As part of our ongoing 50 Years of the New York Film Festival series, Academy Award-winning director Jonathan Demme came to Film Society to screen and discuss two of his films that appeared in the festival, Handle with Care aka Citizen’s Band (NYFF ’77) and Melvin and Howard (NYFF ’80). Sitting down with Program Director Richard Peña as well as actor and frequent collaborator Paul Le Mat, Demme gave the packed house a very personal, anecdotal look into the beginning of his exceptional career as a filmmaker.

“I didn’t go to film school,” said Demme, who also helmed The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Philadelphia (1993), “so my learning was done out in public and showed up on the screen.”

In the conversation, which fell between the two screenings, Demme and Le Mat painted an intimate picture of what was going on behind the scenes before, during and after the productions. In the case of Handle with Care, despite butting heads with the screenwriter and associate producer Paul Brickman, getting fired from the picture in post-production, and ultimately not knowing which version of the movie would be screened on a given day, Demme took a lot away from what he called a formative filmmaking experience. “At the time it wasn’t a great commercial success, but here we are in 2012 in the Walter Reade Theater with Paul Le Mat and we’re still looking at it, and that’s what makes me excited.”

The second film of the double feature, Melvin and Howard starring Jason Robards, seemed to be a much smoother experience for the duo. After moving seamlessly from a great script to uninterrupted shooting and good distribution, the film ultimately opened the 1980 edition of NYFF.

Demme, who started his career making films for the prolific Roger Corman, concluded the conversation with an amazing anecdote about meeting François Truffaut when he was a 22-year-old publicist in New York. Truffaut autographed Demme’s copy of Hitchcock, writing “good luck on your first film.” When Demme said he wasn’t interested in directing, Truffaut just looked at him and said: “yes, you are.” Eleven years later, in 1977, they both had films playing in the New York Film Festival.

If you missed this unforgettable conversation, you can watch complete video of it below. Also make sure to check out our 50 Years of the New York Film Festival lineup with new additions from artists as varied as Clint Eastwood, Andrei Tarkovsky, Jackie Chan, Raul Ruiz, and Michael Moore, who will be in person for a Q&A following a screening of Roger & Me (NYFF ’89)!