Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk to Broadway, a kind of show that had never been seen at that scale before.
"You can argue that it changed Broadway forever," she said. "Since it brought a whole new audience."
Beth wanted to do for film what Wolfe had done for theater, giving important projects from under-represented groups a "wider reach." So In 2004, after working briefly for HBO and the Newport Film Festival, she met with the Tribeca Film Institute and proposed the Tribeca All Access program (TAA), which soon became a tangible resource for women and minority filmmakers.
In the past seven years, TAA has helped to support over 220 film projects. This year, two of the program's alumni filmmakers premiere their films at the Tribeca Film Festival, which runs until May 1 in New York City.
"The world has changed so much and so many more people have the resources to create film," Beth said. "I think this program really hit a nerve in the industry."
Today, Beth serves as Executive Director of TFI, overseeing a dozen different programs under its banner, including an initiative with New York public schools, which encourages students to think critically about the media they consume. The program aims to foster to development of the students' own unique stories, while also organizing screenings ("field trips!" Beth called them) of classic films at the Tribeca Film Center.
"Kids take in about seven and a half hours of entertainment media every day," Beth said. "But they don't really understand what they're watching or why they're watching it. We want them to be critical viewers, expanding what they're willing to take in."
Beth has also set up the "New Media Fund," which will promote the creation of original platforms for social justice documentaries and other important films.
"We want to separate the substance from the trend," Beth said. "A lot of work is seen by the same circles of people. We see an amazing documentary and we learn about something, we become engaged, but it's all very insular. New technology can help these films go beyond that insulation."
Encouraging designers, in addition to the filmmakers, to submit ideas to the fund, she hopes new media will play a major role in the future of independent film. "Maybe that means creating a video game to reach out," Beth said. "Anything that helps these films reach a non-traditional audience."
As budgets are cut and independent cinema becomes more difficult to finance on its own, Beth Janson makes herself an ally to young filmmakers from all walks of life. "That drives everything we do," she said. "We're young and responsive and scrappy. And we want to respond, quickly, to what's happening in the industry and the rest of the world."