As the editor of a website devoted to daily coverage of New York’s film culture, I have my share of glee and gripes over how the city regards its cinema. On one hand, there’s something inspiring about theatrical audiences rallying for three months behind a lost gem like Killer of Sheep; on the other, we, the moviegoers, increasingly seek the imprimatur of mainstream institutions to validate our tastes.
The critics’ poll in this issue reaffirms the significance of both phenomena, but I witness dozens more trends and developments every day from my ground-level perspective online. And as thriving as it was in 2007—with more films in circulation than there were screens to hold them—New York can always improve in 2008. In no particular order, here’s how:
Discover a festival
The temptation to visit the New York Film Festival and see No Country for Old Men a whole month before its local release date can be irresistible. But the same day that the cognoscenti camped out for the Coens, just a few blocks up Broadway, the South Asian Film Festival premiered new work from Queens (Deepti Paul’s Browntown) to Mumbai (Rajshree Ojha’s Crossroads) and everywhere in between. Meanwhile, downtown, a full slate of no-budget independents screened at the Evil City Film Festival.
It’s anyone’s guess how many festivals occur annually in New York (I counted at least 60 in 2007 and covered probably half of them), but the vast majority offer super-rare docs, shorts, and international titles unlikely to screen in town again—many for good reason, but a few of which you’ll relish having seen when you had the chance. Moreover, at these ticket prices, the gamble’s worth it—No Country will still be there when you’re done.
That said, don’t forget about Tribeca
I know, I know: “Tribeca?!? But it’s a neighborhood-swallowing, star-fucking behemoth!” For the sake of argument, let’s say it is. Even at its institutional worst, this year’s Tribeca Film Festival featured strong programming like Alex Gibney’s harrowing documentary look at torture, Taxi to the Dark Side; the woefully underappreciated family drama The Cake Eaters; and sleepers like Shotgun Stories, Blue State, In Search of a Midnight Kiss, The Grand—and those are just the domestic films, only a few of which have since wrangled distribution deals.
I’ve said it before: Tribeca is an easy fest to hate. No one can explain away $18 tickets, and its elbow-throwing premiere snobbery can plunge other, smaller festival lineups around the country into program havoc. But it’s not going away soon, so ignoring the fest out of spite penalizes exactly one person: the filmmaker caught in the middle, who jumped at the only opportunity he or she may have to screen work and find an audience in New York. Maybe I’m unhip to say so, but we can do better.
Save the Pioneer Theater
As reported in this paper, the Two Boots Pioneer Theater’s institutional infrastructure was built on the same slippery foundation that brought down Two Boots kingpin Phil Hartman’s houses of cards at the Federation of East Village Artists and, eventually, Mo Pitkin’s. Things stabilized a bit after 2004, however, when new programmer Ray Privett assumed day-to-day operations and began squaring up old accounts and re-establishing the Pioneer as one of New York’s few venues for genuinely independent cinema.
Today the Pioneer is even less invested in the status quo, and thank God for that: Highlights among the theater’s 2007 releases include diverse successes like Kamp Katrina, Trigger Man, Yiddish Theater: A Love Story, Glass Lips, and Daniel Kraus’s revelatory Ken Vandermark portrait, Musician. Nevertheless it’s still in danger, an undernourished stepchild in Hartman’s troubled family of interests. For the sake of its community and the uncompromising films that call it home, let’s hope 2008 brings the changes necessary to keep the Pioneer a vital, viable downtown player.
Wake up, Harvey
Who’d have believed in 2005, when Harvey and Bob Weinstein ditched Disney-owned Miramax Films for their upstart Weinstein Company, that Harvey would make awards-season headlines two years later primarily by getting remarried and threatening to put himself down (a suicide threat! In The New York Times!) if Cate Blanchett didn’t get an Oscar nomination? Don’t get me wrong: If Harvey’s happy, I’m happy. But the reeling Weinstein Company—with its fusillade of misbegotten bombs (Grindhouse, The Nanny Diaries, Awake) and the underwhelming performance of top-shelf titles like Grace Is Gone, Control, and I’m Not There—has left a vacuum in the city’s film culture.
Love him or hate him, Harvey symbolized a vision and cutthroat swagger that elevated the industry’s game for the better part of two decades. “Page Six” cameos and middling genre sleepers like 1408 and The Mist are no substitute for the kind of monolithic moguldom that compels fear, respect, and inspiration among competitors and moviegoers alike. Maybe he’s mellowed out; maybe he’s just complacent. In any case, he’s missed. New York needs a Weinstein hit almost as badly as he does.
Eradicate the Top 10 list
I salute the participants of this year’s Village Voice critics’ poll for taking the bold step of naming There Will Be Blood the year’s best film. Of the hundreds of movies released theatrically in 2007 in New York, it took guts to step up and contribute the nth permutation of the 20 or 25 titles that you will find rejiggered on a zillion other lists this season.
Please. The top 10 list is perhaps the ultimate cancer on contemporary film, a backslapping orgy of hype that prizes propriety and capsule-sized cleverness over any sort of art, revelation, or insight. I’m told it’s all in fun, in the spirit of discussion. Fair enough; let’s discuss how loyal readers (in whose service these lists are ostensibly assembled) are forced to endure yet a thousand preening interpretations of predictable, studio-positioned prestige releases while scores of glowingly reviewed films they may have missed earlier in the year languish, relegated to some shadowy second tier of also-rans.
Whatever—as long as the listmaker has the most profound final word (or blurb) about Eastern Promises, his or her job is done. Are you having fun yet?
S.T. VanAirsdale is the editor of the Reeler, thereeler.com.