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One On 1: Film Producer Jane Rosenthal

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With the TriBeCa Film Festival beginning this Saturday, NY1’s Budd Mishkin continues his new series, “One On 1,” with a profile of one of the creators of the festival, film producer Jane Rosenthal.

It seems like everyone in New York has a hectic schedule, but Jane Rosenthal has a hectic schedule.

"I have to commute to L.A. to do a movie, and the festival is in New York and my children are still in school,” she says. “We have to coordinate things around school carnivals and plays, so it's a little insane right now."

The movie? Rosenthal is a film producer — a big time film producer - with movies like "About a Boy," "Wag the Dog" and "Meet the Parents" on her resume. The festival? She's co founder, along with her partner Robert DeNiro and her husband Craig Hatkoff of the TriBeCa Film Festival, enjoying its third year this spring.

"One hundred fifty-thousand people came out the first year. Last year over 350,000 came to the festival, mostly to the free events that we do, which were the concert, the family festival and our drive in, which was more of a sit in,” she says. “Having community support and the film community support has been extraordinary for us."

The school carnivals and plays? Rosenthal is the mother of two young children. She’s your typical New York working woman, who occasionally flies to the coast and is in charge of an event that attracts hundreds of thousands.

"It's difficult to balance everything,” she says. “I always feel like I'm in the wrong spot. I'm never in the right place at the right time. If I'm in school I should be in a meeting; if I’m in a meeting I should be picking my children up; if I am picking my children up, I should be someplace else. So I always feel like I'm in the wrong place.”

So Rosenthal is like many New Yorkers who feel the pressure of combining work with home. But what makes her story intriguing is the high profile nature of the work, and the fact that so much of the business takes place on that other coast.

“I'm always feeling like Sisyphus,” she says. “I think you always feel like that when the heart of the business is really 3,000 miles away. It’s always a tension; should you fly out for the meeting, or should you just do the meeting on a conference call? There's these big meetings going on and you’re the voice in the box, and you can't hear properly. You're yelling, ÎCan you speak louder?’ Or you’re always on a plane."

And yet the priority is clear.

“There is no party, there is no meeting, there’s nothing that matters to me more than being home with my children,” Rosenthal says.

That’s easier said than done at this time because the festival is big, with plenty of stars, events for New Yorkers, concerts, and of course, movies.

"This year they know we're here, and people are planning for us,” she says. “We had so many submissions. We had 2,700 applications for volunteers."

So how does a young woman from Providence, Rhode Island, end up a business partner with one of the greatest actors of our time? Rosenthal graduated from NYU in the mid 1970's, interned at CBS Sports, and worked in theater. She eventually moved to Los Angeles as a film executive and worked with Martin Scorsese on "The Color of Money."

"Marty asked me if I was interested in meeting his friend Bob DeNiro, who was thinking of starting a company,” she says. “And at the time I said, ÎOf course, I'm happy to meet Bob.”

Yes, that would be Bob.

Rosenthal says she grew up shy. But one of the reasons she wasn't star struck by DeNiro was that she had already dealt with movie heavyweights while working with Disney in the 80’s.

“When I thought about Bob's filmography and his stature in the business, I would get nervous,” she says. “But when I would sit with Bob and talk about what his hopes and dreams were, and what he wanted to build, I was challenged and excited by it and wanted to go do it.”

“One of the things Bob said to me - it wasn't the first phone call, but it was probably the most memorable phone call - he said to me, ÎWhat do you want to do - be a studio executive the rest of your life?’ And the way he said it, I just thought, ÎI can't do this anymore.’ But besides from that it was about trusting my own instincts, and in this business, if you can't trust your own instincts you don't belong in this business."

The two helped put TriBeCa on the New York film map. Rosenthal is too young, mid 40's, to start talking about legacy, but her most important contribution to the city is the TriBeCa Film Festival, created in the aftermath of 9/11.

“Bob and Craig and I looked at what happened here, and saw the streets deserted, and thought, ÎWe have to do something,’” she says. “We just went and did it. I feel that it's our responsibility as citizens to go and do something."

As the company started working on the first festival, a catchphrase caught on in the office.

“Whenever we would just become so exhausted working on the festival and someone would get into a tiff about something, we would turn to each other and say, ÎLook left,’ and that reminded us of why we were doing what we were doing,” she says, in reference to looking at the nearby World Trade Center site.

The first festival in 2002 helped revitalize downtown, and created such good feelings that Rosenthal wished the impossible, possible.

“I actually believed that when we were doing the festival that suddenly the buildings would come back,” she says. “I know that sounds crazy, but I kept thinking that if I could do something and put all my energies, instead of having that sick feeling we all had, if I could do something, it would make everything ok."

But sometimes life doesn't imitate art, and so Rosenthal and her partners continue with the film festival as a way of giving something back to New York.

“How did the community feel to be able to feel that we all had a new memory to think about, that we all had something great to talk about down here, that the streets were filled with people, with laughter and music, and not emergency vehicles?” she says. “[It] was really wonderful, and I think I needed that personally."

Laughter and music - some of the things all of New York came to appreciate after 9/11. And for Jane Rosenthal there are constant reminders of her own good fortune.

“I feel very fortunate to have met Bob and built TriBeCa with him,” she says. “And I have a terrific husband who has also been very active and co-founded the festival with us, and who goes along with my crazy schemes when I have them. It's fun, but I pinch myself all the time."

- Budd Mishkin

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