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by Eric Kohn
January 31, 2014 12:43 PM
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New York Times Takes On Film Society of Lincoln Center And Gets It Wrong. Here’s Why

The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center.

In this weekend's Sunday Arts & Leisure section of the New York Times, the paper's top film critics offer some sharp words for one of the city's venerated film institutions in the guise of constructive criticism. In an unprecedented degree of scrutiny leveled at the Film Society of Lincoln Center divided across three articles — with the alarmist headline "Prescriptions for a Cinema Refuge" — the Times analyzes the institution's future through the lens of its difficult past with a dire tone.

In an overview introducing think pieces from chief film critics A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis, Adam Kepler sets the stage for difficult times at the city's oldest haven for international cinema, home for the New York Film Festival for over 50 years and epicenter for countless retrospectives and screening series throughout the year. Under the subhead "How Should the Film Society of Lincoln Center Proceed?," Kepler points out that "While the annual festival has thrived, the fortunes of this nonprofit society have ebbed and flowed." Fair enough — that's life for any nonprofit.

Then Kepler goes one step further, singling out the "interim period" between executive directors at the Film Society, noting that it has endured its second leadership change in three years without naming names. That gap creates the impression of a Film Society devoid of vision, largely due to the cold instruction of a faceless entity ignorant of the Film Society's contemporary needs.

Rose Kuo.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Recently departed executive director Rose Kuo inherited the role from Mara Manus in 2011, when the institution was largely regarded as falling into the outmoded status that the Times outlines here. Since then, Kuo has pushed the Film Society in much wider directions, launching a crossmedia "Convergence" section at the New York Film Festival, broadening digital initiatives, incorporating television and video games into its programming and exploring the possibilities of further growth — all while strengthening the Film Society's programming team with respected names from the international film community, defending the ongoing publication of its venerated magazine Film Comment and showing face around town as much as possible. If you hung out at movie events in the city, chances are strong that you probably saw Kuo there, hanging out by the bar and brainstorming with some cohort or another late into the night. You still can.

Kuo may have had her quirks — I don't think she ever sleeps, and god help anyone who picks a fight with her — but under her tenure, there was a genuine sense of old and new coming together: The New York Film Festival remained a haven for the best international cinema, while New Directors/New Films offered the promise of its label, and funkier series like Film Comment Selects and various retrospectives gave diehard cinephiles something to chew on year-round. Others flocked to the flashy Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center for a "Breaking Bad" marathon, only to discover sneak previews for new releases that would otherwise never land on their radars at all.

There was no doubt that the institution was working through the same challenges faced by every exhibitor: How do you "eventize" your space so an increasingly distracted public makes the effort to show up? If anything, Kuo's Film Society looked like it was just getting started when her contract negotiations fell apart late last year.

But without mentioning Kuo once by name — though Dargis makes some passing references to a handful of Kuo's interactive initiatives aimed at younger audiences from last year — the Times effectively writes her out of the picture, and criticizes the shortcomings of a Film Society from the past.

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14 Comments

  • fruma | February 3, 2014 10:16 AMReply

    The NYT article is completely misleading. The Lincoln oCenter organization has been a center for promoting film as an art form. Like any other institution at the forefront of an art dissemination,it goes to transitional transients.

  • Brian Newman | February 1, 2014 11:15 AMReply

    I think you're way too harsh on the NYT. I read it expecting some bomb-shell, but came away thinking it was pretty balanced, actually. It didn't give all the answers, but it does seem a good time to question what's next for the organization. I didn't feel it slammed Rose at all. It is not disrespectful to Rose to say that it's odd that the organization is going through another leadership change. If anything, it signals a board that doesn't know what it's doing. Organizations like this need to make serious changes. Rose and her colleagues may have been starting those changes, but no one could claim they're half-way to figuring it out. I think the spirit of this dialogue should be that they kicked off a well needed conversation. You've added to it, and Ted did too over at his blog. It's a great conversation to have.

  • bob hawk | February 1, 2014 1:09 AMReply

    "The Film Society is literally, physically alienated from its audience." -A.O. Scott. Huh?? I haven't read his entire piece yet, but I don't get this at all. Lincoln Center has been a mecca for me ever since it opened, and I've lived everywhere from the LES to Washington Heights, but I've attended countless concerts, theater, ballet and film there -- not to mention BAM, the Film Forum, etc. etc. There's this thing called the SUBWAY, which gets me pretty much anywhere I want to go. (Buses can be handy, in certain cases, although subways are better for long hauls.) And with the addition of three screens at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Center the diversity offered by the New York Film Festival, let alone the NY Film Society, has been compounded. I just don't get it, and will be shaking my head until (and maybe after) I get my Sunday Times. Oy!

  • COLORED | January 31, 2014 8:18 PMReply

    Film Society = No diversity. Indiewire paid staff = No diversity. Same old song but it's got to be sung. So maybe... Just maybe... Try listening.

  • Film Goer | February 1, 2014 4:48 PM

    What SknnySlim said above. Also no other NYC institution has dedicated as much time to cinema from Asia, Latin America, India, and the Middle East.

  • skinnyslim | February 1, 2014 11:49 AM

    In what sense does the Film Society have no diversity? In their programming that represents every part of the world, (including yearly Latin Beat series and numerous African film retrospectives)? Or in their high level staff? Rose Kuo is an Asian American, Richard Pena of Puerto Rican descent, Dennis Lim (head programmer) is an Asian American as well. Eugene Hernandez is Latino American.

    Furthermore, while not "racial diversity", in their entire history the Film Society has only had female executive directors (4) and the interim ones have been female as well. Two of the five current members of the NYFF selection committee are women.

  • arcadiafilm | January 31, 2014 6:58 PMReply

    Really? A news article about a feature news article?!

  • Ugh | January 31, 2014 5:57 PMReply

    I wish people would stop thinking Critics and Programmers are synonymous. They're completely different skill sets. Why these critics think they know best astounds me.

  • sergio | February 3, 2014 10:26 AM

    Critics have become essential.The explosion of film forms require external analysisis to maintain quality and… to provide perspective to the audience.

  • gurman | January 31, 2014 2:10 PMReply

    This is typical of the new NYT. The writer was assigned a topic with a pre established conclusion. Thanks for a very important clarification

  • Jonathan Miller | January 31, 2014 1:33 PMReply

    My daughter went to LaGuardia High School for the past four years, and I am not aware of her or any of her classmates every being taken to the Film Society for any screening or any educational event. And she took at least one film studies class. She used the Performing Arts library (NYPL) next door to the Film Society, including to research old movies, and she went to performances at Lincoln Center - but I don't think she went to anyfilms or events at the Film Society.

  • Phil Hall | January 31, 2014 12:53 PMReply

    And you thought Bosley Crowther was the most clueless critic in Times' history!

  • Seriously | January 31, 2014 12:53 PMReply

    What is Ted Hope's deal?

  • shelly | January 31, 2014 12:51 PMReply

    Dargis' think pieces has really been the suck lately