“I’ve never seen it this pretty,” actress Diane Lane said to fashion activist Bethann Hardison, the pair occupying a cozy back table at legendary New York bistro Balthazar on Monday night.
Meanwhile, a fashionable flock of artists and influencers — from Bon Jovi to Martha Stewart — stood in a standstill line of traffic as they jostled to find their seats at Chanel’s 12th Annual Tribeca Film Festival Artists Dinner.
“If everyone just says ‘excuse me,’ we can push through!” said filmmaker and actor Josh Safdie, voicing a shared sentiment: that this year’s dinner was particularly crowded. And, given the recent political ammunition, it’s no wonder so many fans rallied for Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, and Craig Hatkoff’s 16-year-old festival — which, born in the aftermath of 9/11, has politics in its DNA.
“We can no longer let the anger and what has gone on in our current political environment rule us,” said Rosenthal, who’s included more films by women and more documentaries in the lineup. “Our films at the festival this year look back as well as look forward….whether it’s a film that’s looking at the Reagan years, or looking at stone…[or] the rise of ISIS and the history of Syria.” She stresses, “Through artists’ voices you hear about humanity.”
The festival had the help of another famous advocate this week, when Hillary Clinton dropped in on Kathryn Bigelow’s panel about endangered African elephants. “I think that Hillary’s support and voice is needed now even more than before,” Rosenthal said. “And the fact that she does it with such resilience and dignity, it’s something for us all to really take a page from. For somebody who was…able to stand up again and say, ‘no, we’ve got to keep fighting, and we have to insist on what is our constitution and what we need to defend, both as a country and as a people.’”
There’s also a different scandalous figure to whom she’s recently turned her attention — the “interesting monster” Bernie Madoff — whose life she explores as an exec producer on upcoming HBO film “The Wizard of Lies.” “What surprises me about [Madoff] is how he thought he was protecting his family so much, and at the end of the day, he totally destroyed his own family,” said Rosenthal, of the role played by De Niro. “To look at how abusive he was to those boys… And if you can’t trust your own father, who do you trust?”
Rosenthal clearly has the trust of Katie Holmes, who sat beside her throughout the three-course dinner (of steak frites and chicken). “I’ve had ‘Miss Meadows’ [at Tribeca], I had ‘Eternal Princess’ here, and I had ‘All We Had’ here,” said Holmes. “It gives so many opportunities to young filmmakers, and you come, you get inspired, you see other films, and to have your film here means a lot.”
Holmes, who made her directing debut with “All We Had,” recently optioned Kathleen Tessaro’s historical novel “Rare Objects.” But is being a female director harder? “I think what’s most important is that you keep putting your voice out there, whether you’re a female or a male, and making movies is challenging and rewarding, and just keeping those stories out there is important,” she said.
“Sweet Virginia’s” Odessa Young agreed. “In a time where a lot of our fundamental rights are being taken away from us, it’s important to have access to creative rights,” she said. “I think the world needs true heart in times of hardship, and I think the best art is created in times of hardship, for the pure fact of survival.”
Chanel also threw a luncheon last Friday to honor the festival’s record number of female filmmakers. But, at this annual dinner — celebrating the artists who’ll donate original work to 10 festival winners — the pro-female attitude was equally evident.
“I’ve seen some really extraordinary works from women, and that is so inspiring, and hopeful, and just great that there’s some ladies doing a damn thing,” said festival juror Joy Bryant. “I mean, there always have been, but I’m glad that I’m in this category named after the extraordinary Nora Ephron.”
“Girls” star Jemima Kirke praised another female helmer: Lena Dunham (whose mother, “My Art” director Laurie Simmons, was also in attendance). “I loved [the ‘Girls’ finale], but it was very Lena,” said Kirke. “I expected her to do something like this, that was, to others, sort of underwhelming. She’s rebellious in that way. I think she knows that people want some explosive thing, and she’s like, ‘well that’s too bad; that’s life.’”
Andie Macdowell plays a strong female lead in Tribeca film “Love After Love.” “It’s about how you suffer when you lose someone you love, whether it’s your father or your husband, and the process of moving on, which can be very messy,” she stated. Does she speak from experience? “Sure, I’m old enough to have felt pain. I know deep pain,” said Macdowell, whose film has “some wonderful women in it.”
Festival juror Ruth Wilson shared female bonding with Nicole Kidman in upcoming film “How to Talk to Girls at Parties.” “We had to improvise a scene together. We both get drunk and then we have a little chat as women. We’re rivals, and then we become friends,” said the star of the “The Affair,” who hints that her show’s production move to L.A. might affect the storylines. (“It might mean that some of us are located there… maybe something Hollywood happens to Noah Solloway!”)
And while Wilson still may not know how one talks to girls at parties — “I’m not sure this gives you any clues!” — what she can attest is that collaborations between artists is where the future lies.
In such fashion, the mingling of future collaborators commenced: Josh Lucas dined alongside Christina Ricci; Jonah Hill paid a visit to the table of “The Circle’s” Ellar Coltrane; Dianna Agron caught up with Derek Blasberg; and “Girls’” Zosia Mamet chatted with Julia Garner.
Nearby, “The Wizard of Lies’’” Alessandro Nivola whispered to Harvey Keitel, who kept close to De Niro, the king of the hour. The “Mean Streets” pair will soon reunite for “The Irishman” with Martin Scorsese, with whom De Niro has also been eyeing David Grann’s newly-released book, “Killers of the Flower Moon.”
But in the moment, the festival co-founder — who sat sandwiched between his daughter Drena De Niro and wife Grace Hightower — remained intently focused on his party guests. He conversed with each as if there was no one else in the room beside them, calling to mind Rosenthal’s earlier remark. “Everybody has a story to tell,” she said, “and it’s important that we listen.”
(Pictured: Jane Rosenthal, Katie Holmes and Laurie Simmons)