© Buck Ennis
Started as a scrappy neighborhood response to the devastation of 9/11, the Tribeca Film Festival now runs for 12 days in six Manhattan theaters. This year's fest, which opens April 18, showcases 99 feature-length and 55 short films culled from nearly 9,000 submissions, plus TV and online works, live music and artist talks. Jane Rosenthal and her longtime business partner, Robert De Niro, founded the festival with Craig Hatkoff in 2001, and she oversees the 45-member staff that pulls it off. Rosenthal has produced more than 50 films including Meet the Parents, About a Boy, and the 2017 HBO film Wizard of Lies, filmed at 65 locations in and around New York City.
What is the major theme of this year's festival?
Time's Up. Women directed 46% of our feature films, 40% of our film shorts and 70% of NOW, our New Online Work category.
Did you make a conscious effort to represent women?
We're a company that's 80% women. We're a festival that was born after 9/11 as an activist response for how stories can make a difference to a community. Between #MeToo and Time's Up, the women here said, "If you're looking for 50/50 gender parity in the workforce, let's look to see if we can get 50/50 in our films."
Is it frustrating that it's just 46% then?
No, I'm proud it's 46%. It will eventually be 60%.
Time's Up and #MeToo are giving women a voice, and powerful men have lost their jobs. But what kind of change will take hold in the industry?
The door's open—now it's a matter of keeping it open. Now women in what are perceived as powerful positions must make sure we are bringing others with us and supporting that next generation.
You are debuting a 360-degree screening room for virtual-reality and augmented-reality films. Who is the audience for that?
Most people haven't seen really good quality stories in VR. So the hope is that you'll be able to see what you can do within these new technologies. Documentaries in VR are fantastic. Ban Ki-moon had commissioned two very early on. One was in a Syrian refugee camp. U.N. committee members didn't have to travel to see the conditions, the boredom, what the mothers had to cook with. This year we have a fantastic, immersive VR film on racism, 1000 Cut Journey. You truly walk in a black man's shoes.
In the U.S., 3-D revenue is declining. Is this a cautionary sign for VR?
VR is going to have a major impact on every industry but entertainment. In medicine, you can practice operating. Wal-Mart trains employees in VR. You don't have to travel to China to see what they're building. When your kids learn about the pyramids, they will walk through them in VR. It's more interesting than reading a book.
The film festival will open and close with documentary features. Has consumer appetite for documentaries grown?
News organizations have had to cut bureaus and investigative reporting. Documentary film hasn't replaced it, but certainly some of the stories would have been on CBS Reports or an NBC special.
You close with a documentary on the Trump presidency. Is that too soon?
The film's about the importance of the fourth estate to have facts. How do you cover somebody who has no respect for the truth and try to be fair and balanced? What's fascinating was to see how much I'd forgotten.