Late February represents a collision of two significant American cultural events: President’s Day sales and the Academy Awards. Lacking any connections to auto dealers and with Oscar night looming on Sunday, we have opted to theme this week’s interviews around an alternative segment of the film world: venues that specialize in showing movies in repertory.
For moviegoers seeking sanctuary from ordinary multiplex fare, we’ve highlighted five local establishments you can trust to bring you films new and old, foreign and domestic that will both illuminate and educate.
- Florence Almozini
- 38 years old
- Grew up in Grenoble, France; now lives in Greenpoint
- Film curator, BAMcinématek
How did you first come to join BAMcinématek? How have the goals of BAMcinématek changed during your tenure?
I heard of BAM opening a cinema in 1998 and applied. I was hired in March 1999 to curate the BAMcinématek, which opened in July. The goal was -- and still is -- to have a quality and diverse repertory program. We have stronger community programming than we did in the beginning.
What do you and other organizations like BAMcinématek offer the average Gotham movie-goer seeking sanctuary from a sterile multi-plex experience?
By showing something different every day of the week -- we offer screenings of older and rare films, undistributed films, contemporary world cinema. You can always see something unique. Also, we have many Q&A’s with directors, film critics, screenwriters, actors and offer discussions. That is something that you don’t get in multiplexes!
What makes BAMcinématek and your programming unique from those others? Do you have a specific mission?
I think we offer an extremely wide range of programming in any given week or month. Because we concentrate mostly on vertical programming and have several different series going on each day of the week, our audience can come every night and see something completely different, from hip contemporary Korean films to silent classics. Long and comprehensive retrospectives do not work well for us, and we prefer not having month-long series.
As a programmer, it is a difficult decision to offer complete versus selective series, and usually I do prefer shorter selections that I think our audience will appreciate more. Of course, I keep a close eye on other New York venues and their programs.
Does the regular schedule for films playing at BAM Rose Cinemas have any effect on your programming, or are you a completely separate entity?
There is little interaction with the BAM Rose Cinemas as the lead time for our programming is completely different from the first run.
What’s the average BAMcinématek patron like? Are the majority die-hard cinephiles? Do you think being in a young area like Fort Greene brings you a different audience than the ones who might attend the Walter Reade or MoMA?
[Our audience is] mostly young and vibrant like the neighborhood! We have a lot of cinephiles coming here, but I am not sure of the exact numbers. I think I am pretty much in sync with what our audience likes and appreciates, so I usually program shows I myself really like to get to our core audience. I think we have a somewhat younger audience than MoMA, so hopefully we can all grow together.
Do you think your location outside Manhattan is a help or a hindrance?
It can be both. What is great is that we have a huge Brooklyn audience just around the corner so we don’t have to appeal to Manhattanites. But we are still conveniently located a few stops from Manhattan so everyone can come easily. Our location is more of a problem with distributors who may have a tendency to think that opening in Manhattan is a must for the film to do well. It takes time to change mentality and habits.
Where does the inspiration come from for most of your programs? Do you have an idea for something and then search it out? Do distributors approach you with ideas?
Inspiration comes from every source: I could see a film by an unknown filmmaker and then decide to search for other films by him, or a fellow programmer could recommend it. I don’t get that many suggestions from distributors (maybe still the Brooklyn thing!), but this is slowly changing.
Do you shoot for a balance between classic cinema programs (like the currently running "Murder and Malice: Henri-Georges Clouzot") and newer filmmakers like Park Chan-wook? What about between American and international films?
I always look for a balance between series so everyone can find something they like as well as try for something different. I also try to balance eras, countries and style. It does not always work out as planned as prints may not be ready on time, or planned released dates can change.
Some of your programming seems similar to other venues. Do you ever find yourself fighting over print availability or not being able to do a program because someone else got to the idea first?
It can happen as we don’t always know what other venues are planning or working on. So we may work on a program for a long time and then we not be able to do it. We have pretty good relationships with other venues so we usually try to work it out between ourselves.
You just got back from the Berlinale: how was it? Any favorites? How does attending festivals help your job programming the BAMcinématek?
It was stressful and exhilarating at the same time! I saw many many films, and a few I really liked; some by established directors, and a few discoveries that I will seek out for upcoming programs. I usually go to Berlin and Toronto, and maybe another trip or two depending on what I am working on. I recently went to Helsinki to prepare a series of New Finnish Films for the spring, so our audience can see that there are great films from there, and yes, there are some talents besides Aki Kaurismäki!
Is it easier to program a series from scratch than to fit in an established annual series like the upcoming "Fright Nights: International Horror"? What other annual series programming does BAM offer?
Each has its own pros and cons. We can keep an ongoing series for as long as we are still excited by it and feel that there is more to show. There is no obligation to continue an annual show forever. We present the "Best of the African Diaspora Film Festival," The Brooklyn Jewish Film Festival, "Best Films of the Year with the Village Voice," "New Czech Films," "The Best of the African Film Festival," "New French Films," "Best of the NewFest," "Best of the Korean Film Festival," and "Silent films from the Pordenone Film Festival."
Is there a new program you'd like to establish but haven't been able to find the right time or way to do so?
I may not be able to implement a specific program right away and need to wait for the next year. Some shows are more difficult and require more time and attention, for example, silent films. You need to find a “formula” that works for the audience without compromising your program. The silent show has definitely improved every year and I am very happy that we can continue.
Was there ever something selected that failed to connect -- and surprised you? Is there something you’d love to program, but don’t think the public is yet ready for?
As I mentioned before, showing silent films has taken some time. I would love to show more undistributed and unknown world cinema films, but it can be hard to reach an audience when they know nothing at all about the country or the filmmakers. By myself and without a lot of support from distributors and consulates, it can be hard to make it work.
Does having to assess the artistic merits of film for a living ever ruin them as entertainment for you?
It does not ruin it exactly, but it is true that I cannot ever see a film without ever thinking if I would show it, and how and when.
Do you think DVD and cable have hurt your business at all? With movies more readily available on DVD and a channel like TCM out there, does that affect your programming choices at all?
I don’t have any numbers that could prove it either way, but my opinion would be that it does not. I don’t let myself be influenced by it.
How many films do you figure you watch in an average year? How often do you revisit older pictures? Do you wait until you have the idea for a series and just watch what you need?
On the big screen, about 250 films a year and many more on video! However, I don’t enjoy it as much on the small screen, and I love having an audience with me. I revisit older pictures when I see a good show at other NY venues (Film Forum and WRT are great for that) or during special retrospectives at a festival. I always have ideas for series -- that is never a problem!
How much of an opportunity do you have to see new films?
I do watch a lot of new films as one day they won’t be new films any longer (the repertory programs of tomorrow), and I want to keep up with new directors and new talents.
What do you think will take home this year's Oscar? What should? What are you rooting for? What (film or individual) do you think was most overlooked?
I don’t really watch the Oscars. I find them too long and quite annoying, and I did not like that many of the nominated films this year. I usually only check the Best Foreign Film and Documentary selection. Before Sunset should have been nominated -- one of the best studio films of the year -- as well as Dogville.
Do you have an all-time favorite film and/or filmmaker?
My favorite film is probably Celine and Julie Go Boating, but I have many top 10 lists that vary from day to day. I love Eric Rohmer and The Green Ray is one of the film that changed my life.
Ten things to know about Florence:
What's the best thing you've ever purchased/salvaged off the street?
Nothing really from the street. I once got a beautiful necklace with white stones from a flea market in England, but it got stolen a few years later.
Which city establishment sees more of your paycheck than you do?
Nothing. Nearly all goes into the rent!
Personality Problem Solving: Would you consider your personality more hysterical or more obsessive, and have you changed since living in New York; has "New York" become a part of you?
Definitely obsessive. New York is not helping to get rid of that trait. Yes [New York] has [become a part of me] and probably for ever.
When you just need to get away from it all, where is your favorite place in NYC to be alone, relish in solitude and find your earthly happiness? (We promise not to intrude.)
A dark screening room -- an early show with a small audience.
What's one thing you've done (or regularly do) in NYC that you could not have conceived doing anywhere else?
Working in the film industry came with this city.
Assuming that you're generally respectful of your fellow citizens, was there ever a time when you had to absolutely unleash your inner asshole to get satisfaction?
Not really. I complain and grumble a lot, but that stops there.
Describe that low-low moment when you thought you just might have to leave NYC for good.
After the latest presidential election.
Besides more square footage, what luxury would you most like to have in your apartment?
311: Help or hoopla? Have you ever put it to use?
I don’t use it.
There are 8 Million stories in The Naked City. Tell us one, but try to keep it to a New York Minute.
A few years ago, I met David Bowie while waitressing in a SoHo bistro and made him laugh with a stupid little joke. It was surreal!
BAMcinématek screens at the BAM Rose Cinemas in the Peter Jay Sharp Building at 30 Lafayette Avenue in Fort Greene. (For directions, click here.) "Murder and Malice: Henri-Georges Clouzot" featuring the films of "the French Hitchock" continues through March 2, and "Fright Nights: International Horror" plays until March 29. In the coming months, BAMcinématek will feature a retrospective of director Mike Nichols (3/31-4/19), the Fifth Annual Brooklyn Jewish Film Festival (4/5-4/10), a series of lesser-known films by Jean-Luc Godard (4/21-4/26), and "Recent Finnish Film" (5/3-5/8). From April 13-17, BAMcinématek will screen "Sex Lives: Arnaud Desplechin," and the French director, one of Ms. Almozini's favorites, will appear for a Q&A after a screening of his most recent film Kings and Queen. For more information, please visit the BAMcinématek website.
-- Interview by Aaron Dobbs and Lily Oei.