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“I keep saying Little Bub needs to meet Big Bob,” Jane Rosenthal cracks, turning an eye to her left. Sitting by her side, up on the stage in an empty test theater, is Robert De Niro, her partner in running the Tribeca Film Festival for the last dozen years.
It’s suggested that it would be a great publicity move, if there were a photo with him and Bub, and that wry smile, the one that helped him become a star and then sustain a nearly 50-year career, breaks across De Niro’s face.
“Oh, there definitely will be,” he says, laughing. He knows it’s absurd — pairing a two-time Oscar winner and the deformed kitty that has become an Internet sensation — but such is the nature of film festivals, amalgamations of established industry leaders and plucky, experimental upstarts. Lil Bub is the star of a new documentary from Vice Media, and will be one of the featured attractions at the 12th edition of lower Manhattan’s celebration of independent cinema.
Founded as a way to revitalize a freshly wounded downtown still in shock from the terrorist attacks of September 11th, the festival has grown in leaps and bounds, with a record 149 features, documentaries and shorts scheduled to be screened. There are big names — films feature the likes of Paul Rudd, Paul Giamatti, Julianne Moore, Ben Kingsley and Naomi Watts — and unknown international filmmakers running films side by side. Documentaries include subjects from Muhammad Ali and Richard Pryor to murderous soldiers and famous women in sports, part of an ESPN project honoring the anniversary of Title IX. For the community, there will be big outdoor screenings of classics such as Beetlejuice and Alfred Hitchcock‘s The Birds. And filmmakers such as Darren Aronofsky and Clint Eastwood will hold public chats.
Tribeca prides itself on a diversity that reflects the city that it calls home, and both its opening and closing night films are set right within Gotham. On April 17, the festival will kick off with Mistaken for Strangers, a doc made about the Brooklyn-based band The National, directed by Tom Beringer, brother of the band’s frontman Matt Beringer. The closing night, April 28, will feature a screening of a digital remastering of De Niro and Martin Scorsese‘s 1982 comedy The King of Comedy, a late night farce that predicted the blurred line between fame and infamy in today’s celebrity culture. De Niro says he hasn’t seen it in at least twenty years.
“When we started the festival, Marty — who has always been a friend to the festival — was here with us to announce it in November of 2001 and one of the things he did, which wasn’t scripted or necessarily part of the program, was he said, ‘And we are going to have restored and rediscovered films,'” Rosenthal remembers. “He turned and looked at me and I was nodding like ‘OK.’ So the fact that on our 12th year, a dozen years later, it was the anniversary of King of Comedy and this as a restored film. It all came full circle.”
Tribeca will also upload several films to watch in an online screening room, for fans who can’t make it to New York (or get shut out of theater screenings). The company is well-acquainted with on demand films, with a burgeoning distribution arm that specializes in putting indie films on VOD services. De Niro, for one, has adapted to the new paradigm in film viewing.
“I look at them on my computer. I don’t really like to, and if it’s a certain type of movie I’d rather see it with an audience obviously, but sometimes [I use computers] just for time,” he explains. “I get up very early in the morning and put with on with no distractions and watch it. It’s not the best way, but it’s not a bad way. As I said, some movies are really a collective experience in a theater, and it is very important to see it in a theater.”
Thanks to his film festival, New York is going to have a lot of opportunities to do just that this month.
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