By Anne Thomson
As I suspected, LA Weekly and Village Voice Media film critic Scott Foundas has accepted the offer of associate film programmer at The Film Society of Lincoln Center.
This means that:
1. Film criticism is a dying art. As one of the best critics working today, Foundas should be anticipating a long and happy career. He’s giving it up to program movies. This should not happen. He’s looking to survive. David Ansen had quite a few more years of criticism in him too, when he accepted a buyout from Newsweek and this week, the new role of artistic director at the Los Angeles Film Festival. The loss of both voices in the critical realm is severe.
2. Unless Foundas screws up (as one-time heir apparent Kent Jones did), down the line he could be in a position to run the New York Film Festival. (Why give up the gig as one of the country’s most powerful film critics otherwise?) Eventually, 22-year NYFF veteran Richard Pena will move back to academia (he’s an associate professor at Columbia University), depending on how long Film Society exec director Mara Manus wants him to stay. She respects Pena and leans on him a good deal. But she is also ambitious for all that the Film Society can be, as a festival, cultural institution and year-round exhibitor. “Scott’s writing is an exhilarating dialogue with artists and audiences alike,” stated Manus. “It is this vibrancy, along with Scott’s deep film knowledge, that will contribute greatly to our growing organization, ensuring we continue to offer (audiences) a vital place of serious film culture.”
3. The Film Society could make more changes. For example, Manus could alter the make-up of the selection committee, on which Foundas has served since 2007, which could effect the direction of the festival itself. While A.O. Scott’s NYT story Wallowing in Misery criticized this year’s NYFF selection, it was in line with what the festival has always done—pick the best intellectually-challenging films in the world without regard for playability. New York already has a more populist film festival geared toward star-studded galas: Tribeca. And what is in store for the circulation-challenged art-film journal Film Comment? While Foundas was courted for the editorship of the new Cahiers du Cinema, he will have his hands full as the Film Society will have more screens to program beyond the Walter Reade when their new film center opens in 2011.
4. Now New York-based Jim Hoberman becomes the surviving critic at Village Voice Media. And there’s an opening for a younger cheaper film editor/critic at the LA Weekly. New editor Drex Heikes could bring back vet critic Ella Taylor. But he’s more likely to anoint his own discovery of a fresh voice. Ex-Spout critic Karina Longworth should send her resume forthwith. She’ll have plenty of competition from all the other critics who lost their jobs this year.
By Brian Brooks (IndieWire)
The rumor-mill expected it, and The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s executive director Mara Manus officially confirmed Wednesday afternoon the appointment of L.A. Weekly critic Scott Foundas as the group’s new Associate Program Director, replacing Kent Jones who left earlier this year to join Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation. Coincidentally or not, Foundas’ new position adds to the recent move by some veteran critics into the festival programming realm, including Newsweek’s David Ansen at the Los Angeles Film Festival and former Variety critic Robert Koehler at AFI Fest.
“I’m repeating what Robert Koehler said to me, ‘like a lot of critics, I had a couple of fingers in the seasonal festival pie.’ [He and I] have co-programmed here in L.A., and in this line of work, you often whisper in the ears of programmers. I’ve enjoyed moonlighting as a programmer, and when this opened at the Film Society, there was just this sense that this was the right move.”
And while the move will be a big change geographically - Foundas expects to take up residency in New York by January - he isn’t entirely a newcomer to the Film Society of Lincoln Center, having served on the programming committee for the recent New York Film Festival under program director Richard Peña who he will serve under in his new position. Peña, Foundas and other programming committee members spoke with indieWIRE recently about the festival and its film selections.
Similarly to Ansen at LAFF, Foundas expects to continue writing in some capacity, though his focus will be his new role.
“It remains to be seen, but being a programmer is my primary responsibility. I think I’ll be consumed with that in the earlier stages [of the job], but I’ll feel it out later. It’s still a passion of mine.” Foundas said that he’s been writing for over ten years, joking that he’s even had to put more creativity in writing about some films then some people have put in creating them, and that he looks forward to having a change. Plus, he added with a laugh, “everyone else is doing it…”
“I don’t know if it’s really a trend. The New York Film Festival has long had critic programmers, and overseas, it’s quite common. The guys at the French Cinematheque also have lives as critics,” said Foundas when asked if he sees critics pursuing programming as a natural manifestation of the decline of criticism domestically and if he sees it as a shift. “It’s not surprising since there’s little place for these people, so it’s a Darwinian theme. Programming has a lot of commonalities. If you’re doing the international [film festival] beat, it’s not an illogical transition.”
Still, as one programming veteran noted to indieWIRE privately Wednesday, while traveling the world circuit may be similar, critics traditionally have reacted to what has already been curated in individual festivals, and it’s a programmers job to find particular trends or talent amongst a seemingly infinite pool of work being produced. There may be overlap, but it’s still a different approach.
Nevertheless, the New York Film Festival, and the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s other year-round programs, including the popular New Directors/New Films (with MoMA) and Rendez Vous with French Cinema series in Spring, among many others, tend to showcase important work that has demonstrated momentum and traction on the world festival circuit. Foundas expressed confidence that he will fit comfortably in the programming role.
“I’ve seen it in terms of talking to other festival programmers. When I interviewed [Cannes Film Festival head] Thierry Fremaux, he said that he may like a film but decide not to show it, or he may like a film, but decide that it isn’t right…it’s important to create a balance that’s not too indulgent one way or the other.” He went on to say that whether ultimately programming or not programming is often governed by factors beyond whether a programmer likes or dislikes it. “I think even a festival like Cannes doesn’t have carte blanche,” he added.
Turning to the New York Film Festival directly, Foundas said it’s too early for him to weigh in on how the seminal early Fall event may evolve. Already this year, its core audience attended screenings at Lincoln Center’s new Alice Tully Hall, and in a big shake-up for some die-hards, the opening night party was held in the expansive lobby of the new venue instead of the traditional - and apparently too expensive for the new economic realities - Tavern on the Green in Central Park.
“I think any organization has to change with time. “AFI Fest seems to have reinvigorated itself and the same with the Los Angeles Film Festival, which has become more essential over the years. I’ve spoken with many festival directors who’ve experimented with repackaging their festivals, and in many cases, they have found the end product to be superior to what came before. So [shake-ups] aren’t necessarily bad. As we go forward, we’ll be figuring all of this out with the New York Film Festival.”