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Tribeca Film Festival Co-Founder on the Rise of Netflix and Her Work With Scorsese

Jane Rosenthal has a very busy 2019.

The CEO and chairwoman of Tribeca Enterprises isn’t just running a major media company — she’s also a prolific producer, whose upcoming projects include Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us,” a four-part series about the Central Park Five, and “The Irishman,” a Martin Scorsese crime drama.

If that weren’t enough, Rosenthal is gearing up for the 18th edition of the Tribeca Film Festival, the annual celebration of cinema and the arts that she founded with Robert De Niro in 2002 as a way of encouraging people to return to a lower Manhattan still reeling from the 9/11 attacks. Variety spoke with Rosenthal about the festival’s evolving mission, the rise of Netflix and who she’s supporting in the upcoming presidential election.

How do you balance the demands of running a company and a festival with your producing work? 

Welcome to life in the breakdown lane. Most of the time the projects I’m working on haven’t overlapped with the festival. But last year, I had to be on location with Ava the day after it ended. I was painfully exhausted, but I had to do it. It’s a great project that looks at injustice in our society.

What projects are you looking to produce right now?

I’m looking for stories that resonate. One of my favorite movies that I produced was “Wag the Dog.” We thought we were doing a political satire, but it’s one that still resonates today. There’s a song in that, “I Guard the Canadian Border.” You could see it popping up in a Trump campaign commercial.

You’re doing several projects with Netflix — “When They See Us,” “The Irishman” and an upcoming docu-series on the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft. What’s that experience like?

It’s fantastic. They completely respect creatives. They hire you because they want to be in business with you, and then they treat you like a professional. They don’t note you to death. At networks where I’ve worked, you bring them something wonderful that’s not traditional and they get upset when it doesn’t fit their style. We did this show on CBS with Richard Price, and it was called “NYC 22.” I wanted to do something on rookie cops that was like “Grey’s Anatomy.” The network kept saying we’ve got to see more action. They’ve got to shoot guns. Well, rookie cops don’t really shoot guns.

Netflix doesn’t have traditional theatrical releases. What will happen with “The Irishman”? 

There will be some sort of theatrical component. You have to have that. It’s a different experience than watching it at home. In a theater, you may start to laugh at something because the people next to you are laughing — and “The Irishman” is very funny, much like “Goodfellas” was funny. Marty is genius in the way his shots move. You see them differently on a big screen. I watched “Roma” in a theater, and the clarity of the black and white on a big screen was so beautiful. You miss that when you watch it at home on your computer. But at the same time you have a situation where audiences have more power than ever before over how they want to watch something.

Do you think theater owners and Netflix will be able to reach some sort of compromise about how long a movie needs to exclusively be in cinemas before it starts streaming? 

There has to be some sort of compromise. If there isn’t, the only thing that will be in theaters are Marvel movies.

You started the Tribeca Film Festival in the wake of 9/11. Has your mission changed?

I don’t think our mandate has changed much. We’ve always been about bringing artists together and showing their work to the widest and most diverse audiences that we can. The rebuilding of downtown has happened, but we haven’t forgotten that outside of the Sarajevo Film Festival, we are the only film festival that was started by an act of violence. I get in trouble when I say an act of war, but it was started by an act of war. I still feel it’s important to remember and celebrate those that we lost on that terrible day.

Are there any themes that you can recognize in the movies and shows that will be at this year’s festival? 

We have an enormous music presence, from our opening-night film, the Roger Ross Williams documentary “The Apollo,” to the closing-night Danny Boyle film “Yesterday.” There’s a documentary about Linda Ronstadt and Trey Anastasio from Phish. We’re showing two parts of the Showtime documentary about the Wu-Tang Clan. There are also a lot of films about identity and how you preserve that in this crazy Trump-aholic period that we’re living through when everything is getting so torn apart.

The Tribeca Film Festival now encompasses television and virtual reality and gaming. Have you thought about changing the name?

Yes, all the time. We have to get around to doing that someday.

You were a big supporter of Hillary Clinton. Do you know who you’re supporting in the Democratic presidential primary? 

It’s still too early. There are so many people running. I respect all of the candidates, but I feel like they have to figure out their messaging. The election won’t just be won on hearts; it will be won on minds. I’ve met with a lot of candidates, but not everybody has their campaign pitch ready. 

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