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Richard Peña, Program Director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center

This is the first of a three part interview for by Claus Mueller
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.


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.

Claus Mueller
filmexchange@gmail com

This is the first of a three part interview

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