At the New York Film Festival, Quality is King


This year’s New York Film Festival (NYFF), which kicked off on Friday, September 30th and runs through Sunday, October 16th, features a diverse array of films that ranges from current festival favorites (Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene, Steve McQueen’s Shame) to offerings from up-and-coming directors (Nadav Lapid’s Policeman, Ulrich Köhler’s Sleeping Sickness) to the latest films from masters of the medium (Roman Polanski’s Carnage, Martin Scorsese’s George Harrison: Living in the Material World) and newly-restored classics (Ben-Hur, Nicholas Ray’s We Can’t Go Home Again). One thing all the films screened at NYFF have in common is their quality, and as a festival that accepts an average of 28 feature films out of close to 2,000 yearly submissions, NYFF can afford to be selective. MovieMaker had the chance to speak with NYFF’s programming chief Richard Peña about this year’s festival.

To check out NYFF’s complete lineup, and to purchase tickets for the remaining screenings, visit www.filmlinc.com/nyff2011.

Rebecca Pahle (MM): NYFF is very selective and, compared to some other festivals, has a fairly small lineup. When deciding which films to program, do you ever give more weight to films that are unique and will show audiences something new, even if they’re technically not as polished as some of the other submissions?

Richard Peña (RP): Frankly, no, which is why we can have Clint Eastwood alongside a small digital documentary. For us, the principal criterion is excellence, however we define that, and I think audiences come to the NYFF expecting to see major, completely realized works.

MM: Are the five members of NYFF’s selection committee generally on the same page when it comes to selecting films? Have there been any films in the past that you’ve had to go to bat for, so to speak, to get them into the festival?

RP: I would challenge you to find five film people who agree on everything! No, there’s lots of healthy debate and, occasionally, anger. But I’ve had the great good fortune of working for 24 years with adults who realize that our purpose in coming together is to organize the best festival we can, not to advance our personal agendas. So each year there are films I wholeheartedly endorse, and others that I respect even if they’re not to my personal taste—I understand why those films should be in the NYFF.

MM: Are there any films or events at this year’s NYFF that you’re particularly looking forward to?

RP: Ben-Hur. Seeing this restoration in [the Alice] Tully [Hall] will simply be overwhelming.

MM: This year’s NYFF will be the first since the opening of Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center. What impact, if any, has the new venue had on the festival?

RP: The key question confronting us was how to keep the “exclusive” character of the NYFF, to which you alluded in your first question, with the much-increased availability of screen time on our four screens. This year represents one possible answer to that question, with an increased number of retrospective screenings, special events, discussions and dialogues, etc. We’ll go through the year, assess, and then begin working on next year.

MM: Is there anything you’d like to add?

RP: I do hope your readers will discover our many Special Events at the NYFF this year—there is some amazing stuff.

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