Film series spotlights collaboration with New York Film Festival
By Katie Tai, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Thursday, November 1, 2012
Coincidentally, the New York Film Festival and the Hopkins Center for the Arts are both celebrating their 50th anniversaries this year, and it is perhaps fitting that the upcoming weekend represents the first — and perhaps only — time that the two will collaborate. As part of the Hop’s “Best in Show” series, five films fresh from screening at the New York Film Festival will be shown at the Black Family Visual Arts Center, featuring live introductions from festival director Richard Pena himself. Before the showing of the first film, Pena will also be presented with the Dartmouth Film Award, which places him in the ranks of acclaimed entertainers including Werner Herzog, Johnny Depp, Sean Penn and Meryl Streep.
The second-oldest film festival in the United States, the New York Film Festival has championed film as an art form rather than a business since its inception in 1963 at the Lincoln Arts Center, according to film and media studies professor Jeffery Ruoff. Ruoff also contends that its unwavering dedication to the sanctity of the art of film distinguishes it from other, more commercialized, festivals like the Cannes, Berlin and Toronto Film Festivals.
“In 1963, the Lincoln Center was putting film on par with classical music, opera and dance,” Ruoff said. “This was an important and definitive statement.”
For Pena, the festival is both a professional and personal experience. When he was 12 years old, he attended the festival, which was then in its third year of programming, to watch the silent film “The Wedding March” (1928), and since then he has returned to the festival every year he was in the country.
“It represented for the gold standard for what is truly important in film and everything that drew me into the love and study of film,” Ruoff said. “When I took up the director mantle in 1988, that was the acme of my career.”
Pena, also a film programmer and film professor at Columbia University, has directed the festival for exactly half of its history but will retire from the position at the end of this year. The partnership between the festival and the Hop emerged from a celebration the two anniversaries, in addition to celebrating Pena’s distinguished tenure.
“At a certain point when I turned 50, I began wondering if I wanted to do exactly what I was doing for the rest of my life,” Pena said. “I decided I wanted to leave before it was too late because at heart I’m a film exhibitor. I would love to continue to do what I will be doing at Dartmouth — introduce films.”
However, Pena said that the showing of New York Film Festival films at the College will likely be a one-off event. He said that the production team the festival is typically reluctant to screen the films off location.
“We’ve always felt it’s really important to be able to control every aspect of it [the festival],” Pena said. “We couldn’t do that if we were shipping it around. We want to be seen as a program, not a package.”
The production team made an exception for the visit to Dartmouth because the event also commemorates Pena’s work. Bill Pence, the director of films at the Hop and co-founder and co-director of the Telluride Film Festival, wanted to pay tribute to Pena’s tenure and facilitated the collaboration. Pence is also largely responsible for the decision to bestow Pena the Dartmouth Film Award, according to Ruoff and Pena.
“The Dartmouth film award is given every year to someone who has made significant contributions to the world of film,” Ruoff said. “Pena has dramatically increased our appreciation and knowledge of international film through his work with the influential New York Film Festival.”
This weekend will mark Pena’s second trip to Dartmouth. Three years ago, he visited Hanover to work with Ruoff on an essay for Ruoff’s anthology, “Coming to Soon a Festival Near You,” and he said that he was happily surprised by the ambitious program at the College. While people did not have same wide selection of choices that would be found in New York City or Boston, Pena said that he thought Hanover residents were offered a very respectable guide to film, much in part due to Pence’s work. “I’m very honored by the award,” Pena said. “Bill Pence used to be in my position, and I think he understands film festivals better than anyone else. The fact that he pushed for [the award] means the world to me.”
Although only five films from the festival will be shown at Dartmouth, Pena said that they offer a fair and exciting representation of the greater selection. In honor of the Hop’s 50th anniversary, the Hopkins Center created the “Best in Show” program, which allows audiences in Hanover to view several of the most popular and acclaimed films from a particular film festival almost immediately after the festival showing. While the New York Film Festival ran from Sept. 28 to Oct. 14 this year, Hanover filmgoers can catch the films “Something in the Air” (2012), “Leviathan” (2012), “Bwakaw” (2012), “The Gatekeepers” (2012) and “Flowers of Shanghai” (2012) long before any of them is widely released.
Pena will hold discussions after most of the films and run a master class Friday afternoon to answer questions from students.
“I’m not responsible for these films, and I had no creative role in their creation,” Pena said. “I’m just a fan, but I can defend them if I need to. And I’m happy to entertain questions after the films.”
Showing on Friday, “Something in the Air,” a French film by the celebrated director Olivier Assayas, examines student unrest and its aftermath in midst of an evocative coming-of-age story. On Saturday, moviegoers can catch “Leviathan,” a poetic and hallucinatory documentary that explores life at sea; “Bwakwa,” a feature film from the Philippines was, the most hyped film at the festival; and “The Gatekeepers,” a controversial and widely discussed documentary profiling chiefs of the Israeli secret service. The last film on Sunday, “Flowers of Shanghai” — the latest offering from Chinese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien — is a clash of melodramatic love stories and intrigue set in the opium brothels of 19th-century Shanghai.
“I’m just glad that people will be able to see these films thee way they were meant to be seen — on the big screen,” Ruoff said.