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The Tribeca Festival is back, happy to restart with the city

Paula Weinstein does not remember the last movie she watched in the cinema.

“Oh, damn it,” Weinstein, content manager for Tribeca Enterprises and organizer of the 20th Tribeca Festival, said during a video call last week. “I don’t remember – it’s so out of my head.”

The 12-day festival, often held in April, was canceled last year due to the pandemic. But with coronavirus cases plunging across the country, she hopes this year’s event, which kicks off Wednesday with the world premiere of the musical “In the Heights”, will once again help provide a catalyst for the resumption of the city.

“I’m so excited to see people again – to hear them laugh, come together, have fun,” said Jane Rosenthal, co-founder and CEO of Tribeca Enterprises. “Everything the last 15 months have taken away. “

Longtime film and television producer Rosenthal first hosted the festival with her production partner Robert De Niro and then-husband Craig Hatkoff in 2002, shortly after the 9/11 attacks . They wanted to bring people back to downtown and stimulate the economic and cultural revitalization of Lower Manhattan, she said.

More than 150,000 people attended the event, and Rosenthal and Weinstein are hoping for a replay this month. They lined up nearly two weeks of in-person and online screenings of 66 feature films, drawn from a record 11,222 submissions.

In separate video chats last week, Rosenthal and Weinstein discussed the changes to this year’s festival, how the challenges they’ve faced are similar to those of the first Tribeca and the films they’ve been waiting for most. . These are edited excerpts from the conversations.

Tribeca normally occurs in April, so yours was one of the first events affected by the pandemic.

JANE ROSENTHAL We knew if New York’s schools were to close, we were going to have to pivot. Then came the order to stay home. It was very sad, but we were coming back to our origins of diving into the unknown.

What did you do instead?

ROSENTHAL We started releasing one short film a day and then figured out how to get film festivals around the world to put on a massive online festival together. We worked with YouTube and were one of 21 festivals – Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Tokyo, Sydney, Toronto, Sundance – which each hosted around 10 hours of programming.

WEINSTEIN We are disjointed by nature. The only thing we know how to do in a crisis is to stand up and put one foot in front of the other.

What was going on in the world when you were planning the 2021 event?

ROSENTHAL It was dark. Biden had not yet been elected. We were looking at how many people were going to hospitals. Would that actually start to drop in the warmer climate during the summer months? Could we do the festival outdoors and in social distancing?

WEINSTEIN Of course, there were moments of “OMG, is this really going to happen? But when we opened the nominations, we had over 11,000 filmmakers from all over the world, up 7.5% from last year and more than ever.

What was the hardest part of planning this year’s event?

WEINSTEIN We couldn’t run into each other’s offices and say, “I have that idea, what do you think? Everything was so disciplined. It was like, “If I miss something at this meeting, I have to wait for the next Zoom.”

Join Times theater reporter Michael Paulson in a conversation with Lin-Manuel Miranda, see a performance of Shakespeare in the Park, and more as we explore the signs of hope in a transformed city. For a year, the “Offstage” series followed the theater until it closed. We now take a look at its rebound.

ROSENTHAL The evolution of hygiene and safety protocols.

The first Tribeca Film Festival was intended as a way to bring people back to Lower Manhattan after September 11. Jane, that was your idea, wasn’t it?

ROSENTHAL I was obsessed with how to get people back downtown. I said, “Why don’t we have a film festival? I knew we would at least have one movie, “About a Boy.” [She was among the producers of that movie.] I felt that if I could produce a film in three months, I could do a film festival in three months. It’s really good that I was blissfully oblivious to a lot of the issues we were going to be facing.

Do you have a similar goal to trigger a recovery this year?

ROSENTHAL We have outdoor screenings that range from Battery in Brooklyn to Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx – we’re not just in Lower Manhattan anymore. We bring films that will give joy and importance to these communities and hopefully help boost some local economies and communities in a way similar to the first festival.

Do you think people are ready to come back?

WEINSTEIN They are sure to be ready from our response to the ticket. The filmmakers all come from out of state. One of them said to me: “I don’t care if I have to rent a motorhome and sleep on the way, I can do it”.

What precautions are in place?

WEINSTEIN When we can, we increase the number of seats to allow for more audiences. We will tell people to wear masks, but we are not going to restrict it. We follow all possible guidelines.

What does this year’s lineup look like?

WEINSTEIN A good chunk of the movies we wanted in 2020 are getting their premiere at this year’s festival. We have 56 world premieres and 23 countries represented.

ROSENTHAL I am really proud of our representation. Over 60% of this year’s feature films were directed by women, people of color and LGBTQ + artists.

What movies are you most looking forward to this year?

ROSENTHAL One of my favorites is the documentary on Dick Gregory [“The One and Only Dick Gregory”], as well as “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” by a young woman, Hannah Marks. And our VR films, curated by Loren Hammonds. There are so many great new voices.

WEINSTEIN I don’t want to choose! I am so optimistic for all the young filmmakers represented. So many of these films were finished or shot under Covid protocols, and they did such a good job that I’m excited about the future of storytelling.

You have removed “Film” from the name of the festival this year. Why?

ROSENTHAL We’re looking at different ways to create an immersive experience, and as long as people tell a good story, that should be part of what we do at Tribeca. This year we have game-based and podcast-based stories in the competition. Ten years ago, we presented our first video game, LA Noire. We’ve always been at the forefront of researching how we might change our storytelling to reach an audience.

WEINSTEIN We were just looking for a way to embrace it all.

Could the switch to a summer festival be potentially permanent?

WEINSTEIN We haven’t discussed it yet. We did it this year because we knew we had to be outside to protect our audience. June seemed fair cause we thought it wouldn’t be cold [and] the audience will be ready.

Will you continue to offer a streaming option in the years to come?

ROSENTHAL It is certainly something that we are planning to do. That said, I love the experience of sitting in a theater and watching movies with an audience – especially comedies. You don’t get the same pleasure from comedy on your own as when someone next to you laughs because all of a sudden they got the joke.

Fill in the blank: In ten years, Tribeca will be _________.

WEINSTEIN Open to new voices and new ways of telling stories, because we know the world is going to expand tremendously over the next 10 years.

ROSENTHAL Maybe we’ll make a Fortnite movie or show some Mars movies!

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