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by Jane Rosenthal | April 21, 2011 | People
That first year of the Tribeca Film Festival, New Yorkers turned out in droves. I remember walking around Downtown with Governor George Pataki and actor Liam Neeson, stopping at all the fire houses and schools in the neighborhood, giving out tickets for our closing-night screening of Stars Wars. There was so much excitement and positive support from the community.
As we enter our 10th festival, that support has never waned, especially from the businesses and residents in our neighborhood. I get a thrill out of seeing thousands of people at our Drive-In, which we do every year in the North Cove at the World Financial Center. Year after year, it shows that New Yorkers are game for anything. In 2006 we screened Mad Hot Ballroom, where kids from the five boroughs danced together before the film. In 2009 we did a tribute honoring legendary screenwriter William Goldman with fellow screenwriters Scott Frank, Tony Gilroy, David Koepp, Aaron Sorkin and Beau Willimon, who were on hand to help honor Bill before the retrospective screening of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid—there’s nothing like bringing thousands of people together around a film.
FROM LEFT: TFF cofounder Robert De Niro with Nelson Mandela, Hugh Grant and Whoopi Goldberg; TFF cofounders Craig Hatkoff and Jane Rosenthal at the Vanity Fair dinner; Natalie Portman with Tribeca Film Fellow George Itzhak in 2009
Since the first festival in 2002, the organization has grown dramatically. What many people probably don’t realize is that we do so much more than just the two-week film festival in the spring. Tribeca Film Institute, which is our nonprofit, works year-round with filmmakers, providing financial support, guidance and professional development as well as youth educational programs. Giving kids an opportunity to express themselves in a visual way is essential, especially as more and more arts programs lose their funding.
When we launched TFF, we started the Artists Awards program. In addition to cash prizes, the winning filmmakers receive a piece of artwork from a wellknown artist such as Eric Fischl, Clifford Ross, Laurie Simmons, Julian Schabel, Chuck Close… the list goes on. We showcase these pieces during TFF as part of a free exhibit; to me it’s one of the unheralded treasures of the festival.
One event I look forward to every year is our filmmaker brunch. Over bagels and eggs, I get to meet hundreds of directors whose films are part of the festival. Having spent months watching the films, it’s great to meet them in person (though the first person who comes over to me is always from the one film I haven’t seen).
FROM LEFT: Drive-In presentation of Big during the 2010 festival; Rosenthal (center) with members of Bon Jovi at the When We Were Beautiful premiere; The Tribeca Drive-In in the North Cove at World Financial Center Plaza
When Robert De Niro, Craig Hatkoff and I started TFF, we didn’t have an initial vision for the organization; we truly started the Tribeca Film Festival out of a need we saw in the community following September 11. In our minds, it was a one-time event to help bring as many people to the neighborhood as possible. People were afraid to come Downtown. Nine festivals later, Tribeca has become this unbelievable annual event that brings together filmmakers, the film industry and New York audiences, all with the same goal—to discover new films.
It always amazes me, no matter what type of film, the diversity of the audiences. I remember walking into the film Run for Your Life about Fred Lebow, the founder of the New York City marathon; when I got up to introduce the film, the audience was all runners—there wasn’t a bit of body fat on any of them. Or when we screened The First Saturday in May about the Kentucky Derby in 2007, and the majority of the audience had on Derby bonnets. A few years back we showed the film Ushpizin, which is about an Orthodox Jewish couple whose faith is tested. The movie had been blessed by the grand rabbi in Brooklyn, and the Orthodox community came out in droves. Tribeca is an unparalleled place for filmmakers to connect and discover their audience.
FROM LEFT: 2003 TFF opening; God Bless Ozzy Osbourne; The Bang Bang Club stars Frank Rautenbach, Neels Van Jaarsveld, Taylor Kitsch and Ryan Phillippe
For me, the unexpected is what’s extraordinary about Tribeca. In 2007 we screened The Orchestra of Piazza Vittorio, an Italian film about an orchestra of immigrants living in Italy. When the lights came up they were all there, playing in the theater. It was one of those truly special moments that is Tribeca.
Last year we launched an online expansion of the festival, the Tribeca Online Film Festival, and this year the movies are free. You can screen a handful of feature films and shorts, and participate in a number of TFF events, all from your laptop. As an organization, we’re committed to connecting audiences with filmmakers. Tribeca Online Film Festival allows this opportunity to occur in an even greater way.
Looking back at the festival now, I’m still amazed that it even exists. The first year we produced a four-day festival in just 120 days—not an easy feat. Today we’ve shown over 1,300 films, and our two-week event includes countless special screenings, panels and workshops. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his entire administration, particularly Katherine Oliver, the commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, and First Deputy Mayor Patricia Harris, have always been incredibly supportive, as well as State Film Commissioner Pat Kaufman. But it’s the community support I’m most proud of, from the volunteers who help us each year to everyone who participates. It’s a testament to all the extraordinary filmmakers and our founding sponsor, American Express, as well as our TFF team and the community that has come out to support us over these last nine years.
FROM LEFT: Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber; Spike Lee, Jane Rosenthal, Robert De Niro and Uma Thurman; Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson
Our goal for this year, the goal for the next 10 years, is no different from any other year—to put on the best festival possible. We are as much a festival about audiences as we are about films. I’m proud of that. I truly believe we are part of the cultural heartbeat of Downtown. The Tribeca Film Festival is nothing without the community; it’s at the core of who we are. The 10th annual Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 20 through May 1. For program details, visit tribecafilm.com.
photographs by amy sussman/getty images for tribeca film festival (big); ted hardin (de niro); rachel papo (portman); marci a ciriello (hatkoff). opposite page: brian palmer (festival 2005); tanya codispodi (tribeca cinemas); by bryan bedder (alba); tanya codispodi (bon jovi); ross halfin (god bless ozzy osbourne); bryan bedder (watts); marcus cruz (big bang club); kevin tachman (drive-in)