Members of New York Film Festival’s Selection Committee launched this year’s NYFF52 Free Talks in the Amphitheater of the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center. NYFF Director Kent Jones, the Film Society’s Director of Programming Dennis Lim, and Senior Programming Advisor Marian Masone were joined by Film Society Deputy Director Eugene Hernandez, who opened the discussion asking Jones about the NYFF’s mission.
“The mission and mandate is very clear and very simple,” said Jones Saturday. “We choose the best films. [It] has varied over the years, but in the Main Slate there are about 20 and 30 from around the world. A few years ago we decided to have premieres in three of the slots.”
Jones noted that unlike many other major festivals around the world, NYFF has kept competition out of it. “You can say in theory that’s [showing the best movies is the] mandate of most festivals, but we don’t have prizes [and] we don’t have juries. We, the selection committee, go on by picking what we think is the best. The festival has gotten bigger, but it has done so in an organic way.”
Jones said the addition of the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center in summer 2011 naturally added more space, but the festival’s goals remain the same: “The festival has added the Film Center and [it grew] larger under Richard Peña’s tenure. We’ve grown but we’re still sticking to the mission.”
The trio shared some of their early moments at NYFF, before working at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Lim recalls seeing the 1996 Opening Night film Secrets & Lies by Mike Leigh while he worked as a freelance critic for The New York Times and The Village Voice, among others.
Kent Jones recalled an early ’80s screening of Godard’s Passion, which was preceded by Erica Beckam’s You the Better. The feature left an impression on the audience though it was perhaps not a welcome one. NYFF audiences, however, have adapted to challenging material since then. “I’ve never seen an audience behave so savagely. They hated it with a passion,” said Jones. “The screaming and hollering was just unimaginable… I thought they were about to kill her… Then Godard came out and everyone jumped to their feet. But I’ve noticed over the years that audiences have become more tolerant of the unexpected. That has changed over the years.”
The pandemonium was touched on by a Village Voice article by J. Hoberman at the time.
And of course the Selection Committee gave a few of their recommendations this year. Marian Masone gave a plug for a doc: “What surprised me the first time I saw it was Seymour: An Introduction. I just went in maybe a little pissy and within a minute I fell in love with Seymour and within three minutes I fell in love with Ethan Hawke’s filmmaking. I shouldn’t have been surprised but [I was].”
Dennis Lim gave kudos to Pedro Costa’s Horse Money and Jauja by [NYFF Filmmaker in Residence ] Lisandro Alonso. “They’re single-minded and have clearly defined projects. They occupy an interesting space between documentary and fiction. They represent a progression in their filmmaking… and are leaps in their careers…”