As competition programmer for the Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF), Yoshi Yatabe has pretty much seen it all. But finding an email from Robert De Niro in his inbox still felt like a big deal.

“It was very difficult to neglect that email,” he says with a laugh.

It was mid-April when De Niro and his producing partner, Jane Rosenthal — co-founders of New York’s Tribeca Film Festival — contacted Yatabe with an intriguing proposition: Would TIFF be interested in joining an online event they were organizing?