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The History of Film at Lincoln Center
Film at Lincoln Center (FLC) is a nonprofit organization that celebrates cinema as an essential art form and fosters a vibrant home for film culture to thrive. FLC presents premier film festivals, retrospectives, new releases, and restorations year-round in state-of-the-art theaters at New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. FLC offers audiences the opportunity to discover works from established and emerging directors from around the world with a passionate community of film lovers at marquee events including the New York Film Festival and New Directors/New Films.

Founded in 1969, FLC is committed to preserving the excitement of the theatrical experience for all audiences, advancing high-quality film journalism through the publication of Film Comment, cultivating the next generation of film industry professionals through our FLC Academies, and enriching the lives of all who engage with our programs.


The Birth of the Film Society of Lincoln Center

Though there was no dedicated spot or even name for it yet, the art of cinema was represented at Lincoln Center from the beginning. Lincoln Center’s president William Schuman, recognizing the growing importance of film festivals around the world and the ever expanding presence of international cinema in the U.S., instituted a film department in 1963, which brought to the city that year the first New York Film Festival. Titles were selected by Richard Roud, who had been the programmer at the British Film Institute, and Amos Vogel, known to New York cinephiles for his Cinema 16, a film society founded in 1947 and known for its challenging fare. The very first opening-night selection was Luis Buñuel’s surreal classic The Exterminating Angel, which screened at Philharmonic Hall, a vast space that would be used for the festival for many years to come. Writes Phillip Lopate:

“The New York Film Festival had a profound effect on American film culture, helping to shape the discussion by setting high standards and calling attention to daring, demanding works of cinematic art year after year.”

The founding of the Film Society of Lincoln Center in 1969. Photo by Metropolitan Photo Service Inc.

With no actual brick-and-mortar location, the film department was something of a peripatetic entity, organizing events, screenings, lectures, symposia, and educational programs, in addition to the annual NYFF, with its annual costs covered by the Lincoln Center Fund. By 1967, as LCPA assessed its finances, Schuman began planning for the department to become something larger that could stand alone, and he brought in well-known businessman Martin E. Segal to help organize it. Thus, on May 9, 1969, the Film Society of Lincoln Center was born, with Segal as President and Richard Roud continuing as the Program Director of the New York Film Festival. Says eventual Executive Director Joanne Koch: “The stated aim of this new organization was to contribute to the recognition of the importance of film as a leading artistic from and a vital medium for aesthetic and social expression.”

The New York Film Festival is still a cornerstone event of the American film scene, currently under the guidance of NYFF Director Kent Jones, this year celebrating its 57th anniversary. Yet this is just one part of what the Film Society has achieved. Over the coming years and decades, FSLC would institute a variety of touchstone events, series, programs, and festivals that would come to define the organization.

Opening Night of the 1st New York Film Festival in 1963. Photo by Serating.

Paul Bartell at the 5th New York Film Festival in 1967.

Opening Night of the 5th New York Film Festival in 1967.

Sidney Poitier at Opening Night of the 5th New York Film Festival in 1967. Photo courtesy of Elliott Moss Landy.jpg

A brief history of Film at Lincoln Center via legendary programmer Amos Vogel, excerpted from Film Comment:

I believe within one year or so after I came there, I convinced Schuman that what we really needed, as an initial step toward the integration of film into the Center, was a film department. So, a film department was established, of which I was the head. This film department, it was understood, would begin to develop programs or plans for other things in terms of film at [Lincoln] Center. Now, that means that even at this early stage I already began to [say] to Schuman: “Listen. You’ve got these other art forms here—opera, theater, music, whatever—why not film?” In fact, frankly, speaking for myself, I felt the absence of film from [Lincoln] Center was sort of an example of the kind of cultural conservatism that I really wanted to help change.

NYFF Debuts

Éric Rohmer (My Night at Maud’s)
Ousmane Sembène (Mandabi)
Ingmar Bergman (The Rite)

NYFF7 Main Slate Selection

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (Paul Mazursky) (Opening Night)
Oh! What a Lovely War (Richard Attenborough) (Closing Night)
Adalen ’31 (Bo Widerberg)
Boy (Nagisa Oshima) with Passing Days (Nedeljko Dragić)
The Deserter and the Nomads (Juraj Jakubisko) with The Serendipity Bomb (Jean-François Laguionie)
Destroy, She Said (Marguerite Duras) with Momentum (Jordan Belson)
Duet for Cannibals (Susan Sontag)
The Epic That Never Was (Bill Duncalf)
Une femme douce (Robert Bresson) with Cambridge Team Engine (Charlie Jenkins) and The Noose (Sandor Albert)
Le Gai Savoir (Jean-Luc Godard) with 69 (Robert Breer) and Institutional Quality (George Landow)
Goto, Island of Love (Walerian Borowczyk) with Invocation of My Demon Brother (Kenneth Anger)
He Who Gets Slapped (Victor Sjöstrom) (Retrospective selection)
The Joke (Jaromil Jires) with Cosmic Zoom (Joe Koenig and Robert Verral) and To See or Not to See (Bretislav Pojar)
The Lady from Constantinople (Judit Elek) with The World of Man (Michael Collyer and Albert Fischer) and At Home (Martin Lavut)
Lions Love (Agnès Varda) with Mean to Me (Daniel Rosenwein)
The Merry Widow (Erich von Stroheim) (Retrospective selection)
Mandabi (Ousmane Sembène) with How Do You Seduce a Man? (Jeremy Paul Kagan)
My Night at Maud’s (Eric Rohmer) with The Canaries (Jerome Hill)
One Fine Day (Ermanno Olmi)
Pierre and Paul (René Allio) with The Emperor’s New Armor (R.O. Blechman) and Harvesting (Arthur Lamothe)
Porcile (Pier Paolo Pasolini)
The Rite (Ingmar Bergman) with Dr. Murke’s Collected Silences (Per Berglund)
La Ronde (Max Ophüls) (Retrospective selection) with A Paris Never Seen (Albert Lamorisse)