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The Global Film Village: Raj Roy: “Making Choices: The Beating Heart of Cinema”

by Marla Lewin

I attended the Film Festival Summit in Las Vegas and there were many interesting talks and panels presented. Most were aimed directly at teaching how to run and program a film festival. The most important function of the event however was to provide networking opportunities for festival directors and programmers to meet with their peers in a casual environment. We will be posting more reports from this event shortly. First up is a talk by Rajendra Roy Chief Curator Department of Film at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

 

 

photo courtesy of Film Festival Summit

 

Raj Roy studied law in California, and moved to New York in 1994 to be a performance artist.

He worked with Shari Freelow, senior programmer at Sundance and got involved with the gay and lesbian film festival which was experimental in focus. He was mentored by Jack Smith, who along with Andy Warhol rebranded Queer Cinema in the early mid 80’s and 90’s. As the Executive Director of Mix a GLBT movie festival with a micro budget they focused on sex, sexy films,and parties.

 

“At Mix, we created lots of parties to promote our Brand, this brought people together to create an identity for the festival”.

 

“We wanted to create a fun lively experience. There was the Blue Moon series, which was soft porn, racy films, people dressing in drag every night, and every night a party. We had celebrities turning out and coming out. We got corporate sponsors interested. Tobacco had been dropped from many of their usually advertising spots, so there was a guy from Camel cigarettes who was interested in sponsoring us. Our board was leery of doing this at first. I made sure we took photographs of all of our parties. Sure enough our audience was made up almost exclusively of smokers. I then demonstrated to the board that we were not leading anyone down the path to smoking. They were all already there. So we took the sponsorship the next year and used it for sex positive stuff, performances, and screenings. Camel was successful because they knew their audience and we provided entertainment with their help”.

 

“The Guggenheim, which was beginning a film program, that was where Jack Hart showed us the global nature of film.  They were into programming film world cinema, and where bringing cinema from Latin America to new audiences.  John programmed counterpoint to the film programming at MOMA in the late 90’s. Everyone was flush in the 90’s with dot com money.  In November of 2001 the Guggenheim planned to do battle with the Wynn and Bellagio, in creating art exhibitions in Vegas.  In the 90’s there was no internet, and there was a wild west structure as to where art could be presented. Then with 9/11 there was a convergence of funding problems brought about by the drop of cultural funding and the internet became a new form of entertainment. In this environment spending money on art in Vegas when cultural spending had been cut, was not considered a priority so the plan was scrapped”.

 

“I then got a job at the Hamptons film festival where they were experiencing an identity crisis.  The festival had been founded by Steve Ross of Time Warner and several of his friends. It was intended to be Sundance East, but there were continuous problems. Most of the programmers only lasted a year there, I had eleven predecessors.  It took them 10 years to let go of this desire. The Festival had little more than its name. It had an american independent focus and here they bring in a young, brown, poor guy to run programming. I had a different approach and it worked because I stayed for the next 7 years. I booked the film Nowhere in Africa which won on our award, and it went on to win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. This Internationalized the competition at the Hamptons and we focused from that point on territories that were not being nurtured by the New York Film Festival, including French comedies, a strong platform for new International cinema, and a Midnight screenings series” .

 

 

“I was invited to be the only American on the Berlin Film Festival selection committee. The entire group watched every film together. We had an open discussion about the films. They were wonderful to me as an english speaker with only limited german. They were really mean about some films. I was a big fan of Sports Night a television show with Felicity Huffman and she was in a small american indie film that we were watching. Trans-America didn’t make the main competition film cut but it did make it into the Panorama program and went on to win many awards.”

 

“I think you have to have an Everything for Everyone philosophy, you need to be adventurous in programming, there are many different audiences and constituencies. The fact that print criticism is disappearing is a horrible concept. This really hurts in getting the word out on new artists and films”.

 

Is Netflix going to bring about the end of Cinematheques?

“Audiences want to see films with groups so they can discuss and enjoy them together. Some films need to be seen on a big screen. I am thrilled with the fact that MOMA has chosen someone from the indie festival world to run its program. We are doing more theatrical runs which offers NYC another Art house screen. We are put together a Mike Nichols retrospective so I got to spend hours watching and conversing with him.  This event refocused people’s perception of Mike Nichols. He had been considered a hack by many critics because he made commercial films. We looked at the total spectrum of his work and it was amazing what he created during his career. Tim Burton is our next retrospective focus. This will show the arc of his creative world including his features, shorts, drawings and paintings”.

 

What is the most important message or lesson I have learned over the years?

“Sticking by your gut feelings when you are making choices. Filmmakers are why we are doing this”.

 

 

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About MarlaLewinGFV

Lewin Marla
(Global Film Village)

Marla is a producer, playwright, screenwriter, publicist and now a journalist. She attends 12 to 20 film festivals per year. She has spoken on filmmaking at many festivals including Cannes and SXSW.

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