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Tribeca Film Festival: Jane Rosenthal on the Future of Film and Why Story Still Matters

Photo of Paula Bernstein By Paula Bernstein | Indiewire April 16, 2014 at 9:17AM

We talk to Tribeca Film Festival co-founder and CEO Jane Rosenthal about how the festival has embraced technology and new forms of storytelling.
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Jane Rosenthal
Jane Rosenthal

When The Tribeca Film Festival was first established in 2003, its goal was to revitalize New York City after 9/11 and to introduce new films to local audiences. But in the years since then, downtown New York has thankfully recovered and the film industry has evolved as technology has advanced. Just think -- back in 2003, Facebook had yet to be introduced, Apple hadn't launched the iPhone, Netflix was still sending out DVDs in red envelopes and people weren't yet able to watch movies on mobile devices.

Responding to changes in the way people make and watch films, the Tribeca Film Festival has expanded in recent years to highlight technology -- and specifically, how technology has allowed for new forms of storytelling. This year, the festival introduces Tribeca Innovation Week with the goal of closing the gap between the creative and tech worlds. The week-long program, which runs from April 21-26 and incorporates the already established "Future of Film" series, features a variety of events which emphasize the collaborative effort between storytellers and innovators in the film world.

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In advance of this year's Tribeca Film Festival, we met with Jane Rosenthal, TFF Co-Founder and CEO, to discuss the future of film.

The "Future of Film" series includes the theme in the title, but it's such a broad topic. What would you say is the real underlying theme?

Jane Rosenthal: I think when you look at it, a lot of it ultimately is the future of storytelling and the different platforms that you're going to be able to tell stories on. And that's actually where we are right now, but where the business models go for that will continue to be interesting -- YouTube, with the big content play a few years ago, Maker Studios now selling to Disney for half a billion dollars, but is that just a revenue model? How is everybody going to pay their rent? You have so much innovation, and everybody can do things, but at the end of the day, how does it work for our economy? We can't just be giving things away.

As the line between technology and film continues to blur, do you think at some point Tribeca Film Festival will no longer be, strictly speaking, a film festival?


If you don't have good storytellers then you have nothing. You could have great special effects in something, just because it's digitally made and there's some great new tool that they have come up with, proprietary software that they're using. If you don't have the artist and the storytellers, then all that proprietary software in the world, it's like "who cares about it?" So you still have to have great storytellers, and that's what we're doing at the Storyscapes. We're bringing together people who are creators and storytellers, and you're seeing their work. So you're seeing immersive environments, and interactive storytelling where you're becoming part of the story and I think that audiences now want different things. It's not just, "I wanna go sit in a cinema and watch something next to my friends." It  doesn't mean that won't take place, but it becomes another choice.

"If you don't have the great stories to tell, and the great writers and filmmakers and editors, then there is no future of film."

I guess I'm wondering about the term "film." I mean obviously now we don't see most movies on actual film these days. Do you think the term will evolve? Already people are asking is "House of Cards" television? It's not actually using television, it's streaming.

Well that's what I'm saying, it's storytelling. You have new means of distribution, you have new platforms to tell stories, and it's not just content. I like to tell stories. How do I want to tell stories? And now as a producer, I can do short form, I can do documentary, you can do a narrative film, and you can do it for On Demand or Netflix or theaters. It's all changing. The sad thing, though...is that just because it's digital doesn't mean it's going to last, and you have to replace all those hard drives, and celluloid is like a cockroach. Probably better to talk to Marty [Scorsese] about what happens if you lose some of these stories, if you lose some of this which is our culture -- you lose who we are as a people.

What would you say is the key mission of Tribeca Innovation Week?

As a mission, it was to make it simpler for our audience to be able to say "I'm interested in this so you can find this." It was really saying, if you're only interested in these things, then come to this part of the festival, and I also think there's a different audience that will come that wouldn't traditionally just come if you're screening films. It's just giving people different ways to get through the Chinese menu.

Not to be fixated on titles, but Innovation week reminds me of the early 90's when we talked about new media, and now new media is not new media, so at what point does innovation become just the way we are all consuming content?

Well, it's the way of thinking. It's innovative thinking and because of technology you can't have summer re-runs anymore. So what are they doing? They're doing mini-series, which is so new. If you didn't have successful series, you started putting on television movies or you did mini-series so that you could keep the audience and now you're back having to do that again.

Do you think you'll continue every year with this idea of innovation and that every year you'll seek out what's new and innovative?

Well, you're curious about how to tell stories, so last year the Vine app was brand new and I was fascinated with "Can you tell a story in six seconds?" And now this year it's evolved to people who are using and creating, and some of them are real artists. This year,  we're doing our music challenge, which is a non-linear platform, and I think there's ways to tell stories in a non-linear way, so go take a look at Interlude, and at what they're doing with Treehouse format. It's totally seamless. So new musicians have grasped this, and they want to do non-linear music, because then people can share it in different ways, and watch the music video over and over again. For narrative films, we're going to have a film at the festival which I haven't seen, it's not even finished yet, called "Possibilia" and that's by the Daniels, these young guys out of Emerson. They're called the Daniels, not because they're related but because they're both named Daniel, and that's a non-linear comedy. So I've played with it as they've been making it and I haven't seen the final product, but I'm excited by all these different ways of telling stories.

Is part of the mission of Innovation Week to reach out to younger people who really have grown up with this sort of storytelling, and is there also an element of education for people who might not be as familiar with it?

Oh, both. I know that every year we have done our Transmedia day, with the Ford Foundation, and this work that we're doing at the Tribeca Film Institute (TFI). I learn something all the time. They do a terrific job, even with what we curate with Storyscapes at TFI. Those things are actually amazing.

We talk a lot about the future of film. What is the future of film?

I think the future for us rests in our ability to tell great story. If you don't have the great stories to tell, and the great writers and filmmakers and editors, then there is no future of film.

It's true. We talk so much about technology but without the story then it's just technology.

The most important thing we're doing at the festival this year is the master class with (film editor) Thelma Schoonmaker. That's the most important thing we're doing. Every film that comes into this festival needs a good editor. Nobody knows how to edit, and because you can do it quickly, you lose sight of what it used to be like to go through these bins and look at each shot. There's a craft of storytelling, whether you're a writer, an editor, or a director. Some of it gets lost and we do have so many first-time filmmakers — for young filmmakers coming through this festival, it's to encourage them to keep up and remember the craft of how to tell a story.

Find out about the events during Tribeca Innovation Week here.

This article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit: Tribeca Film Institute, Tribeca Film Festival, 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, Jane Rosenthal





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