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September 17, 2009


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What a beautiful shot! And, too funny b/c my FB status update is currently: "Tess hopes she looses her purse opening night @ NYFF." I posted it after my friend surprised me earlier with tixs. Countdown to the 25th. Can't wait!

Peter Nellhaus

While my own preference has been for Resnais' earlier films, I can't wait to see this.

The Chevalier

I think the argument people have against this year's NYFF, and its last two opening night films (the other being The Class), is that high-profile releases serve a purpose. The opening night film isn't really supposed to be about anointing quality -- it's assumed the selected movies are already of quality -- it's about creating publicity for the festival. That's why Cannes often screens an out-of-comp blockbuster. The NYFF has gotten it right with Good Night. And Good Luck, The Queen, Mystic River and The Darjeeling Limited, among others. But here, going two years in a row with low-profile French films, it smacks of willful intent.

There's always been a conflict in the festival's fabric between those who believe the festival should skew entirely toward "elite" films and those who feel it should be more open. I agree with the latter. Most of the "elite" films aren't very good -- simply being uncommercial does not make it good art. In fact, I'd argue a lot of the so-called art on display, in its own way, is just as bad as mindless Hollywood entertainment -- just existing on the opposite extreme. The best art always finds a way to be uncompromising yet accessible.

At this point, when all four rotating members of the selection committee are Village Voice critics, there are no opposing views. They're all of a similar academic bubble mindset. And the festival suffers.

Glenn Kenny

Oooh, the old "Village Voice"="academic bubble mindset" gambit combined with the knock against "elite" films, none of which you can be bothered to cite titles of. Yeah, I might as well just go get buried with that argument. You really think Robert Wilonsky, Jim Ridley, Luke Y. Thompson, and the various and sundry freelance stringers who've written for the "Voice" since the paper was taken over by New Times are academics, or elitists? I'm not nuts about the makeup of the current selection committee myself, but Hoberman's the only old-school "Voice" writer among them. I wrote for the rag myself from '84 to 2000, and I don't even have a college degree.

Your subjectivity gives you away in some respects. There are plenty of people out there who would counter to you that something like "Darjeeling Limited" is, in fact, an "elite" film. I'm not one of them, but still. In the meantime, your buzzwords really aren't working on me here.


More subjectivity: I thought those recent opening night choices were "playing it safe" (i.e., "The Class" - appealing story, accessible subject, lots of drama; "Wild Grass" - new film by acknowledged master of cinema).

The Chevalier

Why bother citing titles if my mind erases them the moment after stepping out of the screenings? That's my point. I've attended the NYFF for most of this decade -- at first seeing every film. Then, year by year, becoming more and more selective since I'm tired of either walking out, falling asleep or just plain wishing the movie would end so I can get some fresh air.

The "elite" language comes straight from Manohla's yearly column where she complains about the "commercial" films not being appropriate.

The Darjeeling Limited was a movie released by a hipster-popular Oscar-nominated filmmaker, starring one big star, one Oscar-winner and Hollywood royalty, released by a major corporation. By those standards, it's one of the more commercial films that the NYFF programs, just as by those standards The Wrestler last year fit a similar mold. Not necessarily huge grossers -- but movies with high-profile talent that hopes to feature in the year-end awards races.

Normally, the NYFF features 3-5 of those type movies out of 28 (give or take) titles. There are none, save for maybe Precious, this year.

And, based on quotes I've read, this is a willful act on the committee's part.

Glenn Kenny

@ Chevalier: "Why bother citing titles if my mind erases them," you write. Fine, have it your way. I'm still curious, because I'd like to know how far we differ aesthetics-wise. Maybe.

I'll have to look at Manohla's columns, but I hate the word "elite;" it always strikes me as a kind of dog whistle. And yes, everything you say about "Darjeeling" is objectively true, and for all that, people got off on condemning it as rarefied and twee-other words for "elite," depending on how they're used.

The thing is, I don't necessarily disagree with you on all your points. But I do think this is a lineup with some distinctive strengths, and I do believe—this was my main point, after all—that in terms of its quality, Resnais' film has every right to open this year's festival.


Not being a huge festival-goer (if I were a rich man...), I'm a bit fuzzy on the dominant schools of thought when it comes to programming.

Maybe this is hopelessly utopian, but I would much rather attend a festival with reasonable ticket prices and overall package deals, eclectic and challenging programming, and less overhead - less glam and exorbitant parties, just a cool place to watch and talk about movies.

As for the festival "suffering" - do we have numbers to support this? Has there been a noted correlation between lower-profile opening/closing selections and lower overall attendance? Or do you mean in a purely aesthetic sense?

The Chevalier

I think a lot of the time films are selected more for what they represent than for their actual quality. There are plenty of examples.

For instance, I've seen several documentaries over the years that, while featuring interesting material that would make great movies, were obviously selected for their raw content even though the films themselves were outright failures.

Or, I could point out the prevalence of "reality"-based films that invariably are about poor people, are shot hand-held and feature no musical scores (often no diegetic either).

Another example could be somebody like Jia Zhangke. I went into The World back in '04 knowing nothing about it. Walked out thinking it was a masterpiece. Went into 24 City last year with high hopes. But it was excruciating. A really interesting subject realized in a manner that was so arid, so monotonous, so lacking in any sense of the audience that, even though is was much shorter than The World, it felt much longer.

In a sense, I guess you could say, all three above examples showcase the committee's blindness for presentation over intended content. And that's why I think the term "academic" is appropriate -- it's very much based around the concept that a movie solely exists as a conveyor of ideas and that the filmmaking itself is irrelevant; it's all about the abstract and nothing to do with the pragmatic.

Glenn Kenny

@ Chevalier: Your comments about the two Zhangke films remind me of something else that's very much at play in festivals, which is their selection committees' loyalties to particular directors. From what I understand—don't quote me!—the new makeup of the NYFF committee this year explains, among other things, why the most recent Hong Sang-soo picture didn't make it in this year!

The Chevalier

Yes, the Hong omission was a pleasant surprise...

Tom Russell

Since I've never been to a festival in any capacity, I probably should recuse myself from this discussion. But, this being the internet, it's never stopped me from having an opinion (and voicing it) before.

I think that, barring a particular theme-- a children's film festival, for example, or a GLBT festival (though how you can have a whole festival's worth of films about Guacomole Lettuce Bacon Tomato sandwiches is beyond me)-- festivals should be eclectic, yes, but should also err more on the side of films that are different, "non-commercial", challenging, or obscure. More popular/accessible/whatever-you-want-to-call-it type films generally already have a distributor lined up, some kind of marketing strategy, a guarantee that, somewhere down the line, many people will be able to see it. And if I can see Film X at the multiplex in a month or two, why bother going to see it at a festival? Give me something different for my money. "Non-commercial" might not equal "good", but the opposite is equally untrue and I'd rather take the chance on something like INTO GREAT SILENCE, which is a frickin' masterpiece, than something like JUNO, which is not.

That said-- this is likely why I've never had any success with festivals as a filmmaker---- my taste is perhaps too "elite" and "academic". (For the record, I never went to college, either; I graduated from High School with a D- average.)

But what I did want to say, Mr. Chevalier, is that you're spot-on about a lot of documentaries that are absolutely engrossing yet resolutely terrible films, and the way in which the subject matter will often excuse bad filmmaking choices. Cf. Jesus Camp: scariest film I've ever seen, despite the way it's put together. Or, if fiction film is your bag, look at the work of Kramer comma Stanley, whose films are as important as they are difficult to actually watch.



re. the Sang-soo business - have you got any juicy details to flesh that out a bit? Very interested, as I've just discovered this hugely buzzed-about filmmaker...


Chevalier - your comments reek of a kind of myopic, self congratulatory sense of entitlement. Of course the NYFF selection committee must be some kind of conspiracy, how else could they so perfectly align against your own interests? I'm glad you like The Queen, Good Night and Good Luck, Darjeeling and Mystic River (for the record, I think 2 out of those 4 aint bad), but to insist that programming those films somehow "gets it right" is absurd - by your own admission, these are reasonably large scale films with award season marketing dollars and publicity galore. In other words, they don't need additional exposure. Furthermore, I don't think anyone here would argue that festivals don't play the publicity game. The question, to my mind at least, is who needs the publicity the most? Obviously a subjective issue, but really: another Fox/Sony Pictures Classics/Miramax/TWC award monger, or a film by Zhangke, Tsai or Tarr (off the top of my head). As a statement of purpose, the festival that celebrates non-corporate product seems to me to be "getting it right". I can't wait to see the new Resnais - instead of complaining about elitism, you might be grateful that you live in a city where you can even see it in the first place. Enjoy your office awards pool next year, since that seems to be what you're most interested in.

The Chevalier

Daniel, you're coming off as a raging dick. I don't know who you're arguing against, but it's not me. I don't think you understand a single point I was making. What are you a college sophomore?

John M

Certainly, Daniel could've made his case more delicately, but he has some points, The Chevalier. (If that is your real name.) I understand the appeal of not responding. Your uphill battle's getting steeper and steeper.

(This might be a good time to throw in my hat for Hong Sang-soo, one of the most exciting filmmakers working today. I'm sorry you don't like him, The Chevalier, but plenty of people do...)

You're basically arguing that the Festival should cordon off more room for films that are guaranteed distribution anyway. So that...an exasperated viewer such as yourself...can...see...them...a little earlier than everyone else? I guess?

How elitist.

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