Marian Masone – The Film Society of Lincoln Center – Part One

by Sydney Levine
May 9, 2011 6:58 AM
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Moving into Exhibition/Distribution

Recently I sat down with Marian Masone, longtime friend and Film Society of Lincoln Center Programmer and Associate Director of Programming, Special Programs and Industry, and then (different day) with Rose Kuo, the new Executive Director (that blog, is Part Two on FSLC).

Marian Masone at her desk at the FSLC offices on 65th Street.

When Marian told me about the new theater – the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center which houses two cinemas and an amphitheater and is going up in June across 65th Street from FSLC offices I said, ‘You’re in distribution!.’ She quickly corrected me, ‘No we’re exhibitors’. I didn’t argue but as far as we are concerned exhibition is part of distribution and a very important part of it. More on this below.

When Marian told me about the new theater – the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center which houses two cinemas and an amphitheater and is going up in June across 65th Street from FSLC offices I said, ‘You’re in distribution!.’

She quickly corrected me, ‘No we’re exhibitors’.

I didn’t argue but as far as we are concerned exhibition is part of distribution and a very important part of it. More on this below.

We have known each other for over twenty years mostly meeting up in places like Cannes or Sundance. Marian is always on the go, always fun and friendly and a great companion for dinner or film, full of the latest buzz. Her office overlooks Lincoln Center on 65th Street off Broadway.

She was born in Brooklyn and lives there now. She earned a degree in Theater at Marymount Manhattan College and a Master’s in Cinema Studies at NYU.

Before arriving at Lincoln Center, she worked in children’s media at the Media Center for Children with Maureen Gaffney, showing showing children’s films all over the city. There were also seminars with teachers, writers, artists about how to teach kids about film as literature. The idea was to give kids an education via film.

She also ran an off-off Broadway theater company for some years.

In 1982, Masone began working at Lincoln Center as an assistant and over the next few years became more familiar with FSLC, which was being run by Joanne Koch at the time.

A job opened up at FSLC and Marian approached Koch about the possibility of joining the team. It worked, she was hired and she has now been a part of the team at FSLC for more than 25 years, and as such, is familiar with all the programs that have been a part of this organization – the New York Film Festival, New Directors/New Films (in collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art), the annual gala tribute, which raises money for the Film Society (this year’s honoree was Sidney Poitier).

Masone is a programmer and on the Selection Committee of one of our (my opinion – Peter) most important US festivals New Directors/New Films. This year it had 28 feature films and 7 shorts. Three of the programmers are from FSLC and three are from MOMA/Museum of Modern Art.

Marian said, “there can sometimes be up to a half dozen US titles and female filmmakers are always well represented.”

There is no category breakdown and while they welcome new directors, it “is not just for first or second features” as it is a festival aimed at the public.

New Directors is attempting to shine a light on these filmmakers.

This year two films have really done well so far. ‘Incendies’ by Denis Villeneuve and ‘Curling’ by Denis Cote. So New Directors sometimes leads to business for their films.

Relating to this, ‘business for their films’, are the always important New York Times reviews. A few years ago all films at the NYFF and NDNF got New York Times reviews. Then the NYT some years ago stopped reviewing each film and now does a Festival wrap up story or comments or a ‘notebook’ feature. This, in fact, works better for the films.

She also works on continuing series in the Walter Reade Theater, including the Human Rights Watch Film Festival; Green Screens, a program of environmental documentaries; as well as a bi-monthly American documentary series which will become monthly after the new film center opens.

So now Marian is preparing for Cannes (we’ll see her there as always!!) and programming special events such as patron screenings and the myriad of events that surround them.

The new facility is very exciting. Firstly from my (Peter’s) point of view anytime new screens are brought into a major area like NYC it is a great event.

It is called the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center. There are two new cinemas: The Francesca Beale with 150 seats, and the 90-seat Howard Gilman. (By way of comparison, the venerable Walter Reade, 20 years old, dating from December 1991, has 268 seats. Alice Tully Hall, home of NYFF, has almost 1100 seats.) The new amphitheater has 90 seats and can schedule lectures, q&a’s and even show digital work – it has the biggest plasma screen in the world. They plan film runs, principally indie art house fare.

So like any good distributor – oops I mean exhibitor (ha ha just kidding here) - FSLC considers its challenge is getting people in to see art house films, to get them to pay to see these films.

Some years ago there was a panel at FSLC about film audiences – getting them, keeping them, making them pay. It was noted then that ‘Tree of Wooden Clogs’ played theatrically for a year in New York. (I pointed out that when a UCLA pal of mine, a Chilean named Armando Balestrero, in the ‘60’s was managing a now long defunct Westwood LA screen, Claude Lelouche’s ‘A Man and A Woman’ played there for over 3 years.)

So the key discussion, and this involves all of us who care about film and especially those of us in the film business, is what is different now? What’s happened / been happening recently to affect audiences? How do we reach them and draw them in?

The Woman Problem

One way to look at it in the Festival business generally is that people say women are mostly in administrative ranks (i.e. drudgery) and men mostly control programming (i.e. artistic).

Marian says of herself, ‘I can’t complain.’

She considers that job wise there still are many challenges for women but overall in her professional life, ‘things have changed for the better’.

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