Why Jane Rosenthal Added an Entire Robert De Niro Mini-Festival to This Year’s Tribeca Festival

The Tribeca Festival started in the shadow of Sept. 11, as founders Robert De Niro, his longtime collaborator Jane Rosenthal and real estate investor Craig Hatkoff (at the time married to Rosenthal) attempted to bring commerce and culture back to Lower Manhattan.

In the years since, it has exploded in popularity and importance, with major film premieres and fine discoveries playing every year — now with even more to see and experience (AR, VR, interactive projects, the whole shebang).

“There’s always challenges,” Rosenthal said about putting on a festival of the size and complexity of Tribeca. “We were the first festival that came out of COVID. It was great. There’s always challenges, always challenges.”

This year Tribeca is embellished with something else – a complementary festival called De Niro Con, which celebrates the life and career of the Tribeca cofounder that coincides with his 80th birthday. There will be special screenings, conversations and live events.

“I am excited for De Niro Con. Quentin [Tarantino] is going to be here and he’ll have a conversation with Bob,” Rosenthal said. “We’ve also created this immersive film about Bob and are excited about that. It’s celebrating his 80th year. It’s nice to celebrate him in both a reverent and irreverent way, because there’s also the De Niro Hero competition.”

Wait a minute – is she looking at me? She must be looking at me because I’m the only one here.

Rosenthal has had a truly amazing career, working as an executive at Disney’s Touchstone division early in her career under the mercurial Jeffrey Katzenberg (“At that time it was if you weren’t in the office at 6 o’clock on a Saturday, your job wasn’t there for you on a Sunday”) before becoming De Niro’s producing partner in the late 1980s, working together ever since on projects as diverse as “A Bronx Tale” and “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.”

As New York gears up for the festival, happening June 5–16, TheWrap spoke with Rosenthal about what to expect, how the festival has changed and what it was like working with Harold Ramis.

Read on for the Tribeca cofounder’s full Office With a View interview below.

For somebody who has never attended Tribeca, how would you describe it?
Well, first of all, we took film out of the film festival a couple years ago. I would describe it as a place where community meets culture. And we’ve always looked to bring a group of diverse artists and storytellers to a diverse group of audiences, whether or not you’re interested in VR, AR, documentaries, short films, AI, games, television, new online work. If you have a story to tell, no matter what the platform, chances are, you might see something new at Tribeca.

How has the festival evolved over the years?
We started the festival after 9/11 really to bring people back downtown and literally put it together in 120 days. We had a big concert downtown, because it was about how could we drive people downtown. David Bowie was there. I mean, the list of artists were Whoopi Goldberg, Dennis Leary. It was just a great group of artists. Macy Gray was there, and Robin Williams. It was really extraordinary people coming together to support downtown. And, you know, it was only four days. I honestly didn’t think we were going to do it again. I thought that was it.

The spring of 2001 I was producing a movie called “Showtime” with Bob and Eddie Murphy in Los Angeles and producing “About a Boy” with my friends at Working Title in London. I thought I was just going to jump back into movies, which I still get to do. But anyway, I didn’t realize we’d signed long-term contracts with American Express and Anheuser Busch and all these people and they wanted to know what was going on next year. So here we are nearly 23 years later.

What has been the biggest change the festival has gone through?
I think some of the biggest changes are really trying to create our own vertical Main Street. Because one of the issues in those first several years is that where we were screening movies was basically a construction site. When suddenly Tribeca was uptown, certain people were upset with us. We were trying to explain that all the theaters we could use, they were building the Goldman Sachs building. It was finding our center, which I feel now we pretty much have. We’ve also had access to the Beacon Theater, which has been amazing. You look at what’s happened from 2000 to the exhibition business itself, and you’ve lost the Ziegfeld, you’ve lost the Paris theater, you lost these great movie houses here in New York. And so many of the other theaters also shrunk, so you had much smaller theaters. Or they disappeared altogether. We’ve seen that over the years, and we’ve had to create our own theaters at Spring Studio.

Film festivals seem to be in a bit of a precarious place, including Sundance. What is your stance on festivals?
Unlike Sundance and even South by Southwest, we’re not a destination festival, we’re in New York City. Maybe we’re a little bit like Toronto, in that our base, our audience, is the movie-going community of New York City. And that’s a global community. That’s pretty exciting. I think there’s something like 800 languages spoken in New York. It’s a really diverse community. That’s a difference. We’re also a for-profit festival, although I wouldn’t quit your day job and go into the festival business as a for-profit. But it allows us to do things or get different types of sponsors. That said, we’re in one of the most expensive cities in the world. That becomes a challenge every year, but when you’ve been coming out of COVID, prices have soared.

Tribeca has always been great about screening big movies, like “Speed Racer,” along with smaller indies and retrospective screenings. Why is that mixture so important to the festival?
Because it’s about the collective history and collective culture of telling stories and people being together and watching a movie. You want to have fun with it. And retrospectives are a great way of introducing new audiences to an old movie scene, seeing fresh takes on an old movie and also pay homage to the filmmakers. That’s something special. One of the things we do is have these talks after the movie. To be able to have the 50th anniversary of “Mean Streets” and have Marty and Bob come out and talk about it — but the twist is that you have Nas as the moderator. That gives it a fresh take in terms of how he viewed it. We try to balance what we’re doing. And again, because those events fill up big theaters for us, too. And it’s a good way of if somebody’s interested in some of those films, they’ll also maybe check out an independent film that they hadn’t heard about and discover something new.

Are you particularly excited about anything at the festival this year?
There’s a documentary called “The Sabbath Queen” about a rabbi who’s created this new kind of roving synagogue here in New York. And that’s actually not what you’d expect it to be. It’s pretty great. We’ve obviously got a lot of political documentaries, and with a little controversy, it’s always good.

You’ve had such an amazing career outside of Tribeca. What was it like finally bringing “The Irishman” to life for De Niro and Martin Scorsese?
Scorsese was the one who introduced me to Bob. This was back 100 years ago, when I was a Disney executive, working on “The Color of Money.” Anyway, to actually produce a movie of Marty’s and to get them back together after so long was extraordinary. I do look now at the movie and everything we went through in terms of the technology, and how if we waited another couple of years, that would have changed because you look at the face-swapping technology, and how that’s changed. I can’t wait to see Zemeckis’ movie with Robin Wright [‘Home’] and see what they’ve done there in terms of the de-aging. Anyway, “The Irishman” was extraordinary. It was a career dream to be able to produce a movie with the two of them.

What can you say about working with Harold Ramis on “Analyze This?”
He had the best smile. It would be, you know, you’d come to set and Harold would be sitting there doing the crossword puzzle. And he’d just smile. I don’t know. He’s just such a love. It was great to work with him.

And “Analyze This” will be a part of De Niro Con right?
Yes. Billy Crystal will be here and Whoopi Goldberg will be moderating a panel with Bob and Billy.

That will be a must-attend event.
Without question. I think what was interesting on that movie is that Harold and Billy were a little nervous about working with Bob. And I think Bob slipped into that a bit because he was the mob guy. He played into that, he used that a bit. I think you feel, particularly in the first one, you really feel that tension between them. Obviously everybody became great friends and loved each other and we went on to do a second one. I’m just sad that Paula Weinstein is not with us to share in that. Paula also said to me when we made that, “I don’t usually share my producer credit but I will share my producer credit with you on this.” Getting to work with Paula and producing a movie with her was also special.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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