The Tribeca Film Festival kicks off April 19 in a landscape that’s greatly changed for the film industry over the festival’s 16-year lifespan. With debates raging about exhibition and VOD, and tech developments and new media changing the way creatives tell stories, the 2017 edition of Tribeca encompasses movies, TV, VR and a games festival, among other genres. Co-founders Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal sat down with Variety to talk about moviemaking, disrupted distribution and the link between activism and film.
Christopher Nolan’s comments on theatrical exhibition and VOD were hot topics at this year’s CinemaCon, and a lot of the smaller-scale, indie fare that Tribeca programs get releases that embrace VOD. What’s your take on the issue?
JANE ROSENTHAL: The business is rapidly changing, and the consumer is changing in terms of where they want to see things and how they want to see things. As producers, you have more options to go to sell to, and to tell your story. We’re doing a movie, “The Irishman,” a Steve Zaillian script with Scorcese and De Niro. It’s taken 10 years to get that movie made. Not because of some crazy ass budget, just for a number of reasons it didn’t happen. We’re now going to do it on Netflix. There’s a blurring of the screens.
Are either of you purists, when it comes to the cinema experience?
ROBERT DE NIRO: For some movies you really have to see them in the theater or on the big screen. Like comedies, I think, are a communal experience. At Tribeca we’re screening, for example, “Godfather I and II” at Radio City at the end of the festival. That is something that I’d like to see like it was years ago. I want to try and go back and watch and get a sense of what it is and what the audience experiences when it’s on the big screen. But I’m not a purist. I’m realistic. It’s about storytelling in different forms now. Things change every day. We have to ride along with that.
What’s Tribeca’s place on the film festival landscape? Do you think of yourselves in competition with, say, South By Southwest, which has become increasingly buzzy over the years?
JR: We compete with New York City. Yeah, we might lose a film to South By, but okay, great, there’ll be another one. We compete with being in New York City. We compete with “Hamilton,” that’s what we compete with.
You’re both very politically active. Does the Age of Trump bring new responsibilities for moviemakers and festival programmers?
RDN: Movies will start reflecting what’s going on now. Definitely things are going to change with this administration. We’ll see.
JR: You have to remember, the festival started as a way to help our community after 9/11 and to bring people together and to bring a community together. That kind of activism is the DNA of this festival, not just of us as individuals. We’ve programmed fun, of course, because a film festival is also about fun and entertainment, but we have looked to our amazing documentary filmmakers to talk to us about what’s going on with, for instance, coal, and to put into a story perspective some of the issues that our country is facing with the EPA and with the questioning of science and the questioning of global warming. Same thing for a number of our shorts, which are programmed around political subjects. A lot of these films will all have actions around them. It’s not going to be just, see this film, and go, “Oh my God, I feel so awful, what do I do?” It’s going to be, “Here’s what you can do.” That’s where we as filmmakers and storytellers have to continue to be persistent in this current climate.