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Interview With Jeff Abramson, Gen Art Film Festival

 Campbell Scott and Jeff Abramson at 2007 Gen Art Film FestivalCampbell Scott and Jeff Abramson at 2007 Gen Art Film Festival

Friday, April 4-----The 13th edition of the Gen Art Film Festival kicked off festivities on Wednesday night with the East Coast Premiere screening of DIMINISHED CAPACITY, a family drama starring Matthew Broderick and Alan Alda. The Festival continues through next Tuesday, showcasing one feature film and accompanying short film per night, followed by a party at some of New York’s most trendy nightspots. On the eve of the Festival, I interviewed Jeff Abramson, Head of the Film Division for Gen Art, the national non-profit membership organization that showcases emerging talents in the fields of visual arts, music, dance, fashion and film.

Sandy Mandelberger (SM): So, where will the Festival be held this year, since I understand that the Chelsea West has closed?


Jeff Abramson (JA): Well, actually we’re in the same venue as last year, only known its called the School of Visual Arts Screening Room. The School recently purchased the theater, which they are going to use for both classes and multimedia displays. They are really bending over backwards, since the deal just closed in mid February. The theater is undergoing renovation and will be a leader in the presentation of digital and 35mm cinema. We’re really glad to be back there, since it is a perfect location mid-way between downtown and uptown.


SM: The Opening Night Film is going to be presented at the Ziegfeld Theater. Why do it there and when did you first become aware of the film, DIMINISHED CAPACITY?


JA: This is the third year that we are presenting the Opening Night Film at the Ziegfeld. As the largest single-screen theater left in Manhattan, just being there is an event. It is such a thrill for the filmmakers to have their film presented in such a beautiful space, with a large screen and perfect sound. When I first came to New York from Minneapolis, this was the theater that really made me fall in love with the movies. So I am so thrilled to share that excitement with visiting filmmakers and our audiences. As for the film, I first saw it at Sundance and felt that it really had the qualities that are right for an Opening Night Film…..great acting, direction and a lot of heart. The fact that the film is very New York-based is also a big plus, so that we can have the director, the producers and the actors Matthew Broderick, Bobby Canavale and Alan Alda on hand for the excitement. This is the kind of film that brings the New York community together.


SM: April is such a busy month for film festivals in New York, with New Directors/New Films at the end of March running into April and Tribeca Film Festival a few weeks from now. How do you position Gen Art in this busy festival season?


JA: We decided to move the Festival a little earlier so that we would be further away from Tribeca. It’s not that they are such big competition for us, but their program is so huge and their publicity machine so vast, that we just didn’t want to get lost in the shuffle. We are overlapping with New Directors/New Films but our core audience demographic is really different from theirs, that it doesn’t present a problem. Besides, we are known as the being the “social festival”, where people come to hang out together to see a movie and then go to a cool club afterwards. Neither Tribeca nor New Directors offers that.


SM: With so many other Festivals, are you having more trouble attracting the films that you want for your event?


JA: That’s a very good question. Of course, there is some degree of competition, but we are not so enslaved to the idea of presenting World or US Premieres as some of the other festivals on the circuit. In fact, we draw upon some of the strong festivals that precede us, like Toronto, Sundance, South By Southwest, to bring films that have made their mark there to New York audiences. I think we’re also different because we really stress the social aspect, by making it clear that moviegoing is a social experience, especially with the mix of movies and parties that we offer. Another distinction is that we only show seven films, one per night, so that there is not a lot of distraction. It is a really intense spotlight on each film on its own terms, and our filmmakers have always loved that. So, we have enough of a reputation that is different from our “competitors” so that we rarely miss out on films that we really go after.


SM: Let’s talk about the Closing Night Film, THE TAKE with John Leguizamo.


JA: I really love that film. I first saw it at the Toronto Film Festival and was so impressed with the performances and the direction. John Leguizamo and the rest of the cast give amazing performances and the film really doesn’t just fall into an action film cliché, but remains startingly human and real. I actually went to school with the director at New York University, and that did help us to get the film. But the main reason is this special spotlight we can throw on a film and the reputation we have with film distributors who take notice of what films we choose and how our audiences respond to them. Over the years, we have definitely played a role in helping films get noticed and even picked up by distributors. They know that we attract a very eclectic crowd, so if a film goes over here, it is a pretty good indicator of how it will work with a core audience. The film that ends up winning our Audience Award definitely gets noticed too.


SM: In the last few years, you have expanded film activities in other US cities. What are your plans for the future?


JA: Well, last year we inaugurated the Chicago Gen Art Film Festival, which was fantastically well received. We are going back to Chicago from June 24 to 28 and expect that festival to continue to grow in reputation and audience attendance. The audiences are different from the New York ones….they prefer somewhat more commercial films but they are still open to experimentation. We are looking to increase our film involvement in some of the other cities where we already have a substantial membership and do other types of programs in music, dance and fashion. For example, the Miami chapter is very active and we are thinking of doing some film projects down there. And I’ve got my own pet project for the Los Angeles market, where I now am living. LA already has a good number of film festivals, but I think that something that could really work in this town is a festival devoted to documentaries. It’s still at the planning stage, but don’t be surprised to hear an announcement of a Gen Art Documentary Film Festival in Los Angeles in the near future. For the moment though, I have my attention set on New York and all the excitement, fun and enjoyment that await our audiences both in and out of the cinema.


Sandy Mandelberger, Festival Circuit Editor


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Mandelberger Sandy
(International Media Resources)

Coverage of the world of film festivals on the international film festival circuit.

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