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Richard Peña on his work at New York Film Fest - part 2

RICHARD PENA ON HIS WORK and Interview for by Claus Muller

Are there specific criteria the New York Film Festival selection committee applies?
You know In the end I think that this is not science, it [this work] really is art, so that basically our criteria are personal and probably pretty arbitrary
You start of with saying why do I like that film and everybody brings their own criteria to it. Some people like the film, because they feel the film talks something important. Some people feel that they have strong stories. Some people [think] that they are doing things with cinema other people have not done. Every one has their own criteria. I like to think that the best films are combinations of formal innovations on the level of film style and approach and social relevance. The best film combines those two. Sometimes there are films tat are so socially relevant that the fact that they are rather, how do you say, plainly made is compensated for. And then sometimes you have films that are so fascinating on a formal level that the fact they are not about a whole lot can also be forgiven. The best films combine both.
What are your personal criteria of success for the NYFF?
That’s a tough one. In a way in the end it is a how I feel about the reaction to the festival. There are two ways of looking at it. You can look at the festival internally and just see how a given year worked in terns of reaction of the audience. The reaction of the critics, [and] whether not those films without distributors received distribution. The other side would be to say what else was out there. Were there a number of other films that should have been in the New York Film Festival but were not there and why not? In a certain way that is what I am perhaps more concerned about, if there are films either I did not know about
that is a bad thing because that is my job, I am supposed to know about these films or if there are films that we passed on and that should not have passed on.
That also happens occasionally. If somebody can tell you I did not like the New York Film Festival this year but if you know there really were not any films of great note you can say that there were no great films out there. We do not make the films we just show them.

What is the single biggest problem you face organizing the New York Film Festival?
Nowadays it is the vast number of films we have to go through and also the fact that the fall, specifically September and October has become a very crowded time to release films. Because people want to release films since they hope they will catch critical attention and [get] awards, it is a very very tight market. There are films which we consider showing but we cannot see them simply because the film already has a date or slot and is going to open and they
cannot move it. If they move it, it is like a house of cards everything else comes falling down. So that has been a problem. The fact that the schedule of releases is so crowded by the sheer overwhelming number of films, it makes the New York Film Festival selection that much more difficult.

What is the proportion of corporate funds in the total festival budget? Has it been growing?
The festival budget is hard to parse out since it is part of the overall film society budget. As to corporate contribution I do not think it has really been growing. We have some good loyal sponsors that have come back for a number of years.

Some observers suggest that corporate sponsorship of film festivals may have an impact on how films are selected. What is your take on this?
Well, it certainly has absolutely no impact on the way we select films. I do not know how it works at other festivals.

Compared to other US festivals such as Sundance, Telluride and Tribeca what is unique about the New York Film Festival?
Probably what makes the NYFF unique is still our size and approach. Most other festivals in North America are quite large, certainly much larger
then we are. They show five or six ten times the number of films that we show That has given us the reputation, somehow deserved, I think of being
somewhat of an elite festival, a place that is very highly selective and that is fine. Other festivals take more of an encyclopedic or panoramic approach
and that is fine too. But that has never been our style. The NYFF is unique in that people know that it [presents] a very small selection. culled from many hundred of films and each year there will be few areas of the world, a few countries which are no present and that is just the way the selection process works.

Does the explosion of film festivals have an impact on your work?
Well it does make for a more crowded field. If you have festivals that are on top of your festival or in between your festival and another festival that can be very difficult. If you have to bicycle prints from Toronto to Copenhagen and back to New York, it is a lot of wear and tear on the films it is a lot of extra shipping, it is a lot of just extra nerves. Having more festivals means that the films we are all after get called upon more and more. It has no impact on the working terms of the selection but does impact the overall organization of the festival;, because you are sometimes locked in to showing a film over two days because of
demand for the film by other places.

Claus Mueller
filmexchange@gmail com

This is the second of a three part interview

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