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Scott Foundas Joins Film Society as Associate Programmer

by Anne Thompson
November 11, 2009 10:31 AM
71 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood

As I suspected, LA Weekly and Village Voice Media film critic Scott Foundas has accepted the offer of associate film programmer at The Film Society of Lincoln Center.

This means that:

1. Film criticism is a dying art. As one of the best critics working today, Foundas should be anticipating a long and happy career. He's giving it up to program movies. This should not happen. He's looking to survive. David Ansen had quite a few more years of criticism in him too, when he accepted a buyout from Newsweek and this week, the new role of artistic director at the Los Angeles Film Festival. The loss of both voices in the critical realm is severe.

2. Unless Foundas screws up (as one-time heir apparent Kent Jones did), down the line he could be in a position to run the New York Film Festival. (Why give up the gig as one of the country's most powerful film critics otherwise?) Eventually, 22-year NYFF veteran Richard Pena will move back to academia (he's an associate professor at Columbia University), depending on how long Film Society exec director Mara Manus wants him to stay. She respects Pena and leans on him a good deal. But she is also ambitious for all that the Film Society can be, as a festival, cultural institution and year-round exhibitor. "Scott's writing is an exhilarating dialogue with artists and audiences alike,” stated Manus. “It is this vibrancy, along with Scott’s deep film knowledge, that will contribute greatly to our growing organization, ensuring we continue to offer (audiences) a vital place of serious film culture."

3. The Film Society could make more changes. For example, Manus could alter the make-up of the selection committee, on which Foundas has served since 2007, which could effect the direction of the festival itself. While A.O. Scott's NYT story Wallowing in Misery criticized this year's NYFF selection, it was in line with what the festival has always done--pick the best intellectually-challenging films in the world without regard for playability. New York already has a more populist film festival geared toward star-studded galas: Tribeca. And what is in store for the circulation-challenged art-film journal Film Comment? While Foundas was courted for the editorship of the new Cahiers du Cinema, he will have his hands full as the Film Society will have more screens to program beyond the Walter Reade when their new film center opens in 2011. UPDATE: Film Comment editor Gavin Smith tells me that Foundas is now a contributing editor to the magazine, which publishes six issues a year.

4. Now New York-based Jim Hoberman becomes the surviving critic at Village Voice Media. And there's an opening for a younger cheaper film editor/critic at the LA Weekly. New editor Drex Heikes could bring back vet critic Ella Taylor. But he's more likely to anoint his own discovery of a fresh voice. Ex-Spout critic Karina Longworth should send her resume forthwith. She'll have plenty of competition from all the other critics who lost their jobs this year.

[Photo: Scott Foundas and Jean Simmons at the 2008 Telluride Film Festival.)

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More: Festivals, Stuck In Love, Media, NYFF, Critics

71 Comments

  • black-n-ugly | June 15, 2011 3:58 AMReply

    Dying art form?

    Let it die.

    Critics are comedy, at best. For the few who are worth a damn, the remaining horde of pretentious failed writers are pathetic and driven by ego, as only a failure with lots of writing-motivation can be.

    I've known more then most, and they are a vile lot. Highly predictable, and deeply dreadful individuals.

  • Margaret | February 5, 2010 6:59 AMReply

    Hello all, and welcome to another semester of film society goodness!

  • John M2. | December 27, 2009 3:08 AMReply

    Nice.
    "Ex-Spout critic Karina Longworth should send her resume forthwith. She’ll have plenty of competition from all the other critics who lost their jobs this year"
    http://vidiocy.com/post/298626547/so-im-moving-to-la

  • Pedro M. | November 25, 2009 7:08 AMReply

    Ha. I can't believe people are talking so highly about this Foundas. He's in some blog war with a guy and looks silly, writing such pretentious comments...

    http://pablochiste.wordpress.com/2009/11/18/the-critic-strikes-back-or-criticizing-a-critic-part-ii/

  • Charles Taylor | November 24, 2009 3:28 AMReply

    I'll congratulate my friend Scott Foundas when I see him. But I feel, late in the day I grant but I'm just getting to it, to add my voice to the people appalled at the characterization of Kent Jones. It's impossible to have anything to do with film in NYC and not notice the sudden absence of long-familiar faces at FSLC. Guess they all screwed up, too.

  • dennis.delrogh@turner.com | November 23, 2009 5:44 AMReply

    Embarrassing.

  • Tim Appelo | November 19, 2009 5:03 AMReply

    Alex: Better to have homonyms than ad hominems.

  • Joshua Rothkopf | November 18, 2009 6:26 AMReply

    Like Jim Ridley, I'd also like to offer my hearty congrats to Scott. He's an excellent choice -- not merely for his taste but (more importantly) for his communication skills and friendly, personal exuberance. On the page and in person, he invites people into a discussion. These aren't populist traits; they're smart ones, particularly in this economic climate. The FSLC has serious strides to make involving outreach. It's only too bad that Scott's role isn't *more* administrative.

  • Keil Shults | November 18, 2009 2:26 AMReply

    Though I grew up in southern Texas, far from artsy multiplexes,
    I've always been a movie buff, from independents to mainstream fluff.

    Harry Potter and Harry Lime, The Straight Story and Straight Time. All earn a spot in this playful rhyme.

    My whole life films have made me smile. The Godfather made me a cinephile. But reading articles was never enough. I had to share my love for this stuff.

    The local paper hired me way back in 1993. A high school sophomore given free reign, things were never quite the same.

    Feel like telling the world about Breaking Away? Write a thousand words by Saturday. And have those Oscar predictions on the way. I've written pieces about many things I admire, from Crumb to HBO's The Wire

    I'm now 31 and have worked as a teacher, but my heart always belongs to that next great feature. Though these days they're getting harder to find, good movies are still how I unwind.

    I hope at least some of you stick around, even as this world turns upside down. A trip to the restroom is never complete without a film essay between my feet.

    Sincerely,
    Keil (rhymes with cinephile) Shults

  • Jim Ridley | November 17, 2009 10:10 AMReply

    Congratulations to Scott Foundas, whose ability to appreciate anything from grindhouse rotgut to arthouse esoterica makes him an ideal choice as a programmer in my book. Knowing Scott's work ethic, I wish it meant fewer late hours and less stress, but there's no way he'd ever permit himself such a luxury.

    Someone please send Allison Benedikt some chocolates for me.

  • Alex | November 17, 2009 7:03 AMReply

    @Tim Appelo.

    Pail or Pale? You're right I'm not much of a speller. I actually have very mild dyslexia, and rely pretty heavily on spell check to not look like an idiot. Of course, spell check can't catch homonym fails, so a lot slips by.

    But here's one four-letter word I can spell: Fuck. As in, Fuck Off. When someone takes the time to write a detailed comment, however ill-advisedly snarky, the least you can do is respond to the ideas. Fixating on a grammatical gaffe so you can smugly shoot off some drive-by dismissal is just childish.

  • Ray Privett | November 17, 2009 4:08 AMReply

    Nice to see film critics get excited and fight over something.

    Too bad the topic is, as usual, themselves.

  • Kent Jones | November 17, 2009 3:52 AMReply

    With great reluctance, and at the risk of prolonging Ray Privett's exasperation with film critical solipsism, I need to clarify a couple of things and then remain silent on this delightful topic.

    Regarding this year's NYFF selection (of which I had no part) and the exclusion of certain films, I will say that the very same issue came up during every one of my seven years on the committee. Why didn't we show this? How could we have possibly not shown that? First of all, with such a small slate, many films are going to be excluded and someone is always going to be up in arms about it. Secondly, there are many reasons that films are not shown - sometimes it's because they're rejected, sometimes it's because they're unavailable, sometimes it's because the filmmaker just didn't get it together in time. And sometimes, it's just a bad year with slim pickings. If the festival were a little bigger or had different sections, it would be a different matter. But it isn't.

    Scott Foundas is a good friend, and he's one of the most respected figures in the festival world. He'll do a great job, and I'm happy that he'll be in New York. It's sad that he has to defend himself against idle chatter, but I guess we all do from time to time.

    Regarding Richard Peña's programming, if neorealism and Miklos Jancso, to name two series off the top of my head, qualify as "academic," then we're all in the wrong business. It's hard to fill up a calendar. Very hard.

    I thank everyone for the kind words, and I thank Dennis Doros for mentioning my current activity. I was lucky to be able to walk away from one job and move into a new one in the middle of an economic crisis. Many of my former colleagues at the Film Society who were let go a little less than a year ago have not been so lucky.

    I want to make it clear that I did leave, of my own accord, in March of this year. I also want to reiterate that Anne Thompson never called me or wrote to me before choosing to characterize my tenure at the Film Society in such a scurrilous fashion. She only wrote to me after the fact. If she had called or written before the fact, I certainly wouldn't have agreed with her characterization. When you verify your facts by checking with every party involved in a story before you print it or put it on-line, it's called reporting. When you don't, it's called gossip.

  • Dennis Doros | November 17, 2009 2:03 AMReply

    I will not defend Richard Peña or Kent Jones or Scott Foundas. They're big boys and their records really do stand for themselves. From my own vantage point, Milestone's existence has been due to their support and others like them. I owe those three more then I can ever repay.

    However, what no one has spoken about is the fact that Kent's new position as the head of the World Cinema Foundation is a crucial and vital addition to the film community and the archival world. As a distributor of classic films and a member of the Association of Moving Image Archivists, I experience on a daily basis the continual crisis of money and resources in developing countries to preserve and restore their cultural treasures. And WCF is an organization trying to do something about it. I wish Richard and Scott long and prosperous careers and know they will accomplish whatever they set out to do and that the Film Society will remain a vital part of New York's cinematic scene, but I am also damned proud of what Kent will accomplish in his new position. If you gave me a choice of jobs, I know which I would choose.
    Dennis Doros, Co-owner
    Milestone Film & Video

  • Tim Appelo | November 17, 2009 1:57 AMReply

    Judging from the tone of some of these posts, maybe Kent Jones' ankling Lincoln Center wasn't the worst thing he could've done. Maybe the NYFF isn't a throne, it's a dunk tank at the county fair. Three things are for sure: Kent Jones and Scott Foundas are going to be the best friends movies ever had, wherever they are, and while Anne's choice of words may be unfortunate, they're definitely not "beyond the pail," since the expression is "beyond the pale." Also, things "pale in comparison." They do not "pail." Pail is a noun. Poster Alex, you screwed up!

  • cmasonwells | November 17, 2009 1:21 AMReply

    "The audience and many film writers have already replied. In the negative." And what about nearly all of my friends -- causal film fans and members of the press both -- who thought this was the best NYFF line-up in years? Much of this negative reaction (as you paint it) came from folks like Marshall Fine, who walked out of NE CHANGE RIEN without any consideration of what the film was doing, or how it functioned in Pedro Costa's career. Yep, walking out and writing an insipid dismissal without even once mentioning the filmmaker's name -- that's definitely showing a willingness to engage in conversation.

  • Edward Wilson | November 16, 2009 10:51 AMReply

    Well, considering that Richard Pena is on record as explaining how each year they've programmed fewer high profile movies, I'd say it's a conscious choice. And honestly, most of the high profile movies aren't necessarily good -- Changeling wasn't anything special, but it sure as hell was FUN to have Clint Eastwood do a press conference and have Brad and Angelina do the red carpet at the Ziegfeld. And that brings a value all its own.

    I don't think the complaint is that the NYFF is favoring high art over slightly less high art. I think the problem is that the committee's idea of good art isn't necessarily good. I'm pretty much bored with neo-realist movies about poor people suffering or hackneyed coming of age stories that are only relevant because they come from an underrepresented country or documentaries with interesting subjects that simply fail as movies.

    I understand why movies like that are chosen and promoted. But do you really leave most of the screenings filled with a joy of cinema? Because when I think of classic art films that's what I think of. Art films should be the experimentation tank -- they should be formally and technically innovative. But most of the movies at the NYFF are almost anti-cinema in a sense. They're not challenging in a formal or intellectual sense, they're challenging in terms of the audience's endurance.

    Of the 27-28 movies that usually play, 3-5 will be high-profile American releases (Capote, No Country For Old Men, Mystic River, etc.), which, even if they aren't great, bring a sense of fun and glamour, and also publicity for the smaller films. Then there's maybe 1-2 movies that are surprisingly great (The World, The Best of Youth, Waltz With Bashir, etc.). Then, there's the bulk of the festival which is dry toast -- instantly forgettable and worthy of dozing. And then, there are a couple of movies that are so bad you either want to fall asleep or walk out.

    It becomes wearisome. And I think the festival is too often that forgettable middle section.

  • Vadim Rizov | November 16, 2009 10:11 AMReply

    Fair enough. It's all a bit silly though. The nature of NYFF hasn't changed significantly *at all* since its inception (see here, for example: http://twitchfilm.net/news/2009/09/film-festival-yearbook-1--a-response-to-section-two.php). I really liked much of the line-up this year, but even if you weren't thrilled by it, I'm not real sure what, if anything, the presence of "A Serious Man" would've changed in terms of audience receptivity to the overall slate. Doesn't the committee get populist points for the inclusion of Best Picture-heir presumptive "Precious"? And how many movies should be programmed that are more to a wider taste? 1/4? 1/3?

    I have to say that for all the talk -- over at Hollywood Elsewhere et al. -- of how this year's installment wasn't up to snuff, I'm not really buying it. Even on an economic level, I'd like to see some hard ticket sales numbers, plus perhaps some more sophisticated number-crunching than I'm capable of factoring in the overall economy's effect on sales etc. The simple fact of the matter is that more populist voices championing more popular films (though it's all pretty relative in this context) will always be heard louder than the champions of smaller-profile films; it's the very nature of coverage. I'm unconvinced that NYFF has failed its mandate.

    Moreover, to whine about Mr. Foundas being appointed on the basis of ONE MOVIE -- well, c'mon. If this was a "objective" lapse of judgment (not a word that's been used, but certainly implied, which in and of itself is rather silly), it's safe to say no one can program anything ever.

  • Edward Wilson | November 16, 2009 9:46 AMReply

    I know you don't like Godard. I was being facetious.

  • Vadim Rizov | November 16, 2009 9:45 AMReply

    ...Not taking the bait. I actually don't like a lot of Godard's work, for the record. That's a playground taunt, seriously. "You don't like A SERIOUS MAN? You must *love* Godard. Granola-muncher!"

  • Edward Wilson | November 16, 2009 9:39 AMReply

    Vadim, if you're nice enough, maybe Scott will program a complete Godard retrospective for you.

    C- The audience and many film writers have already replied. In the negative. Now it's time for the committee to listen.

  • cmasonwells | November 16, 2009 9:27 AMReply

    Edmund Wilson, this year's NYFF committee started a *very* provocative conversation with its audience, but the audience has to hold up their end of the discussion.

  • Jim Emerson | November 16, 2009 9:20 AMReply

    For what it's worth (re: the Polanski petition speculation at the top of this thread): Kent Jones left in March. Polanski was arrested in late September. Kinda tough to establish a causal connection there...

  • cmasonwells | November 16, 2009 9:18 AMReply

    Anne, you still haven't explained how a person leaving a job under their own volition -- to pursue other endeavors of greater personal interest, no less! -- amounts to "screwing up." I certainly hope I don't screw up one day and actually do the things I want.

  • Vadim Rizov | November 16, 2009 8:59 AMReply

    Only on Jeff Wells' website is the rejection of A Serious Man "legendary."

  • Scott Foundas | November 16, 2009 7:46 AMReply

    Given how quickly this comments section devolved into a backbiting cesspool, I had hoped to avoid entering into the fray. I do so now only to clarify a couple of key points: One, despite Anne Thompson’s claim to have spoken to me “at length,” that conversation consisted almost exclusively of Ms. Thompson attempting to confirm rumors about my contention for various jobs and to extract other confidential information, all of which I refused to comment upon. Two, while the reading comprehension skills of several posters here seem cause for concern, I take particular exception to Brynne Damon’s intimation that, in my recent Indiewire interview, I cited an interview I had conducted with Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Fremaux as evidence of my “programming experience.” Rather, as the Indiewire interview makes perfectly clear, I referred to my conversation with Fremaux as an example of a programming philosophy—that, whereas a critic writes from the perspective of personal taste, a programmer must take into consideration the broader interests of an audience and a programming institution. For evidence of my own programming activities, in addition to the New York Film Festival there is the long-running Films That Got Away series in Los Angeles, and multiple programs I have coordinated with the Telluride Film Festival (including a highly successful retrospective of French filmmaker Eugène Green) and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. On the other hand, if we are to discuss “on the job” learning (to borrow another of Ms. Damon's choice phrases), I had never edited the film section of a newspaper before when I came on board at the LA Weekly and...well, at the risk of sounding immodest, I’ll just let that speak for itself.

  • Edward Wilson | November 16, 2009 6:59 AMReply

    The best advice I can give you is to ensure openness and accessibility of content. FSLC has been moving in a direction that's too academic (as evidenced by the NYFF committee make-up). This is exactly the taste the NYFF was criticized for this year. The selections shouldn't be a dictation but a conversation with the audience.

  • Scott Foundas | November 16, 2009 4:54 AMReply

    And Sundance rejected One False Move and The Daytrippers and Spellbound, and Cannes rejected Brokeback Mountain and Vera Drake and Lebanon, and the first performance of The Rite of Spring caused a riot and...well, to quote the immortal Joe E. Brown in Some Like It Hot, "Nobody's perfect!"

  • Alex | November 16, 2009 4:49 AMReply

    *cosmos

  • Alex | November 16, 2009 4:35 AMReply

    And somewhere in the cosoms Richard Roud is weeping softly.

  • Edward Wilson | November 16, 2009 4:12 AMReply

    Somewhere in San Francisco Graham Leggat is sitting back and laughing his ass off...

  • Brynne Damon | November 16, 2009 3:52 AMReply

    Some of his best film programming experience, according to Foundas in his indieWire "coming out"? An interview he once did with Thierry Fremaux.

  • Paul E. | November 16, 2009 3:42 AMReply

    Wait, does anybody know who the new publicist is after DiNatale? Someone we can feel excited about or more of the same? And what did you mean, Edward, when you said the "assistants" have "fled the ship as well"?

  • Edward Wilson | November 16, 2009 3:41 AMReply

    Well, Scott, considering that you helped block A Serious Man from the NYFF, a now legendary rejection, I'd say it's not on the job training you require so much as a developed sense of taste.

  • Brynne Damon | November 16, 2009 3:29 AMReply

    Everyone's concerned about the end of the film critic, but what about some love for today's film programmer? A potentially important film programming job just went to a self-described non-film programmer. Having been a selection committee member is not adequate preparation for the responsibility of a behind-the-scenes programming role at a year-round movie theater, anymore than the reverse would constitute qualification for a film critic's job. The two fields require completely different skills. Foundas is going to have a lot of learning to do. On the job.

  • Alex | November 16, 2009 2:49 AMReply

    It's nice to know that we can each of us disagree about Richard Pena, about programming at the NYFF, about the future of film criticism, etc, etc---while reaching the seemingly universal consensus that Mara Manus has been a truly terrible administrator. Let us rejoice in our common ground.

  • John M | November 16, 2009 12:57 AMReply

    To Edward Wilson and Alex: I understand neither of you enjoyed the programming of the NYFF this year, but really, what festival this year was a critical success? Cannes, Toronto, Berlin...it was a rough year, around the world. Good filmmakers not putting out their best work. (And Alex, um, a lot of people, like me, liked the new films by Denis and Breillat and Dumont...you disagree, but you don't necessarily represent the majority on that one.) What is the "certain direction" the "disaster" festival was skewed in this year? I'm so curious. (And by the way, I agree that the direction of FSLC under its new management isn't encouraging...I just thought this year's festival was well programmed, and from my vantage point as an audience member, well run....for starters, can't complain about the $10 rush tickets!)

    Also, the FSLC's current Italian Neorealism series is, as far as I can tell, a big success.

    So...all is not lost...

  • Edward Wilson | November 15, 2009 11:48 AMReply

    FSLC is currently fucked up, down, sideways and back again. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

    The place is a mess. Three different publicity heads in one year, with the bulk of that year leaderless, forcing the assistants to run the show. Now they've jumped ship as well.

    I don't know if Kent screwed up. But he's one of just MANY who've fled under what employees derisively refer to as the "new regime."

    The NYFF was a disaster this year. The programming was willfully skewed in a certain direction and writers actively called the selections committee on it. And what did they get in response? J Ho smugly brushing off the criticism. (The movies weren't too dark, Jim. They're just boring.)

    The whole place needs a house cleaning.

  • Alex | November 15, 2009 11:26 AMReply

    Anne, I hate to pile on (apologies for the recriminatory tone of yesterday's posts) but I don't think your last explanation is really adequate. Unless the behind-the-scenes story is demonstrably different from the public narrative, Kent Jones was not dismissed by FSLC--he left of his own accord. If you know that this versions of events substantively diverges from the truth, then you can either clarify the situation or just accept that the truth as you know is "off the record." What you cannot do is publish evasive and vague innuendos.

    And just again, notice how you equate success with securing a "very major job." But was Kent unable or unwilling to adapt to the new administration? What seems like a personal failure to you may very well have seemed a principled decision to Kent. I don't know the guy, so I can't say, but if I was going to write an article about him, I probably would have gotten in touch.

    And even IF Kent somehow couldn't hack it and was discretely dismissed, your choice of the phrase "screwed up" is still totally beyond the pail. I think you need to publicly apologize to Kent for your unfortunate choice of words. The connotations of that phrase may have been unintentional, but that means it must now be corrected.

  • RvB | November 15, 2009 10:47 AMReply

    I hate to disagree, Alex, but I do feel coverage is a problem. Just as in the days of print, the big studios sway the bloggers. Of course, there's always going to be film critics...but as for the stronger body of film criticism, "Ultimately" is the key word here. Right now, it seems like a different story. The myopia I'm worried about is in what's left of the newspaper publishing industry, which is cutting jobs to boost stock prices, and sealing its fate by giving its readers less and less every week. And the "no visible means of support" problem still stands. Ask any middle-aged musician: how long can you survive on applause alone?

  • Alex | November 15, 2009 10:01 AMReply

    @Richard, Re: "As for the middle-aged old-media types making way for an army of devoted bloggers—I’m touched by the devotion, but I wonder how the hell people with no visible means of support are going to ride herd on the ten to twenty films released every week."

    I'm not sure you're really appreciating the sheer volume of users on the internet. Yes, 20 or 30 films a week is a lot of films. But how many potential film critics are there on the internet? When you do the math, COVERAGE is most definitely not the problem. Everything will shift to vetting and selection of criticism by people (say like David Hudson) willing to trawl through the blogosphere and quality control. I fully believe that the collective power of the web to vet and promote the best pieces will ultimately yeild a stronger body of film criticism than that which was produced by a few dozen staffers at journalistic institutions. Yes, it's really sad to see great film critics laid off. But considering how much more film criticism we have access to in the age of the internet, to lament the "end of film criticism" strikes me as an unfortunately myopic narrative, a total confusion of film criticism as practice and profession.

  • Alex | November 15, 2009 9:49 AMReply

    @Nelson. Congrats on the spell check. Totally nailed me.

    As to what makes Pena middlebrow.. The national cinema tentpole series that FSLC roles out every year are always filled with boring prestige pictures. Maybe that's a trade-off FSLC makes in order to get financial assistance from the respective consulates. I don't know. But whatever the reason, it means that his selections are not quality controlled in any meaningful way. I've seen more treacle in Spanish Cinema Now than in any major film series in New York, period.

    As to what makes him academic.. Yes, I understand that he in fact *literally* works in academia. Thanks for clarifying. What I had meant by that description, is that he doesn't have a strong connection with an audience. Take the repertory programming at Film Forum, by comparison. The two institutions mine very similar territory, but FF makes more of an effort to peg their series to contemporary life: their Depression-era film series, their upcoming series about--Haha!--newspapers. But it's not so much a matter of being topical, so much as knowing what audiences will respond to, how to cultivate a series so it feels like an EVENT and not just a program selected at random from the pages of film history. For instance, they had an Ang Lee series this summer--but why exactly? I LIKE Ang Lee, don't get me wrong. But "Taking Woodstock" was not one of his more successful films; it doesn't represent any kind of meaningful milestone in the director's career. If you they had pegged this, say, to the release of Brokeback Mountain, then the entire series might have felt timely. Instead it just sort of feels sort of underwhelming.

    Or take this year's NYFF. I know there was a whole selection committee besides Pena, but he helps choose them. There were so many films--the latest from Dumont, Resnais, Breillait, Wajda, and Denis plus that DVD-extra-feeling film on Clouzout's Inferno--that were neither artistically successful nor broadly entertaining. Was I curious about them? Yes, and I paid good money to see them. But my interest in them, I can admit, is purely academic--missteps by major auteurs that can illuminate their most successful works. But the person sitting next to me, who likes art cinema but is not a devoted completist like myself, is just bored out of their mind. Programming is tricky. FSLC could have 80% identical programming but by tweaking that other 20%, manage to feel entirely different.

  • Anne Thompson | November 15, 2009 9:40 AMReply

    Thanks Tim. I've been trying to figure out how to say this. I am not commenting on Jones' abilities as a critic or programmer. I am saying that Foundas has an opportunity to score a rather major job here--running the New York Film Festival-- if he plays his cards right. Jones had that opportunity and failed to achieve it strategically, in terms of how he did or did not please the powers that be at the Film Society. He was a staffer who worked for his bosses, finally. Most of us, at one time or another, have "screwed up" that relationship.

  • Paul E. | November 15, 2009 8:22 AMReply

    I was discussing this post with a friend and just found out that the AWFUL publicist from the NYFF (DiNatale I think was the name) has since been fired. That's undoubtedly a move for the best, but I think it puts a lot of the FSLC staff turnover in perspective. If Mara knows best, then why did she hire someone so flagrantly incompetent that he had to be fired within weeks of starting? My outside perspective is that the people she brought with her from the Public Theater know little about the film world and like it even less. What exactly was she supposed to bring to the table? Financial savvy? That sounds sarcastic but is actually a real question!!!

  • Tim Appelo | November 15, 2009 7:44 AMReply

    While I see why Kent Jones and eminent friends keenly regretted Anne's choice of words, she really wasn't saying he didn't do a good job. Only that he didn't do a good job of survival. Anne's job is covering the political demolition derby of moviedom, the bloody rugby scrum of money and power, less often the esthetic achievements (though she actually is a critic too on occasion). So, seen through this lens, somebody can do something badly -- say, tell George Lucas American Graffiti is unreleaseable -- and go on to great success by winning politicially. Or do something superlatively well and go down in flames, like [fill in your favorite auteur and masterpiece]. Maybe there's somebody who doesn't think highly of Kent Jones, but it's not Anne. I've known plenty of people who did first-rate work and got stomped for it -- take Chris Connelly at Premiere, or even Jim Meigs, both of whom proved their stompers abundantly wrong after the stompin.' Yet (and I speak as one who watched brilliant, accomplished legions of Amazon editorial employees mowed down by 20ish Harvard MBA mongomillionaires who openly mocked them for their verbiage, which a dumb Harvard MBA mongomillionaire spells "verbage"), to be screwed IS to screw up, even if you only did the finest work. Esse est percipi. The price of survival is being perceived by people in power. That's all Anne was saying, I think.

  • Beth | November 15, 2009 5:39 AMReply

    "this blog “Mudflats.” ....(She chooses to remain anonymous for personal reasons.)"

    Not that it has any bearing on the real subject of this discussion, but to make a correction, she is no longer anonymous. A Democratic state representative outed her when he got angry at some things she wrote about him.

    As an aside, I have been very sorry that Kent Jones left the FSLC. I have enjoyed his programming over the years and in a couple of relatively short conversations I've had with him, he seemed like a genuinely nice person, which I don't think I've found universally to be so in the FSLC staff, especially as of late.

  • Alex | November 15, 2009 4:15 AMReply

    Richard, you make some good points. Perhaps I'm overemphasizing the potential upside of the web just to play devil's advocate to the digital dystopians. But here's something to think about: "Film Comment" is only able to survive through the patronage of FSLC. I'd be interested to know how much they make in subscriptions versus how much they spend on printing costs--my guess is that those two figures are probably in the same ballpark. (Admittedly, I am pulling this out of my ass, but I think my guess is an educated one haha!) The "next" Film Comment will more likely than not be a digital publication--perhaps patronized by a museum (Moving Image Source) or a film festival (The Noir City Sentinel). One could also point to Bright Lights Film Journal, a publication that had been shutterred because of operating costs in the print era but now digitally publishes a lot of great criticism. And what about the cineActions or the Positifs of tomorrow? I think they will do even better in the digital world than the print one.

    I think it's also important to remember that the great critics who came out of the arts sections of news dailies and general interest weeklies often produced their greatest work IN SPITE of the platform. How did Pauline Kael ever manage to get her epic length "Trash, Art and The Movies" published in Harper's? It was a total fluke. Reviewers in short-lead film publications can rarely right more than 3000 words and are expected to write for a general audience who haven't yet seen the film. Critical perspective is more than welcome, but it must make room for the Consumer Reports copy (plot synopsis, thumbs up/thumbs down, etc).

    The advent of the web will most hurt journalistic REPORTAGE, as that requires capital intensive investment--funds for research, travel, accommodations, etc. But ANALYSIS, critical commentary on universally available material--in which we can include film criticism--will thrive on the web because it requires only a time investment (if one does not count say intn'l film fests or on-set profile pieces, etc).

    To give a parallel example from the world of politics: I've found that on the topic of Sarah Palin, one of the most interesting sources around has been this blog "Mudflats." It has contained more rigorous fact-checking and witty analysis of the Palin phenomenon than a lot of mainstream news pubs have managed to turn out. It's also run by an amateur in her spare time, making use of resources found only through the web. (She chooses to remain anonymous for personal reasons.) So yes, I think devoted bloggers can turn out first rate work quite easily.

    Thanks for responding!

  • Richard von Busack | November 14, 2009 10:28 AMReply

    To get back to the subject, even if Scott F. is still working for Film Comment, he won't be writing every week for the LA Weekly and the other VV media papers where he was being syndicated. And a person programming a festival can't write about the second thoughts they might have about a film. Film fest program blurbs are all about getting people to see a film--they aren't criticism per se.
    As for the middle-aged old-media types making way for an army of devoted bloggers--I'm touched by the devotion, but I wonder how the hell people with no visible means of support are going to ride herd on the ten to twenty films released every week. One hopes they all have understanding parents who don't mind them living at home when they get middle aged...

  • Nelson | November 14, 2009 1:16 AMReply

    Alex refers to "the middlebrow, somewhat academic Richard Pena":

    Well, yes, we've established that he is, in fact, somewhat academic, what with teaching at a university and all. But I wonder what makes him a middlebrow -- would that be his longtime championing of Rivette, Hou, Kiarostami, Jia, and other Oscar-bait sentimentalists?

    (Also, just between us: real-deal, certified highbrows spell it "pales.")

    That said, Kent Jones is one of the best critics and programmers around, and I agree he shouldn't have been written about in such a callous and dismissive way in this column. Blog post. Whatever.

  • Hank the K | November 14, 2009 12:43 AMReply

    All this vitriol over the notion that film criticism may be in trouble reminds me of what Henry Kissinger once said about academia: "University politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small."

  • John M | November 13, 2009 11:23 AMReply

    So, as Anne Thompson sees it, Mara Manus is the great white hope of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and Kent Jones screwed up by not realizing this himself. Also, Richard Pena comes and goes as Mara Manus sees fit.

    Am I getting this right?

    Did you make precisely one call for this piece? To Mara Manus?

  • Anne Thompson | November 13, 2009 9:56 AMReply

    As a top practitioner of film criticism, Manohla Dargis is pretty hard to beat in any medium. That said, I am as open-minded and welcoming of online film voices as there is. There are many great writers about film on the web, no matter what their affiliation. Check out my links above.

    I've worked at long-lead pubs like Film Comment, Empire, and Premiere, weeklies like LA Weekly and EW, and dailies like The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. In 2005 I started my first blog, knowing that online was the way to go. I decry the loss of the print edition of Premiere, which was too expensive to sustain; I worry about EW's future; and I wish that Film Comment would put more of its rarified content online. Here's my Variety column on longform entertainment journalism: http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117962573.html?categoryid=2508&cs=1

  • Alex | November 13, 2009 9:41 AMReply

    @Ryan Sartor. I appreciate the tenor of your comments. I do hate how these things escalate, even as I find myself contributing to the cycle with my own passionate self-righteousness. So thanks for that.

    That said, Anne was most certainly not "gracious or polite" in her comments. She called Kent Jones--let's face it, a FAR more interesting programmer than the middlebrow, somewhat academic Richard Pena--a "screw up." It was wildly out of line and brutally personal. It was also (and this is a problem in her writing consistently) a diagnostic that she didn't even ATTEMPT to fact check. This was an embarrassing piece, and the snark blowback in the comment section pails in comparison to stunning lack of professionalism.

  • gabe klinger | November 13, 2009 9:10 AMReply

    Programming informs a new critical perspective that many working critics simply don't have. Scott's move is perfectly reasonable - an extension of his criticism. Kent's job at the Film Society was essentially one of criticism. His selections -- when they were at their best -- were informed by his agility and excellent taste as a critic. The Film Society is poorer for not having him, not the othe other way around.

  • Ryan Sartor | November 13, 2009 8:26 AMReply

    I think it is worth noting that Anne is very gracious and polite in her comments, and I don't think she deserves such malicious reactions.

    I like reading blogs such as this and The Playlist, but there still is something really great about picking up a copy of Film Comment or (when there's a well-written piece) Entertainment Weekly and admiring the layout and accompanied pictures. It's not the same as scrolling through an article online. Both internet and print are fine venues for film coverage, its just a shame that print outlets are dwindling.

    Film Comment is as brilliant as its always been with great articles and interviews. The problem now is that all of this information is available online months in advance. I used to eagerly anticipate the Film Comment issue after Cannes because of the coverage, but I can find similiar information a month prior.

    That being said, the internet isn't ideal for sitting down and reading long articles. I remember the first piece I ever read in Film Comment. I was just starting high school and it was a piece questioning Steven Spielberg, something that at 15 had never occured to me. The piece (linked here, fragmented, sorry: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1069/is_4_37/ai_83115867/?tag=content;col1) had a great impact on me. And institutions like Film Comment are very important to serious film lovers.

    I think magazines like Film Comment are very important publications, and I hope they're always around, even as internet blogs grow in importance. I think we can all get along.

  • Alex | November 13, 2009 7:35 AMReply

    As much as I enjoyed rubbernecking past the pileup of film critics in the comments section--the Manus era of FSLC has certainly been a clusterfuck, hasn't it?--I just wanted to parse one tangential point.

    Anne writes to Manohla, "There are still many top practitioners of the art of film criticism, obviously, like you, but their numbers are dwindling and you can’t deny that the profession is under severe duress."

    I'm guessing Anne's threshold for "top practioner" is securing a staffer job at an old-media news organization. Everyone else, presumably, is just some pajama-clad loser working out of their parents basement.

    Well guess what Anne? "One of us! One of us!" In case you haven't noticed, this shit aint Esquire. The web-savvy twenty-somethings you so condescendingly dismiss (http://tx.ly/ZOI) are the only people who read your column--wait, scratch that. The only people who read your BLOG.

    What we have here is a *textbook* example of a critic projecting their own personal and professional ennui onto everyone else. The "end of film criticism" shtick is just as boring a topic as the "end of cinema." Save the middle-aged crisis for your shrink. The spirit of cinephilia--"love of movies," not of cultural prestige--is alive and well.

  • Ryan Sartor | November 13, 2009 4:47 AMReply

    Ya'll hatin' on Anne Thompson.

    I'm just glad "The Box" didn't premiere at Cannes.

  • Brian | November 13, 2009 4:22 AMReply

    Where's Armond White when we need him?

  • amy Taubin | November 13, 2009 12:41 AMReply

    Anne: As you often say, you are not a critic, although that hasn't stopped you from trashing some very innovative AmerIndies. And as your inaccurate comments about Kent Jones, Gavin Smith, Manohla Dargis and little old me (a literal description) over the past several months suggest, you aren't much of a reporter either. Scott Foundas is an immensely promising programmer but Kent Jones has qualities that are irreplaceable and his former colleagues at the Film Society know what they've lost. As for Kent "not meshing," it's your situation at Indiewire that you describe. yrs., amy taubin

  • Kent Jones | November 12, 2009 11:49 AMReply

    Dear Anne,

    Thanks so much for the well-wishing. It just means so much to me.

    And thanks for checking in to see if your characterization of my time at Lincoln Center seemed accurate. I guess I must have missed that call.

    i was probably signing another pro-child rape petition, which takes up most of my time these days.

    Sincerely,

    Kent Jones

  • Mark | November 12, 2009 10:16 AMReply

    The death of film magazines like Premiere and the reduction in number of quality print critics makes it all the easier for more unremitting garbage like 'New Moon' to control the box-office. Sad days.

  • Gavin Smith | November 12, 2009 9:47 AMReply

    FYI Anne,

    Scott is now a Contributing Editor to Film Comment, the magazine for which you served as Associate Editor and then West Coast Editor from the spring of 1981 to the summer of 1996. He will doubtless continue to pursue film criticism whenever he has time to spare from his duties as associate film programmer. We look forward to having him in our pages on a regular basis.

    Keep up the good work,
    Gavin

  • Anne Thompson | November 12, 2009 9:02 AMReply

    Manohla,

    There are still many top practitioners of the art of film criticism, obviously, like you, but their numbers are dwindling and you can't deny that the profession is under severe duress. The LA Film Critics are down to eleven members with staff jobs. You must be aware of the high numbers of critics who no longer write reviews for a living, and Foundas--to whom I spoke at length--is now one of them. The IndieWIRE story indicates that he will try to keep his hand in occasionally. I never suggested that he would stop writing altogether. And yes, it is not lost on me that Foundas was egregiously overworked at the Weekly. He will be hard to replace: it will probably take three people!

    I am not rooting against the health of film criticism. I love it and read it. The New York Times and a few well-financed bastions of sanity will continue to be able to support it. But I am mourning the end of a golden era. Gerald Peary's documentary For the Love of Movies: The History of American Film Criticism made me cry.

    I appreciate your desire to stand up for your friend Kent Jones, but clearly, the Film Society and Richard Pena had hopes for him that he did not fulfill. So he "screwed up" in the sense that he did not mesh with that organization's needs. They did not sync up. And he moved on. I wish him well.

    And I look forward to reading your artful criticism every week in the NYT.

  • Manohla Dargis | November 12, 2009 7:56 AMReply

    Anne,
    1. Kent Jones did not screw up at the Film Society and it's disgusting that you would write something so utterly wrong and insulting about him.
    2. "Film criticism is a dying art"? Did you write that with a straight face?
    3. Scott is giving up on slaving for the LA Weekly (meaning, working for those fuckers at Village Voice Media); he's not giving up on film criticism, which you would know if you actually bothered to talk to Scott - or even read Brian Brooks's indiewire report: http://www.indiewire.com/article/scott_foundas_i_think_any_organization_has_to_change_with_time/

  • Matthew Freundlich | November 12, 2009 7:08 AMReply

    Film criticism is a "dying art" because two critics recently took jobs as programmers? I sure hope not.

  • Brian | November 12, 2009 3:29 AMReply

    I read the Village Voice film reviews. Scott Foundas has never impressed me. He seems to have very mainstream tastes. Not a good thing for a film society. What's awaiting us at the Walter Reade Theater, a Pixar retrospective? God help us.

  • Bob Westal | November 12, 2009 3:04 AMReply

    Does the word "blacklisting" ring a bell with anyone?

    Signing the petition never occurred to me, but the idea that people who did sign it were somehow in favor of whatever colorful-terminology people use to describe Polanski's crime and should be forever banned from decent society as a result is kind of disgusting.

  • Sindre Kartvedt | November 12, 2009 2:31 AMReply

    Uh - is it somehow in bad form to point out that Foundas signed the Polanski petition?

  • Glenn Kenny | November 12, 2009 1:57 AMReply

    Anne, Kent Jones did not "screw up." Not by a long shot.

    I would suggest that Derrin Zikks go do several unpleasant things, but I know you like to run a civil comments section.

  • zxcvb | November 12, 2009 1:45 AMReply

    Just wanna say that Karina Longworth would be a great replacement...if not an upgrade, IMO.

  • Derrin Zikks | November 12, 2009 1:10 AMReply

    "Unless Foundas screws up (as one-time heir apparent Kent Jones did)"

    Would signing a petition defending a child-rapist count as "screwing up"? If so, both KJ and Foundas have done so.

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