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You would have to search a long time to find a figure more quintessentially Tribeca than restaurateur Drew Nieporent. A Stuyvesant High School graduate, he turned a love of food and kitchen life into a skyrocketing career first as the owner of groundbreaking Tribeca eatery Montrachet and now as the founder and inspiration behind the Myriad Restaurant Group and its popular Tribeca hotspots Nobu, Corton and the Tribeca Grill, which is backed by Festival co-founder Robert De Niro.
A film buff, audience member since the Festival’s inception, former Festival juror and star of the 2011 TFF film A Matter of Taste, he is a beloved member of the Tribeca Film Festival family. We sat down with Drew in the spacious back room of the Tribeca Grill for his insights from the front lines of the Festival’s first twelve years.
ON THE FILM FESTIVAL
"It gets better every year. I think it takes a while to figure what the goals and aspirations are. What I see is that the public realizes that it’s a pretty important part of the calendar year now. It’s a significant moment in New York. When the Tribeca Film Festival rolls around this time of year, it grabs everyone’s attention.
Even yesterday, the opening movie about The National [Mistaken for Strangers], when the Tribeca word comes up there, I feel very proud of that. It takes time for things to become part of the lexicon. Everything in New York has some kind of acronym. “Tribeca, what does it mean?” That kind of thing. I’m pretty sure we’ve put it on the map. Twenty-three years of this restaurant as the Tribeca Grill, twelve years of the Festival. In a strange way, the restaurant helped to market the advent of the Festival and the power of the name Tribeca. Robert De Niro has always loved that name and used the name for his own production company. It all works in concert.
"The thing I love about these film festivals is that there’s an intimacy."
I think the continuity of the event now, twelve years, that’s what gives it its strength. They keep making it better. Sticking with what works and building on that.
So when you have somebody like Tony Bennett last year in The Zen of Bennett, that was really quite amazing. One year we had Bono and Wynton Marsalis playing right on the steps. Alicia Keys used to come in here when she was an unknown artist, and then came back for the Festival. For me, it’s just amazing. Today you can meet Eva Longoria, Bobby Flay—a dear friend of mine—Mira Sorvino. It’s great. You see the people who are larger than life in the theater.
ON BEING A FESTIVAL JUROR
I loved it last year. I was on the shorts jury and I believe two of the shorts we chose went to the Academy Awards. It was new for me, because I’m not a big one on the short films. But I always bemoan the fact that you can’t really go to a theater anymore and as a preamble to the feature, they don’t show short documentaries, or documentaries for that matter. No more double features that I can think of. When I was a kid growing up, you got a little bit extra.
So when you watch the award shows, you have no idea what those shorts or documentaries are about. You never see them. They get very little publicity. It’s a little sad in a way. That’s why the festivals are great. They promote that genre of filmmaking.
ON WHAT HE’S LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS YEAR
Mistaken for Strangers I was really looking forward to. My son happens to be a musician, so last night that was really interesting for me. The story was great and very clever.
Mira Nair has a film, The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Her films are always interesting. The Bernie Madoff film, In God We Trust. And the Tim Buckley film, Greetings from Tim Buckley.
What’s compelling for me is who makes the film. Liev Schreiber is in the Nair film, and he usually chooses good material. John Slattery is someone I know, Melissa Leo. They’re both in films this year [Bluebird and Bottled Up].
The thing I love about these film festivals is that there’s an intimacy. You get to meet the people who are crafting the various films or judging the films. You do get a sense of the film community. So certainly the story matters, but I’m open to things I normally would not see. For me it’s a learning process. That’s why I like the documentaries, opening up a window on life. The Film Festival always chooses good ones. There’s a voyeurism to watching somebody else’s misery or love life, and that’s why we all love it."