For the first time in two years, Tribeca Festival is going back indoors.
After canceling the 2020 edition and staying mostly outside in 2021, the annual gathering is returning to traditional premieres, panels and parties to celebrate its 21st edition. It’s also staying put in Manhattan, a change from last year’s version that spanned all five boroughs of New York City.
“We’re back to normal,” says Jane Rosenthal, who founded Tribeca Festival with Robert De Niro in 2002. “We are watching things together as a community. We’re going to have some laughs, listen to great music and see new voices come together.”
Taking place from June 8 through June 19, Tribeca will be bookended by documentaries about Jennifer Lopez (“Halftime”) and Al Sharpton (“Loudmouth”). In between, the festival has movies from directors Lena Waithe (“Aisha”), Ray Romano (“Somewhere in Queens”) and B.J. Novak (“Vengeance”).
Since dropping “film” from its title to embrace storytelling across mediums, Tribeca is also betting big on podcasts, gaming and virtual reality. Boldface names like Pharrell Williams, Seth Meyers, Cynthia Erivo, Tyler Perry and Adam McKay will be on hand for various talks, while Al Pacino and director Kasi Lemmons will be in town for anniversary screenings of their films “Heat,” “The Godfather” and “Eve’s Bayou.”
Was there anything from last year’s hybrid festival that you wanted to continue?
Rosenthal: Outdoor screenings. We will have outdoor screenings at Pier 57 and Brookfield Place running throughout the entire festival. There are a lot of things I wish we could still have done from last year, but financially… how much did it cost? You can’t do everything. We also introduced Tribeca At Home so people who are not New York can see films at the festival, including talks afterwards. That’s something we hope to keep going.
What is the benefit of in-person festivals?
Rosenthal: What does it bring to anybody when you are sitting in a room and sharing something with an audience? Whether it’s about laughing or crying or being scared, there’s nothing quite like that communal experience. When we had to pause the film festival and go digital for our 20th anniversary, the fact that we had been founded because of 9/11 and our whole goal was to bring people together, all of a sudden, you couldn’t bring anybody together because of COVID. You realize how important human contact is for all of us. That’s what is special about the arts.
De Niro: The festival is social. Virtual is OK in some ways, but [in-person] is what it is about. It’s like a cultural convention, people have to get together. They can’t be doing it on screens and Zooms.
Rosenthal: With everything going on in the world right now, one of the nice aspects of the festival is that you can become immersed in the festival for 10 days and think about different things. That’s nice to be able to do at this crazy moment in time.
More than half of films at this year’s festival were directed by female, BIPOC and LGBTQ filmmakers. Why was that important?
Rosenthal: Bringing artists with diverse voices to Tribeca has always been in our DNA. It’s how we started. It’s not a new buzzword for us. We have deep relationships with people in all communities. We are New York City, which is a diverse multicultural city. It’s always hard to find good films and curate them, but we’ve been looking at diverse voices for 20 years.
Why do other festivals struggle with representation and parity?
De Niro: I don’t know. You are more aware of it than I am. I didn’t know that was the case.
Rosenthal: Everybody is making that effort right now, not just film festivals. Every aspect of the creative arts are looking at how they can improve.
Earlier editions of Tribeca have helped launch the careers of Damien Chazelle, Nia DaCosta and Ryan Coogler and other notable directors. Are there any newer filmmakers on your radar this year?
Rosenthal: I’m very curious to see — I haven’t met her yet — Del Kathryn Barton from Australia, who made a film called “Blaze.” It’s absolutely spectacular. It’s a small story, but she’s a very interesting filmmaker. It’s fun to see new talent.
Why did Jennifer Lopez’s documentary “Halftime” feel like a good fit for opening night?
Rosenthal: It’s always great to see the behind-the-scenes of what an artist goes through. You’d think, “Oh, it’s J.Lo. She gets anything done she wants.” It’s her perseverance and her passion to get the halftime show done that she wanted to tell. Her passion as an activist and as a woman of color, it’s a wonderful story behind the headlines. It’s gonna be a fun party, too.
De Niro: I haven’t seen it yet. I’d like to see it. She’s been there a long time. I’ve known her since… years ago. She’s hung in there. She’s terrifically professional.
Taylor Swift, who doesn’t do too many public appearances, is bringing her short film “All Too Well.” How did that collaboration come about?
Rosenthal: First of all, she’s in the neighborhood.
De Niro: She lives in the neighborhood?
Rosenthal: Well, I’m not supposed to discuss that.
De Niro: [Laughs]
Rosenthal: We’re always looking to show artists’ work to show what else they do — the interdisciplinary work. It’s always interesting to watch what artists do when they’re not doing what we think that they should continually do.
Are you fans of Taylor Swift’s music?
De Niro: I have all of her albums. [Laughs] I’m not not a fan. I probably hear her music and like it on the radio. My young daughter puts a station on, and it drives me crazy when they chat. When they have music, it’s OK.
You don’t like the banter?
De Niro: Yeah, the banter… We have a deal that when the chatter goes on, we go to chill [music]. That’s the compromise. I go to spa [music] when I’m alone.
One of the anniversary screenings planned is “Heat.” It’s turning 27, which is not a milestone that is normally celebrated. How did you choose to bring that film?
Rosenthal: 27. Huh, I thought it was older than that.
De Niro: No, looking at it… it feels [27 years old]. Should we stop and wait three years?
Rosenthal: It’s a Bob movie, and Al [Pacino] is going to be here. It’s a wonderful movie. What’s wonderful about these retrospectives is you get to show these films to a new generation. It’s been a very special part of our festival.
Robert, do you enjoy reminiscing on your past films?
De Niro: It’s great for the festival to share movies with people in that way. I always enjoy those things.
What can you share about “Rudy! A Documusical,” which looks at the rise and fall of Rudy Guliani?
Rosenthal: Rudy was the mayor of New York. It’s a really fun way to look at a polarizing figure… someone who has perpetuated bad things in this country. It’s a different way to look at his story.
Do you think a lighter lens is the right way to examine at someone who has been increasingly controversial and polarizing?
De Niro: Lighter? I’m not sure what the tone of the film is.
Rosenthal: It’s a little more satirical, but look what “Saturday Night Live” does every week.
De Niro: I can’t say because I haven’t seen it yet. But look what happened to him… craziness. Everybody’s curious, including myself [to know] what happened. You’d think he’d be the opposite of what he did to hold this country together. And he didn’t. No, he did the opposite. That’s not good.