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Why the San Francisco and New York Film Societies Seek New Leaders

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood December 20, 2013 at 12:26PM

Two of the country's top Film Societies with major festivals in San Francisco and New York need leaders who can help them find solid creative and financial footing.
Rose Kuo and Michael Barker
Brian Brooks Rose Kuo and Michael Barker

As the Film Society of Lincoln Center adjusts to the departure of executive director Rose Kuo after three and half years (her controversial predecessor Mara Manus lasted for just two), the film community is looking to fill a number of vacancies.

Ted Hope, Franklin Leonard
Ted Hope, Franklin Leonard

The skill-set that seems to be in short supply is that of gifted arts administrator and fundraiser. Luckily for The Film Society of Lincoln Center--which runs several lucrative fundraising galas as well as less surefire year-round theater programming and the well-attended annual New York Film Festival-- two years ago Kuo brought in a new managing director, producer and documentary filmmaker Lesli Klainberg, 49, the former executive director of LBGT film festival NewFest, to handle the nuts and bolts of running this expanding New York non-profit. Now the FSLC board is turning to her as its interim director. 

When Kuo, 53, arrived at the FSLC she inherited its ambitious transition to art-house exhibitor with the installation of two new theaters, offices and a cafe costing $41 million at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center on West 65th Street. The complex has just started to find its footing in 2013 with such first-run hits as "20 Feet from Stardom" and "Kill Your Darlings" (after sparse hits such as "Margin Call" and a money-hemorrhaging 2012) against Dan Talbot's dominant powerhouse the Lincoln Plaza.

The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, one of the venues for NYFF.
The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, one of the venues for NYFF.

Kuo also supervised the replacement of New York Film Festival director Richard Pena, who retired after 25 years, installing programming veteran Kent Jones, who mounted a well-received festival this fall. Even Film Comment, a hidebound film journal which seemed cut off from much discourse in the film community with a tiny circulation, starting earning some income after years of red ink as Kuo's import, digital strategist Eugene Hernandez, pulled the magazine and film society-related content onto an ad-supported website and launched a special print awards supplement packed with Oscar ads. 

But L.A. recruits Scott Foundas and Robert Koehler were among the critic/programmers who came and went under Kuo's tenure, replaced by New York critic Dennis Lim. When Kuo and the financially anxious Film Society board met last weekend to discuss Kuo's expiring contract, they could not find a way to move forward together. Kuo is ready to move on, back to California (where she and screenwriter husband Larry Gross never sold their Hollywood home). “The organization is now in a perfect place for me to make my own transition," said Kuo in a statement; she is not talking to press.

The FLSC told the NYT that Kuo will consult during the transition, but she's gone. And no one is looking for a successor.

While there's speculation that recently departed Focus Features CEO James Schamus, Tribeca exec Geoffrey Gilmore and Toronto's Bell Lightbox chief Noah Cowan, who has built an audience for year-round arthouse fare, could be strong imports for the FSLC, clearly as far as the Film Society board led by Dan Stern is concerned, they already have strong leaders in place. 

This article is related to: New York Film Festival , Festivals, San Francisco Film Society, San Francisco International Film Festival, Exhibition

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.