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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.
Robert Koehler and Rose Kuo at AFI Fest
Robert Koehler and Rose Kuo at AFI Fest

As Klainberg and Jones carry on, they may miss Kuo's social skills and strong relationships with filmmakers and such Hollywood players as Scott Rudin. The organization is carefully reapportioning duties for the staff.

The likeliest scenario is that Kuo will return to greener pastures at the San Francisco Film Society, where she worked some years back and knows Director of Programming Rachel Rosen. Why? Greener is right. While the venerable institution has endured an agonizing management turnover (long-time director Graham Leggat succumbed to cancer, and his replacement Bingham Ray was felled by a stroke), they are still seeking the right fit as outgoing executive director producer Ted Hope, having learned first-hand what an arts administrator does--painstakingly raising funds and more funds, stroking patrons and recruiting new ones--is moving back into production (or is he?). 

A veteran indie film producer with a zeal for moving the independent film community toward new digital models, Hope proved to be more fast-moving whip-smart entrepreneur than arts administrator. He believed that he could move the needle farther at the well-funded 57-year-old organization than he could. "We got a lot done," he told me after he resigned. "I'm super-pleased with where we are this year. We raised a lot of money. I talked about the need for entrepreneurial training for filmmakers, and within six months we launched the new Artists to Entrepreneur A2E program at the festival, which looks to be able to grow. As non-profits go the Film Society is an innovative and flexible program. The Film Society has a history of doing things well with the team that got them here. They are very stable."

What does San Francisco need now? Hope will continue at the SFFS until December 31, working with the staff and board to facilitate a smooth transition; he will join the SFFS Advisory Board. Hope admits that the SFFS needs less of a free-wheeling visionary like him and more of an experienced arts administrator: "I think we will find somebody who has a deep understanding and commitment to exhibition, filmmaker services, and education. Somebody who recognizes the strength of the strong team in place. What will benefit the organization is someone coming from a cultural management organization. Someone like Keri Putnam [Sundance] and Joana Vicente [IFP]; their work inspired me."

San Francisco has built a stable organization--like the well-run Sundance Institute--- that is able to dole out sizable grants to filmmakers. On the other hand, at Lincoln Center Kuo had hanging over her head not only the huge pressure to manage a financially strapped non-profit organization, but to book several art house cinemas in a cutthroat environment. She talked more like an exhibitor than an arts administrator. 

Meanwhile Brookline, Massachusetts' beloved The Coolidge Corner and New York State's Jacob Burns Center have also lost their leaders and are seeking replacements. It may be that in these tricky times for specialized film distribution, being in the exhibition business is the knife's edge--especially in New York City.

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.