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Established 1995 filmfestivals.com serves and documents relentless the festivals community, offering 92.000 articles of news, free blog profiles and functions to enable festival matchmaking with filmmakers.

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Richard Peña on his work at New York Film Fest - part 3

RICHARD PENA ON HIS WORK III

Do you think that the continued expansion of film festivals is indication of the growing cinematic interest by the audience?
I wish it were that. I don’t know. It is probably an indication of more people looking for ways of having jobs that are more glamorous. I am not sure how much it helps films. The vast majority of the festivals have no impact on the films at all. In the best possible of all worlds it is a nice cultural activity, but they do not really affect films that much. They put however a lot of wear and tear on prints. You get a print coming in from a festival. and suddenly a print that was new two weeks before has scratches all over it.

How do you assess the Tribeca film festival?
Tribeca is till on the road of finding itself, establishing its pattern. It seems to be quite different, yet follows the model of the very large film festivals which we have in other parts of North America. In a way it has essentially to my mind wisely chosen a very different style from other festivals. Thus it is no really comparable.

If there were sufficient funding and you had a free hand, what are the changes/additions you would introduce at the NYFF?
Clearly the festival is inching towards accepting films on digital. We had a couple over the last couple of years for which we have been able to bring in the proper equipment but eventually at Alice Tully Hall in the renovation it is going to undergo in the next two years it will be fully equipped with complete digital capabilities. [Following] my own personal passion at the Film Society I would be to see more publishing done. Considering so many of the series we do, we really should accompany more of them. with catalogues and books. But that is expensive and time consuming and there is very little financial return, it is something I would like to see us doing. Indeed I may add use the festival time for more conferences such as the Ozu conference which we did a coupe of years ago and which can serve as a model.

Have you ever been turned down by a film maker?
Very rarely but it has happened. There are times when people can not provide the film because its has already been booked in a cinema the week before the festival.

Do you plan to incorporate more high quality documentaries?
We are happy to incorporate as many documentaries as we see and like. There is no limit, we do not have a quota, one year we had eight. It depends on what
we see if we like it. This year we had a couple of very strong documentaries, we tend to average about 2 or 3 documentaries. But again that is not a quota. We would show more if we like them. Moving to digital would do that we would have a greater selection of documentaries if we are fully digitally equipped

and you are going to be flooded by submissions

That would be the other problem

Do you have experience in film making?
I have been working on a couple of friends' films in a low capacity. No, I am not a film maker.

Thanks for your time
Claus Mueller
filmexchange@gmail.com

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Richard Peña on his Work
Richard Peña, noted film curator and scholar, is in charge of the New York Film Festival and the programs of the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Since his appointment in 1988, Mr. Peña has enhanced festival standing as the most selective and influential cinema event in North America, and extended the Film Society’s programs to cover in depth year-round retrospectives of influential film artists and showcases of national cinemas. Pena has been lecturing on film and guest- curating throughout his career. He was born in New York of Spanish and Puerto Rican parents. Mr. Peña attended St. John's Prep in Danvers, Massachusetts, and Harvard College.

This interview was conducted on October 6 by Claus Mueller, our New York correspondent.

Interview with Richard Pena
October 6, 2005

RICHARD PENA ON HIS WORK I

How would you define the primary objective of the festival and have there been any changes in the objectives over the last 43 years ?
The New York film festival is a celebration of the art of film. When it was first founded in 1963 the status of film within general cultural considerations was perhaps not as high as it is now. Part of the reason [for the festival ] was to bring film to a level where it could compare to the other great arts at Lincoln center like ballet, opera, and music. Thus it would provide a program in which the highest standards of film art would be celebrated every year. Those are still our objectives, to bring the most challenging, provocative and interesting films that together form a good view of where we see, myself and my colleagues, the art of film at this particular moment.

Since you assumed direction of the festival, what are the most important new trends/tendencies you detected?
Since I became director of the festival in 1988, a trend which was apparent then has continued, the increasing internationalization of cinema. In 1988 we where just beginning to hear rumors of a cinema arising in Iran, Chinese Cinema was known but we did not know the full depth of Chinese cinema. Latin American cinema was going though a prolonged period of real crisis and since that time South Korea, Argentina, and the many different Chinese cinemas from Taiwan, the People’s Republic of China and Hong Kong have become major sources of first rate intentional cinema. And that is new in terms of the festival though if you look back there has been great film making in those areas for many years. But after 1988 more of these films became available.

What about independent U.S. productions?
My own feeling is that the American independent cinema in a certain way while [reflecting] a great marketing strategy has not really perhaps affected [us] that much. It had obviously introduced a few interesting new auteurs like Paul.Anderson, Jeff Anderson, Alexander Payne . But generally speaking I think I follow the observation of my friend John Pearson when he says that there used to be to be fifty independent films and five were interesting and now there are 500 independent films and there are ten which are interesting. I think the fact that there has been such an exponential growth in the independent cinema has not really led to many more great films coming out.

Is there a national cinema on the rise you would recommend watching out for
Clearly for me the two national cinemas which at this point seem to be offering a lot of interesting work year in and year out have been the South


Korean Cinema which had a remarkable year, we had three South Korean films in the festival, and the Argentine Cinema. Unfortunately we did not have anything from Argentina this year we had two Argentine films last year. But those are the two countries which seem to me to have just an extraordinary wealth of production of new film makers or older film makers continue to do fine work. Obviously the old standbys, the French, the Italians, everyone else continue to do good work. But those are the two countries where there is a lot of interest at this particular moment. The moment of Iranian cinema of early to mid nineties, I do not want to say it has passed. But there still are good films coming from Iran, but it seems to have lost some of the great energy it had 10 or 12 years ago.

Can you identify the three film makers that had the greatest impact on how you relate to film?
A tough question. For the moment probably the first would have been Bunuel, the first film maker who I really identified as a name. The fact that he was Spanish meant a lot to me and I really loved his films. He was probably the first film maker whose works I consciously sought out. I did the best I could to see every film ever made. This [started] already when I was in High School. He was the first one. I liked the fact that there was not only this playfulness about his cinema but there was this strong connection to other artistic movements, to surrealism specifically, and the way in which what he did in cinema had parallels in painting cinemas
Then I would probably say the Brazilian Glauber Rocha. I think that his combination of really interesting formal experimentation with very interesting political analysis was something that always has remained for me a kind of ideal
in film making. The films are passionate, they are never uninteresting, they are very complex politically, they are not propagandistic or pamphleteering but at the same time they are among the more challenging work certainly produced anywhere in the 1960’s. So his work meant a lot to me.
And the third person I mention is the film maker Raul Ruiz who is a Chilean film makers who has been active in France since he 1970s, Again I think there is a level of not only insight but I mean the kind of frame of reference , the way he fixes film with deep current[s] of culture, of many cultures is something I always enjoyed. I think his whole identity as an exile, perhaps a little overplayed now that he goes back and forth between Chile and wherever he wants to go, led to that sense of kind of very post modern notion of cultures running together and a kind of incredible hybrid culture merging of elements from many different times and places. His work really exemplifies that and I always enjoyed it for that reason.

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
than 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.

Do you think that the continued expansion of film festivals is indication of the growing cinematic interest by the audience?
I wish it were that. I don’t know. It is probably an indication of more people looking for ways of having jobs that are more glamorous. I am not sure how much it helps films. The vast majority of the festivals have no impact on the films at all. In the best possible of all worlds it is a nice cultural activity, but they do not really affect films that much. They put however a lot of wear and tear on prints. You get a print coming in from a festival. and suddenly a print that was new two weeks before has scratches all over it.

How do you assess the Tribeca film festival?
Tribeca is till on the road of finding itself, establishing its pattern. It seems to be quite different, yet follows the model of the very large film festivals which we have in other parts of North America. In a way it has essentially to my mind wisely chosen a very different style from other festivals. Thus it is no really comparable.

If there were sufficient funding and you had a free hand, what are the changes/additions you would introduce at the NYFF?
Clearly the festival is inching towards accepting films on digital. We had a couple over the last couple of years for which we have been able to bring in the proper equipment but eventually at Alice Tully Hall in the renovation it is going to undergo in the next two years it will be fully equipped with complete digital capabilities. [Following] my own personal passion at the Film Society I would be to see more publishing done. Considering so many of the series we do, we really should accompany more of them. with catalogues and books. But that is expensive and time consuming and there is very little financial return, it is something I would like to see us doing. Indeed I may add use the festival time for more conferences such as the Ozu conference which we did a coupe of years ago and which can serve as a model.

Have you ever been turned down by a film maker?
Very rarely but it has happened. There are times when people can not provide the film because its has already been booked in a cinema the week before the festival.

Do you plan to incorporate more high quality documentaries?
We are happy to incorporate as many documentaries as we see and like. There is no limit, we do not have a quota, one year we had eight. It depends on what
we see if we like it. This year we had a couple of very strong documentaries, we tend to average about 2 or 3 documentaries. But again that is not a quota. We would show more if we like them. Moving to digital would do that we would have a greater selection of documentaries if we are fully digitally equipped

and you are going to be flooded by submissions

That would be the other problem

Do you have experience in film making?
I have been working on a couple of friends' films in a low capacity. No, I am not a film maker.

Thanks for your time
Claus Mueller
filmexchange@gmail.com


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