Tribeca Film Festival founders Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal and Tribeca Enterprises Exec VP Paula Weinstein held a press luncheon today to kick off the 14th annual event and addressed the changing indie filmmaking landscape, as well as how TFF has evolved.

tribeca-film-festival-logo_1When the festival launched it was an effort to revitalize the downtown section of Manhattan impacted by the 9/11 attacks. In over a decade, the festival has generated $900M-plus in economic activity to the city. De Niro, who made a quick cameo at Thalassa restaurant where the luncheon was held, told attendees: “Our festival, just like our neighborhood has become a vibrant, living thing. What was once a statement about resilience in our community has become an institution that encourages and supports our local and professional community.”

Tribeca Film Festival Lunchone: Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal TalkYesterday in a Daily Beast article, both De Niro and Rosenthal called out New York Mayor Bill de Blasio for his lack of financial support to the festival, specifically in ways that other cities, i.e. Toronto and Sundance, support their marquee film fests. The de Blasio administration retorted that it, in fact, provides $300K in promotional support to TFF — at which point festival spokespersons clarified De Niro and Rosenthal’s statements stating that the duo were referring to direct financial support from NYC, not marketing.

Bill De BlasioRosenthal told Deadline about the TFF financial scenario with New York City: “To be very clear, the city gives us bus shelters and subway signage; that’s the inventory they have. And they help us with permits. It’s very costly to do anything in New York, and if you’re going to rise (an event) above, you could use some more support for the arts.”

When asked specifically what TFF would want from New York City, Rosenthal said: “I’m focused on having the best festival that I can. Funding for the arts is crucial especially when you become an economic driver.”

While a film festival typically is assessed by the industry for its market activity, Tribeca by comparison arguably trails Cannes and Sundance in regards to those fests’ prolific, seven-figure deals.

Talking about acquisition sales generated by TFF, Rosenthal explains: “We end up having a number of pictures sold out of Tribeca. The deals don’t necessarily close here. That’s probably the biggest difference with our festival. It doesn’t mean we won’t evolve, but the business has changed so rapidly.”

roger dodgerFilm sales indeed have spiked for TFF world premieres since the fest’s beginnings. In 2002, the sole deal coming out of the fest was when Artisan Entertainment snapped up the Dylan Kidd film Roger Dodger starring Jesse Eisenberg and Campbell Scott after it won the best narrative award. Last year, 34 films were bought out of Tribeca, repping 45% of all titles that played the fest without a distributor. 2011 and 2012 also were big sales years, as 37 titles were sold at or after the festival. In 2012 alone, 55% of all available films for sale at TFF found distribution. One of the prestigious world premieres last year was the Congo documentary Virunga, which was bought by Netflix and ultimately nominated for an Oscar.

“Where we are on the calendar, it’s about spring, it’s about bringing people back downtown,” Rosenthal said. “There’s a lot of parts to our festival that are community components, and we can’t lose sight of that.” One big community event hosted by TFF is the Tribeca Drive-In, where families gather at Brookfield Place for showings of Jonathan Lynn’s Clue and Walt Disney classic Lady And The Tramp. There’s also a Tribeca Family Festival Street Fair on April 25 in Greenwich Village.

live from new yorkFurther distinguishing itself as a festival that marches to the beat of its own drum, TFF opted to open with a documentary. But not just any feature docu, rather Bao Nguyen’s Saturday Night Live pic Live From New York! And the fest is closing with a revival: the remastered print of 1990’s Goodfellas in celebration of the film’s 25th anniversary, complete with key cast members. Commenting on TFF’s choices, Rosenthal says that the SNL docu was key since “it’s the 40th anniversary of the show. It’s a New York institution, and it shows how SNL fit into the historical, political landscape. Talk about disruption: When SNL started 40 years ago, the thought of putting something on TV at 11 PM and not in primetime was unheard of. The documentary also looks at how women and minorities were dealt with and how that’s changed over the years — not just on SNL but the American culture.”

And in regards to Goodfellas, it was a no-brainer given the fest’s De Niro factor. “It was the anniversary, and it’s an amazing digital remastered print,” said Rosenthal. “If we didn’t do it, somebody else was going to do it.”

During her speech to the press, Rosenthal regaled how TFF arrived on the scene prior to the social media renaissance of Facebook and YouTube when “the purity of film was undisputed. Our world has changed. When Tribeca Film Festival started, everyone wasn’t walking around with a film studio and hi-def theater in their pocket.” In terms of today, she added, “We are screen agnostic, but technology gives us new opportunities in storytelling.”

speedyOne big addition at this year’s TFF is Spring Studios, which is serving as the fest’s central hub for filmmaker talks, cinematic installations, screenings and events. On the short walk over to Spring Studios from Thalassa, one reporter exclaimed how wonderful it is that there’s a center for this year’s event. In prior years, fest ops were scattered around the neighborhood. Weinstein followed Rosenthal, naming some of the more cutting-edge events this year including a screening of Harold Lloyd’s New York-set silent classic Speedy with a live soundtrack provided by DJ Z-Trip. There’s also the 100th birthday of Frank Sinatra, complete with the digital restoration of On The Town plus live performances from Tony Bennett, Brandon Flowers of The Killers, Lea DeLaria, dancer and choreographer Savion Glover, Alice Smith and JC Hopkins and the 12-piece JC Hopkins Biggish Band. In addition, Mary J. Blige will perform live following the April 16 screening of Sam Wrench’s documentary Mary J. Blige — The London Sessions.