INTERVIEW: Healing the Community With Industry Muscle; Jane Rosenthal on the First Tribeca Film Fest

by Matthew Ross

(indieWIRE/ 05.08.02) -- Before September 11, Jane Rosenthal and Robert De Niro had no intention of moving into the film festival business. But when the powerhouse team behind Tribeca Productions decided that a festival might be able to help the recovery efforts in Lower Manhattan, they instantly became major players in a very crowded field.

"This was really designed as a way to stimulate the economy and do what we could help to boost the morale of our community."

In less than six months, Rosenthal and De Niro, who founded the Tribeca Film Festival along with Rosenthal's husband Craig Hatkoff (Martin Scorsese serves as co-chair), have attracted the kind of mainstream attention usually unheard of for a first-year event. indieWIRE senior editor Matthew Ross spoke with Rosenthal from the set of her latest production, "Analyze That."

indieWIRE: The is probably the biggest first-year film festival in history. What were the reasons for starting it?

Jane Rosenthal: It was because of September 11. Our neighborhood was completely devastated. Bob has been living in Lower Manhattan and Tribeca for 20 years. I've been here for 14 years. This was really designed as a way to stimulate the economy and do what we could help to boost the morale of our community.

iW: Why a film festival rather than a big fundraiser or another, broader, community-based event?

Rosenthal: We're filmmakers, and this is what we know how to do. If you're a fireman you know how put out fires. We know how to make movies. We felt this could be something that could involve an entire community and not be another fundraiser. We want to be able to have something that people can go to and have a good time, and have it for the entire community.

iW: How do you see the festival moving forward when the need to recover economically from September 11 isn't quite as vital as it is now, when the area is a little more economically stable?

Rosenthal: In terms of the specifics of how the festival will move forward, I have no clue. It's most difficult to create and do a festival in 120 days. That said, it will always be about celebrating our community, celebrating our neighborhood. And it will always be a part of us that will honor those who perished on September 11.

iW: Sundance is an acquisitions-based festival that is geared towards an industry-heavy audience. The New York Film Festival has at its core the New York art film audience. Do you have a specific audience in mind for this event? Are you targeting a specific group?

Rosenthal: Well, we clearly want the industry there. And we do have a competition for shorts, docs and features and an emerging filmmaking award coming out of the festival. Clearly we want the industry more involved in years to come. But what makes us different is, again, that we want the full community involvement. We have a children's festival. We're doing a free MTV concert. Again we're really looking to involve as much of an audience as possible.

"Clearly we want the industry more involved in years to come. But what makes us different is, again, that we want the full community involvement."

iW: There are so many interests represented at this year's event. There's the independent filmmaking community, the studio film community, and then there's the actual downtown community. How much of a balancing act has it been for you to satisfy all the different interests, or is that even a concern?

Rosenthal: At this moment it is not a concern. We're trying to cater to all those audiences. I'm sure because of the time frame we're in we're making mistakes and somebody somewhere is going to be upset about something. We'll get it right next year. It's difficult to juggle all those different populations. But we're going to try.

iW: What would you say is your main goal for this year's event? When all is said and done this year, what would you have liked to have accomplished?

Rosenthal: I'd like our community to feel that there are things to look forward to, that the neighborhood is blocked off for a festival and not by fire trucks. And I'd like to try to be able to boost the local economy and tourism. With that said, for everyone to have a great movie-going experience. It's sort of a lot to want.

iW: Yes, it is.

Rosenthal: But, you know, it's like Dorothy, you just keep wishing.

iW: Do you expect your role in the immediate future, say with next year's event, to change significantly in terms of your involvement, or where you will be focusing your energy on for the festival?

Rosenthal: I haven't thought about it in all honesty. All I can do is think about what I can do for the festival this year. I'll think about next year, next year.