Rajendra Roy - Chief Curator of the Department of Film, MOMA

by Sydney Levine
October 10, 2011 10:29 AM
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By Guest Blogger Peter Belsito

We have been friends with ‘Raj’, as he is known in our circles, for some years, especially through his previous, stellar term as the Artistic Director of The Hamptons International Film Festival. He is a great, pleasant, outgoing guy, very sharp and has terrific taste. MOMA, The Museum of Modern Art, was lucky to get him.

MOMA


Rajendra Roy - Chief Curator of the Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art

By Guest Blogger Peter Belsito

We have been friends with ‘Raj’, as he is known in our circles, for some years, especially through his previous, stellar term as the Artistic Director of The Hamptons International Film Festival. He is a great, pleasant, outgoing guy, very sharp and has terrific taste. MOMA was lucky to get him.

He is from California, born in Loma Linda, San Bernardino and then raised in Monterey. For education he first went to UC San Diego.

In NYC he became a volunteer / intern at the MIX Film Festival which was, then and now, the oldest and still the landmark Queer film festival. It was run then by Director Shari Frilot, now Sundance programmer.

MIX FF

While today the New Film Festival is the biggest Queer film fest it is ‘new’ in the sense that MIX was and is the oldest. MIX is more migratory now but still based in New York. E.g. MIX Brazil Film Fest was spawned by the NYC event. The lesson of the MIX and subsequent festivals successes is that the more mainstream audience and cinema worlds have caught on to the importance of and recognized ‘their’ (i.e. ‘Queer’) world. MIX first discovered the breakout hit, Jonathan Caouette’s ‘Tarnation’, and soon John Cameron Mitchell came on as Executive Producer of the film and then he got the film business interested and the movie went on to become a critical and commercial hit.

In the Queer Festival world MIX FF has always been avant garde and craft oriented. The NEW FEST developed as more mainstream. LA’s Outfest (the most important US and world Gay festival) developed the Platinum series with MIX. Shari Frilot moved to LA to program both Outfest and Sundance.


New Festival

OutFest


Raj says that ‘during recent years the Gay Fest circuit has nurtured many film industry professionals’.

He spent 8 years with MIX and then moved on to the Guggenheim Museum film program under mentor John Hanhardt. John had arrived there in 1998 from 20 years at the NYC based Whitney Museum. Hanhardt’s job title at the Guggenheim was Senior Curator of Film and Media. Raj came in to do nuts and bolts work and to physically organize film programs.

Simultaneous to this the new Guggenheim Bilbao opened and Raj began to go back and forth between NYC and Spain to manage and develop the theaters. At this period Raj was not curating but rather managing the theaters’ series.

After 9/11 things changed completely and the Guggenheim really crashed. The new Museum in Las Vegas was cancelled. The very idea of the future of the institution collapsed and the film program was cancelled.

It was then that Raj met Denise Kassell. At that time New York’s Hamptons International Film Festival was 9 years old and searching for its 11th Director. The Festival needed to be shaped. Denise came on as Festival head and Raj as Director of Programming.

The task was to avoid the inevitable mindset of ‘Sundance East’ (resort town locale etc). Raj envisioned a shift for the Hamptons away from primarily US indie film programming to international film. That program emphasis would get them away from the shadow of Sundance. Raj and Denise then set these initiatives for the Hamptons:

- They developed an international film competition
- Hamptons gave what was then the richest award for the Festival’s Grand Prize Winner, USD $200,000
- They developed dynamic partnerships with the important European Film Promotion Boards (such as EFP) who began to see the Hamptons as the way to promote their new films in the US
- Started going after socially conscious films for the program, both documentary and narrative
- They changed the vision of the Hamptons and the Fest from ‘rich people’s playground’ to ‘the go to East Coast place for foreign language international films’ (AFI in LA became the West Coast counterpart to this move)

Their vision worked and his been fulfilled and carried on at Hamptons. Now Fest Director Karen Arikian and Director of programming David Nugent have taken that to the next level with their current mix of important US indies and international films.

During 4 years at Hamptons Raj also was working for the great Berlinale Film Festival. Dieter Kosslick, the Head, was new then and he wanted a US guy on the selection committee for the Main Competition. It was a 4 month annual commitment to be in Berlin.

‘It was a dream job’, Raj says. He laughs. ‘I even began to speak pretty good German. I had the two best programming gigs. I ran my own fest and I was part of the best festival – well, among the top 3 – in the world. My life had zero stability then ’.

He ruminated on the ‘calling’ to be a festival programmer. ‘No benefits or great salary. The pay is the life. The travel, parties, cinema, all of it.’

He goes further. ‘As a programmer until you get to a certain point in the career you do not get well compensated.

In the mid 2000’s he was approached two times for the MOMA job. Mary Lea Bandy had been the Chief Curator for the MOMA Department of Film for 30 years until she retired in 2005.

The first time, Beki Probst, the longtime Head of the Berlinale Market suggested it and invited him to apply for the MOMA position. ‘I thought she was just being nice to me. I kept thinking – Why would they want me to head the most prestigious film and exhibition program in the world?’

It took him two years to decide to finally go ahead and apply for the position. ’15 interviews later I was offered the job by the leadership staff of the Museum and the Board’.

‘It was like being on American Idol. Another plus was meeting New York and America’s smartest, most influential people’.

Today he is still thrilled to be there. ‘We have 25 people on my staff, mostly career employees. Several have been at MOMA longer than I’ve been alive.’

The hugely popular Tim Burton show of his art, that Raj developed and managed, ‘has demonstrated what we can do’. It is now selling out at LA’s LACMA Museum.

‘It is really great to have such people want to be part of what we do’. His current theater program is by Roman Polanski.

+++++++++++++

The announcement of Raj’s appointment to MOMA –

THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART APPOINTS RAJENDRA ROY
AS THE CELESTE BARTOS CHIEF CURATOR OF FILM

New York, May 3, 2007—Glenn Lowry, Director of The Museum of Modern Art, announced today the appointment of Rajendra Roy as the Celeste Bartos Chief Curator of the Department of Film, effective July 2007. Mr. Roy, currently the Artistic Director of The Hamptons International Film Festival, succeeds Mary Lea Bandy, who retired from the Museum in 2006.

Mr. Lowry said, “Rajendra Roy brings to the Museum a breadth of experience that encompasses museum work as well as programming and management for important film festivals.

His broad involvement in the film community will be invaluable to the development of the Film Department’s programs, including acquisitions, exhibitions, research, and preservation.”

“The prospect of working with the expert staff at MoMA is the professional opportunity of a lifetime,” said Mr. Roy. “Based on the historical foundation of the Museum’s unparalleled film collection and archive, integrated with an active engagement with the spectrum of contemporary cinematic practice, I look forward to ensuring that the Department of Film continues to be a vital educational resource and source of inspiration for filmmakers, artists, and audiences worldwide.”

Mr. Roy will lead a staff of 20 in MoMA’s Department of Film. The Museum’s diverse film exhibitions encompass approximately 700 titles per year and span the history of the art of the moving image beginning with the late nineteenth century. Dynamic presentations include a wide range of international films such as annual presentations of cinema from Germany, Brazil, and Canada, as well as the acclaimed New Directors/New Films, a popular festival that showcases emerging filmmakers. The kaleidoscopic programming encompasses all genres and forms of cinema, from classic and repertory to experimental and contemporary.

Mr. Roy has worked with The Hamptons International Film Festival, since 2002: as Director of Programming from 2002 to 2006, and as Artistic Director since 2006. His responsibilities have included developing, curating, and managing the festival program, and presenting film talent at the festival and in public programs throughout the year. The festival features the Golden Starfish Award competition, as well as programs devoted to World Cinema, Studio Spotlights, and shorts. Mr. Roy initiated the “Rising Stars” program, the first festival showcase to feature emerging actors in public panels and workshops. He also cultivated a wide range of relationships with institutions, distributors, studios, export unions, and international festivals. He will stay on with the Hamptons festival as an unpaid artistic advisor through the 2007 season.

As the only American member of the international competition selection committee for the Berlin International Film Festival, Mr. Roy recommended films for consideration, and moderated post-screening discussions and festival panels. He served as a juror for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the Student Academy Awards from 2003 to 2007. He has participated widely on juries for international and domestic film festivals, and has lectured at conferences and universities.

From 1995 to 2002, Mr. Roy worked at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in a variety of positions in the Film and Media Arts Program. As Program Associate, he collaborated on the launch of the first film program at the Guggenheim museums in New York in 1998, and in Bilbao in 2000. As Program Manager from 2000 to 2002, he worked in collaboration with curators John Hanhardt and Maria-Christina Villasenor to coordinate film, video, and new media exhibitions in New York, Bilbao, and Berlin. Exhibitions included Nam June Paik and the Worlds of Film and Video (2000); Between Shadows and Light: Italian Cinematography (2001); and Drama Queens: Women Behind the Camera (2001). He also oversaw acquisitions and commissions of new work and developed global partnerships with cultural institutions and festivals.

Mr. Roy held a number of positions, beginning in 1994, with the MIX festival: The New York Lesbian and Gay Experimental Film/Video Festival, one of the largest experimental film and video festivals in the world. As Executive Director from 1996 to 2000, he spearheaded programming and management, grant-writing, and corporate development. His stewardship of the festival resulted in the doubling of attendance figures, the development of corporate sponsorships, and the launch of the National Collegiate Touring Program.


Mr. Roy graduated from the University of California, San Diego, with a bachelor’s degree in political science and French literature. He studied art history and French literature at the Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris.


The Department of Film, established in 1935 as the Film Library, holds one of the world’s most important international film collections, now totaling over 22,000 titles. Among the Department’s permanent holdings are the original negatives of the Biograph and Edison companies, as well as the D.W. Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks, David O. Selznick, Andy Warhol, and Joseph Cornell collections. In addition, it contains significant collections of film stills, scripts, posters, and other study materials, all of which are made available through its Film Study Center and exhibition programs, and which are stored in the Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Center, a state-of-the-art facility that opened in June 1996 in Hamlin, Pennsylvania.


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