NEW YORK (Reuters) – Movie producers do not turn into household names as often as actors and directors, but Jane Rosenthal leapt to that level, and not just for her feature film projects.
Perhaps her best-known project is New York City’s Tribeca Film Festival, which she co-founded in 2002 with the aim of bringing people back to lower Manhattan and healing the many wounds of 9/11.
The famed producer is also known for her longtime partnership with actor Robert De Niro, a union which has produced franchises like “Meet the Parents” and “Analyze This,” as well as the recent HBO film “The Wizard of Lies,” about Wall Street ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff.
With this year’s Tribeca Film Festival kicking off April 18, Rosenthal spoke with Reuters Money for the latest in our “Life Lessons” series, to talk about life on the Hollywood high wire.
Q: Did movies influence you early on in life?
A: Ever since I was seven years old and I saw the magic of “Mary Poppins.” She was the first superhero: She could fly, she spoke multiple languages, she traveled the world, she could negotiate. That movie had a big impact on how I looked at the world, in so many different ways.
Julie Andrews actually interviewed me for a job at one point, and it was the worst interview I ever had. I just sat there gushing, it was really embarrassing. I didn’t get the job.
Q: What life lessons did your parents pass along?
A: The importance of dinner table conversation. My mother always made these wonderful dinners, and even if it was just for 10 minutes, forced everyone to sit down and talk for a little bit. There is something wonderful about that: Sitting down, eating together, and just being a family.
Q: At what point did you realize you could make a successful career in film?
A: I never think that. I still don’t. The thing about the movie business is that you are always looking to your next project. You are always pushing a rock up a hill, and that is what keeps me going. You are never at rest.
Q: What do you invest in, apart from film projects?
A: Primarily real estate. Take the Tribeca Film Center, for instance. When Bob (De Niro) purchased that building, the vision was to have an open workspace, whether others could have offices too, and we could all share services. It was kind of like WeWork, but back then, people weren’t really talking about the shared economy.
Q: How do you cope with the financial ups and downs of the movie business?
A: You are exhilarated one minute, and the next minute you want to fling something across the room. It is a roller coaster, and it is certainly not dull. But you learn far more from your failures than from your successes. It is very much a crapshoot, and you never really know what is going to hit a chord with the public.
Q: What were the lessons of starting a film festival from scratch?
A: I was inspired by hearing Nelson Mandela talk about the movies: He said films were the one thing he and his jailers had in common. They would laugh at the same things, and cry at the same things. Movies have that kind of unifying power, and that is what New York City needed after 9/11.
Q: Do your philanthropic dollars go toward 9/11-related charities?
A: I have been involved with that museum and memorial since literally months after 9/11. But I am also very involved in childhood mental health, such as with the Child Mind Institute. Look at what is going on in the world today, and it is obvious that we have to treat mental health as just as important as physical health. Children are our best resource, so we have to make sure they grow up healthy and supported and inspired.
Q: What life lessons do you pass along to your own kids?
A: Kindness and curiosity. In this world, kindness is overlooked.
Editing by Beth Pinsker and Bernadette Baum