PARK CITY, Utah — Robert De Niro's father, Robert De Niro Sr., was an abstract expressionist painter, part of the post-WWII art scene, which produced such talent as Jackson Pollack. He was even endorsed by the famed art collector and socialite Peggy Guggenheim. But while he was successful when he started out in the 1940s and '50s, De Niro Sr.'s work went out of style as pop art became the trend in the '60s.
He died in 1993 at 71, but his story is now being told by his Oscar-winning son. De Niro has made a documentary about his father called Remembering the Artist Robert De Niro Sr, which premiered at Sundance Film Festival and will air on HBO in June. He also put some of his father's work on display at the Julie Nestor Gallery in Park City.
While attending a reception at the gallery earlier this month, De Niro said the intention was to make the documentary for his family.
"(I) wanted to make a documentary about my father with footage, whatever footage we had; people, whoever was around that were still with us, (I) wanted to have them interviewed and talk about him and have it for the family, for my kids, the grandkids," he said. "And then it went this way that HBO picked it up, which is really great."
When asked what he thought his father would think of the film about him, De Niro joked that he would probably be uncomfortable with the attention.
"He would be flattered on the one hand, and say, 'Well, I don't know, that's not accurate' or this or that," he said.
De Niro says he tried to feature his father's art in his own work, like at his restaurant, the Tribeca Grill, in New York.
"I asked him if he would let me hang some of his paintings there and I thought for sure he's not going to, not going to like that, but he actually went along with it. He hung them himself, especially the three big paintings in the back of the grill, and I was told he'd bring friends from time to time like once a week or every 10 days or so to have dinners there," De Niro said. "And then I asked him if he'd do the menu and he did the menu, which is still there. . . . It will be there as long as the place exists."
De Niro is in Utah for the 30th anniversary of the Sundance Film Festival, which started Jan. 16 and ends today. The actor said he hopes his own film festival, the Tribeca Film Festival, which he co-founded with producing partner Jane Rosenthal after Sept. 11, will be just as successful.
Couric's quick pitch
Along with her soon-to-end daytime talk show, fall engagement and recent move from TV to the web as Yahoo's global anchor, Katie Couric also made a documentary feature.
Fed Up premiered Jan. 19 at the Sundance Film Festival.
Couric linked up with An Inconvenient Truth producer Laurie David to make a film that explores the epidemic of childhood obesity and its not-so-obvious causes. Couric produced and narrates the film.
The 57-year-old TV anchor said she pitched David her idea over email, "and it took her about 10 seconds to say, 'I'm in.' "
"Three seconds," David said.
Couric said documentaries "are replacing journalism in some cases" because budget cuts and a taste for quick news bites mean "nobody invests the time to really investigate some of the biggest social issues.
"It's great to have the time and . . . to know that you don't have to turn it around in a day, a week or even a month," she said. "You have 93 minutes to really flesh out an issue that deserves that and then some. That is so liberating."
Fed Up, directed by Stephanie Soechtig, uses historical footage and news events to show the causes and costs of obesity in the United States.
"This generation of children is the first to live a shorter life span than their parents, and it has ramifications in every aspect of our lives," Couric said. "Talk about skyrocketing health care costs: the obesity epidemic is behind these health care costs. And national security: These people are too heavy to join the military."
Couric also plans to dig into social issues and talk with newsmakers and cultural leaders in her new gig at Yahoo, and she's not afraid to leave television behind.
"I wanted to be part of the transition that we see happening all around us in media," she said. "People . . . may want the immediacy of having things on their mobile phone or on their computers, but I also think they want quality content as well, so hopefully we'll be able to provide some of that."