The AFI Fest’s ex-artistic director Rose Kuo was originally up for the job of executive director at the august Film Society at Lincoln Center, which mounts the New York Film Festival every year. But two years ago the board picked Mara Manus, who had toiled both in Hollywood at a major studio (Universal) and in New York’s theater world (The Public Theater). Now Manus is stepping down, continuing in an advisory role, and Kuo is taking over.
Manus, a whip-smart woman who wielded her own opinions, moved swiftly inside the close-knit independent film world. She made many unpopular changes. She redecorated the Film Society’s rag tag offices. She replaced much of the staff. She changed the festival ticketing system. There was word that she wished the choices made by the festival selection committee were more mainstream. And many folks never forgave her for moving the Film Festival opening night party away from Tavern on the Green–ostensibly to save money during a recession. Manus may not have understood how dearly New Yorkers hold their annual rituals. Mainly, she did not raise enough money, reports the NYT. (Here’s indieWIRE.)
Crucially, Manus was an outsider who faced a steep learning curve during a tough economic downturn. Kuo is a film industry insider well-versed in film and the global festival circuit. She walks the walk, knows everyone, has produced documentaries, operated a camera and slaved in an editing room. Now Kuo will be overseeing the launch of the new two-screen Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center in 2011.
After three years at the AFI Fest where Kuo pioneered a free ticketing system, she founded the festival-consulting firm Festworks and joined the Santa Fe Film Festival as co-director. Kuo has also consulted for LACMA and other festivals including Santa Barbara, San Francisco, and Mill Valley. She and her husband, screenwriter Larry Gross, will move to New York with their son Julian. UPDATE: Eugene Hernandez weighs in.