The 14-minute movie, which recently screened at the New Yorker Film Festival, stars De Niro as a man wandering the halls of the abandoned Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital. French artist JR directed from Eric Roth’s script.
Grassi has asserted on social media that Roth’s script was taken directly from her own short, “L’uomo in Frac.” Representatives for De Niro are calling her claims “preposterous” and “libelous.”
“The idea that two-time Oscar winner Robert De Niro provided Oscar winner Eric Roth with a script from an unknown Italian writer so that Mr. Roth could use it to write the 14-minute short film, ‘Ellis,’ about Ellis Island and early immigrants’ experience is not only preposterous, it is libelous,” De Niro’s attorney said Friday in a statement.
“Mr. De Niro’s office does not accept scripts and even if someone hands him a script directly or through a friend, the material is thereafter sent on to his agent,” the statement continued. “Mr. De Niro never read any script from this unknown writer and never passed any such script to Mr. Roth.”
“As far as ‘Ellis’ is concerned, the French artist JR approached Mr. De Niro’s partner, Jane Rosenthal, about the project, who arranged for JR and Mr. Roth to collaborate on the film and along the way Mr. De Niro volunteered his time because he believed strongly in the project and the work of JR,” the statement said.
UPDATE — In response, Grassi said there is “extensive” documentation to demonstrate the plagiarism of the work.
“In addition, there is extensive correspondence between Mrs. Grassi and Mr Josh Lieberman (agent of Mr De Niro) and his the lawyer Mr. Peter Grant (Legal thereof) that received more than a year ago both the subject and the screenplay of “The Man in tails” (“L’Uomo in Frac”) indicating first – through Mr. Danilo Mattei, the Italian actor and friend of Mr De Niro – a great interest in the script, and then declining any involvement in the project to Mrs. Grassi,” she said in a statement.