As far as film festival roots go, they don’t get nobler than those of the Tribeca Film Festival: Jane Rosenthal, Robert De Niro, and Craig Hatkoff co-founded the fest in 2002 in an effort to revitalize Lower Manhattan after the 9/11 attacks devastated the area.
And while early iterations of the fest were a bit disorganized, with venues all over Manhattan, the 2015 edition, which runs April 15-26, will finally have a dedicated base of operations at Tribeca’s Spring Studios—a mammoth building adjacent to Tribeca Cinemas.
“It’s the first time since 2002 that we’ve been able to have a creative hub,” says Rosenthal. “When we first went into the Regal in 2002, we were wearing hazmat suits, and were still very much a city that was digging itself out of what had happened. To have things under one roof and be able to walk blocks to the venues is terrific.”
The 2015 Tribeca Film Festival will feature 64 film premieres and movies from 31 countries, as well as a wide variety of star-studded talks, including a chat between John Oliver and the Monty Python troupe, Stephen Colbert in conversation with George Lucas, and Christopher Nolan.But despite the business and jobs the Tribeca Film Festival brings to the city, De Niro and Rosenthal say Mayor Bill de Blasio, who’s now in his second year in office, hasn’t provided anything by way of assistance or aid to the festival.
“I don’t have many opinions on de Blasio at this point,” says De Niro, shaking his head in frustration. “We don’t get any support at this point. There’s nothing.”
“I have no opinion, too,” adds Rosenthal, “and that should tell you what my opinion is. There’s a lot of economic development that comes with the festival, and jobs. Cynthia Lopez, who’s our new film commissioner, has reached out. But when you look at putting on the event in a city, we just don’t get the kind of support that other festivals in any city and country get. Festivals like Toronto and Sundance get a lot of money from both their states and the city, and we do not have that kind of support here. Plus, we’re in New York City, so there are always things you’re competing with.”
And while the original mission of the Tribeca Film Festival was to rejuvenate Lower Manhattan, now Tribeca is bustling with restaurants, cafes, and lavish apartments, and is one of the most expensive neighborhoods in New York City.
“It’s an evolution that’s bound to happen,” says De Niro. “Things evolve. New York was what it was when we did Taxi Driver, it was what it was before that, and it is what it is now. I think each generation or half-generation of the city changes, and people always look back and say, ‘Oh, there were good things and not-so-good things,’ and that’s just how it is. It’s so big and so complicated, you just have to take it moment to moment.”
When I mention to De Niro that his longtime collaborator and fellow New Yorker Martin Scorsese called the city “domesticated” in a recent interview with Vulture, he nods his head in agreement.“There’s a lot of gentrification,” the taciturn De Niro says. “Little Italy has totally transformed.”
One of the most intriguing events at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival is closing night, which features The Daily Show host Jon Stewart moderating a 25th-anniversary screening of the Scorsese classic Goodfellas, followed by a conversation with the cast and crew—including, of course, De Niro, aka Jimmy “The Gent” Conway.
“Making the movie with Marty was a special experience, and how it was received at the end of the day was something else,” says De Niro. “It makes me think about how I got involved in it. If I was younger, I could have played the Henry Hill part—but I was too old at that point, so I recommended Ray Liotta to Marty for the role. I was making a movie in Canada and spoke to Marty and said, ‘What about the Jimmy The Gent part?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, sounds good.’ They had already started shooting while I was still finishing up We’re No Angels with Sean Penn, so I went right from wrapping that into Goodfellas.”
He pauses, adding, “I’m happy I’m still around!”