In true cinematic fashion, for our first year-end “Behind the Screens” column, we’ve decided to bring you our best “deleted scenes,” insightful and fascinating interview outtakes that just didn’t quite fit into their respective articles. Much as we love doing with movies themselves, please feel free to debate whether we should have kept them in or should incorporate them later in the form of an “Ultimate Special Collector’s Expanded Edition Director’s Cut.” If you’d like to read the original interviews (or if you just need to refresh your memory), click on each name to be redirected.
President, Criterion Collection
On contemporary films in the Criterion Collection
We’ve always had, as part of our mission statement, the important classic and contemporary films, but we’ve often had constraints on the contemporary side, because with physical media, very often, our peer companies aren’t in a position to license us the right to make editions of those films because they need that physical media income to make up their budgets after the theatrical releases. Now, as a new outlet for those films on the streaming space, we’re actually a very welcome customer, so it’s also allowed us to solidify our relationships within the industry and to help advance the interest of some of their filmmakers. For instance, we’ve commissioned a series of films called “Meet the Filmmakers.” In this series, we commission one documentary filmmaker to go and make a piece about another working filmmaker or filmmakers. The idea is it’s not a filmography, not a biography, but an actual encounter of some kind that gives us a sense of the sensibility that is making these films. The first one is about Athina Rachel Tsangari, a Greek filmmaker who we’re all fascinated by. Very original voice and a very inventive and articulate filmmaker. So, this summer, we went and sent David Thompson to make a piece about her. It’s about 50 minutes long, and it’s a really interesting window into how she thinks. When that goes up on the service, it will be accompanied by her nearly complete works. We, with her, have made the decision about which shorts we’re showing, but both of her features and her feature-length student project, will all be there, along with the selection of shorts. Those films will persist on the service for, say, six months. The “Meet the Filmmakers” documentary will stay forever. Little by little, we will be building a body of that work on the channel, so you will be able to go and see encounters with various filmmakers you might be curious about, and we want those to be of lasting interest and value, whether or not the films are still available on the service. It may be that, as the service evolves, we may find that we do want to keep certain things around for longer terms or that we can afford to make our licenses run for longer periods. But, at the outset, it doesn’t bother me that things cycle through. I like that freshness.
On curation vs. volume
The common pitch of a streaming service is volume. “We have 17,000 movies.” That doesn’t soothe my soul to hear. Even if I do drop down to the “Kids and Family” area, there’s 75 selections in that row alone, before I’m invited to go to a whole page that is hundreds of selections in that category. I feel like one of the things people really enjoy is having their choices narrowed a bit. That led us to this daily rotation. We will have thematic programming on Mondays and Thursdays, and those themes will often have eight films in them. That’s a very modest number of films to choose from, but it’s still eight films! You’re not going to sit down and watch eight films any night of the week. There’s no way that’s just a night for you.
On the pros and cons of offering Criterion films on Hulu
Hulu had the vision five years ago to recognize that Criterion was meaningful to a lot of moviegoers, and they made a home for us and gave us a very prominent place on the site. They did everything they said they were going to and everything we asked of them, for the most part. That said, Hulu is a large, diversified platform whose design considerations are being made across the board, regardless of content. There are ideas about browsing and navigation that we could never say anything because it wasn’t our platform. It was a large-scale license agreement, and we supported that by trying to identify thematic strands through the collection. We would select 10-12 films every week that we would highlight for some thematic consistency, but it was a fairly simple form of programming. We were able to upload some supplemental features, but they were not integrated in a way that made them central to the experience or even easy to find. For the people who sought them out, I think it was valuable, and for five years, Hulu provided a better experience of our films in our library than we would have had anywhere else. I think the difference here is that our platform is designed to serve the kind of audience that cares about the movies, that is willing to be a little bit adventurous, that appreciates being given different angles of approach or even places to deepen its appreciation of what the filmmaker is doing.
On the kinds of movies that the Criterion Collection looks to offer
We’ve never been fussy about films might be appropriate or not appropriate. We’ve got “B” films that were made in garages in the ’70s, and we’ve got the highly-credentialed towering classics of the world cinema. We’ve always put them on the same shelf because all we’ve ever said is we want a film to be an exemplary film of its kind.
Head of Programming, Metrograph
On joining the Metrograph team
I got a message from my friend Jake Perlin, who is Artistic Director here. He said, “I might be looking for someone to work with me at a new theater.” And I was super-excited because you might remember, it was at a time where all these New York theaters were closing or about to close, and I was just like, “Wait, you’re opening a theater? That’s insane.” So I came downtown, met with him here. At this point, he was walking me through a completely empty brick box that had been abandoned as a warehouse for over a decade, and he was just like, “You can picture it, right? Here’s going to be concessions. Here’s going to be the box office. There’s going to be a second floor.” And I was like, “Second floor?!?”
On programming as part of a team
I knew Jake and I were kindred spirits in that we both believe in 35mm projection. We definitely have varying tastes because of our different backgrounds and interests, but ultimately, the tenets of programming that we subscribe to are very much the same, which are approaching it with an open mind, thinking about it intuitively, thinking about it on the other side as someone who actually goes to movies religiously, and also very much focusing on the quality of presentation.
On programming the Metrograph’s first slate of films
All along, we knew we wanted to do Jean Eustache. I forget how it first came up, to be honest, but I knew that we wanted to start with one thematic program and one auteur retrospective, and then another program that defined who we were as programmers, in all the complexity that that concept entails. I guess we shot around ideas about, “Should we do an Asian auteur because we’re in Chinatown? Should we do, maybe, a French auteur?” We didn’t want to go too much with the standard arthouse fare, and then when we hit on Eustache, we were both like, “Yes. Hell yes.” It was just perfect because Eustache was of that second wave of auteurs that came out of the Cahiers du Cinema movement. He went to the Cinematheque everyday, and he called his body of work “the daughter of the Cinematheque Francaise.” Eustache is very inspirational in that way, with his very open approach to cinephilia. The other program we opened with came because we have these amazing 35mm projection systems. We really wanted to showcase them, so we decided to show a lot of archival prints right out of the gate. Just throw down the gauntlet. So we jokingly thought, “Why not do a series of films that feature the act of filmgoing in some way?” But, as we started listing off the films, we thought, “Wow, this is actually an incredible list of films that make it not a joke program. It’s actually a very serious program.” And it was so meaningful to watch Taxi Driver or Purple Rose of Cairo in our brand new theater where the seats had just been installed and the screen had just gone up the week before. I think the audience really responded to that. The last thing was the “Metrograph A to Z”. We had so many films that, in our process of discussion, we’d get so sidetracked and excited about and then, like, a whole day would go by, and we’d say, “We just spent an entire day talking about the films we aren’t going to show. What are we going to do? We have to show these films somehow.” Sometimes it’s great to have a really comprehensive retrospective on one person or group or even a taut thematic program that’s well fleshed out, but it can sometimes be really liberating to show a film out-of-context or build a context around one single screening, and so we thought we had to compartmentalize a program that was just our favorites. We really didn’t want it to be a “new canon” or another survey or listicle. We didn’t want to play into that culture at all. We wanted to be very personal, so we thought a good way to control it was to limit ourselves to one film per auteur and then just schedule it letter by letter. And we’ve had some amazing screenings.
On creating a film culture
We want to create an environment where people can have open discussions about what they’re seeing and what they’ve just seen. Ideally, at this point, or at some point in the future, we’ll have audience cultures that develop here, where people don’t even look at what’s playing; they just come to their neighborhood cinema, the Metrograph, and see whatever is there and, even if they disliked it or thought it was a failure, at least they thought it was an interesting one and one that they wanted to talk about with us or amongst each other.
On the notion of competing with other arthouse theaters
That old-guard sense of territorial programming is something we’re trying to debunk. That idea that “because I’m showing it, no one else can show it within six months or in this territory.” The context is always different if you’re showing it somewhere different at another time and with a new audience, so that’s something we’re really trying to do, and I’m really glad that, at other programming institutions, we have such great friends and that they feel the same way.
On what makes Metrograph’s programming different from anywhere else
The idea is that we can do things that aren’t as limiting as the more august, established institutions. This is the right size to experiment with preconceived notions of what programming a first-run or rep film could look like. We could bring a Fred Wiseman film to the theaters. It might be struck on a new print, but it was a film that was made decades ago. Here, we can show it four or five times a day, and it’s probably better than any film coming out this week and present it as though we’re showing a new film. But we can also show smaller, more experimental, arthouse films that maybe you don’t need to show on a full schedule, but of course, the filmmakers are really happy when they get to be shown in a theatrical context at all and not just go to VOD. So, I think what’s different about this place is we’re like this little petri dish for programming, and we can always throw curveballs to our audience and see how they respond. And that response has been very enthusiastic thus far. And then, we do see a direct relationship between the people who come for drinks and dinner and people who come to the movies. The idea is that it’s a self-contained ecosystem where you can come in and get lost in what we have to offer for a whole day.
Senior Film Programmer, Japan Society
On why her non-English-speaking parents enrolled her in an English-language school in Japan
The simplest answer is probably that they’ve always had a severe disdain towards the conformity instilled in so many Japanese schools. Also, my Mom grew up very sick and always dreamed of going abroad, while my Dad was born at the end of the war and traveled Europe as a young man with no money and found that English would have been a useful skill to have when he was washing dishes in Sweden.
On whether her perception of programming film has changed after the election
I’ve certainly been thinking about a lot of things around me. As a human being, my job is one aspect of myself. There are questions everywhere I look, but that feeling is also not new. I’ve always felt that it’s critical to listen and watch and engage. I’ve witnessed cinema and the film-going experience be able to do that for people (myself included). After all, a film viewer especially in a theater is doing exactly that – listening, watching and engaging.