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.

2005_02_kentjones_big.jpgVital Stats:

- Kent Jones
- 44 years old
- Grew-up in Pittsfield, Massachusetts; now lives Upper West Side
- Associate Director of Programming, Walter Reade Theater/Film Society of Lincoln Center; Editor at Large, Film Comment magazine; author and film critic."


Kent's World:

How did you first come to join the Film Society of Lincoln Center?
Richard Peña approached me some time in the late '90s. I came here in 1998.

You're a programmer for the Walter Reade Theater as well as an editor at Film Comment: how connected are the two positions?
They’re connected only when we do "Film Comment Selects". Otherwise, the connection is kind of an abstract one because programming and criticism obviously blend into one another. In both cases, you’re dealing with film history and then trying to look at movies in a fresh light.

What do you and other organizations like the Walter Reade offer the average Gotham movie-goer seeking sanctuary from a sterile multi-plex experience?
I have a feeling that the question answers itself. We offer variety and a commitment to cinema. And we like to entertain, too.

Does the Walter Reade have a specific mission?
We have a mission to show good movies, and an inclination to show movies from all around the world. I suppose that thematically driven programs don’t work so well – at this point in time, they work better in film festivals, particularly in Europe. I suppose the reason is that people can create their own thematically driven programs by simply going to the video store. I’m sure it will change.

What’s the average Walter Reade patron like? Are the majority die-hard cinephiles? How tailored is the programming for your core audience?
The audiences are pretty varied for every given program. Of course there are the “die-hard cinephiles,” as you call them, but I don’t think I would call that a majority. As for tailoring, there’s less of that than a general sense of our audience, what they’ve liked in the past being a big part of it – the same guessing game that anyone doing repertory programming plays. And, as I said, it’s always changing.

The Walter Reade in particular is notable for showcasing filmmakers and actors from around the world who even dedicated cinephiles may not be aware of. How does the decision to dedicate weeks to Sergio Castellito, Kira Muratova, and Amitabh Bachchan (coming in April) occue? How do you and the other programmers at the Walter Reade come up with the ideas for programming? Are decisions based solely on artistic merit? Do financial considerations (such as commercial appeal of certain directors) come into play?
This question is more complex than it would seem, because there are so many issues that come into play that I wouldn’t even try to enumerate all of them. I will say that a big issue now – one of the biggest, in fact – is print availability. So some series are packages of older films in new or restored prints, some are curated and involve a lot of back and forth with labs and studios and archives, and some are programs dedicated to newer actors (like Castellito) who are huge stars elsewhere but still relatively unknown here.

Is it easier to program a series from scratch, such as one dedicated to a filmmaker or a genre, or to put together one of the Walter Reade's annual series such as "Rendez-Vous with French Cinema" or "Open Roads: New Italian Films"?
It depends. The hardest series now are the ones where you have someone in mind – a filmmaker or an actor – and then you have to go out in search of prints. This was possible a few years ago, but there’s less of an inclination now to make prints on the part of the rights-holders. I see their point – there’s no money in it, or very little. Plus, they get damaged easily and they cost a fortune to transport. Last year, I did a Joseph Losey show. I regret the fact that some of the prints were absolutely unwatchable.

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?
I did an Alain Resnais show a few years ago, and it didn’t do so well. At the time it surprised me. But one always learns from these experiences.

You spent a few years working as an archivist for Martin Scorsese. What exactly did that entail? Did the two of you simply sit watching movies most of the time? You both seem to have photographic memories of any and every film.
Yeah, we just sat and watched movies all day long. In fact, it was fairly rigorous. I don’t want to go into too much detail about it, but let’s just say that I did a lot of taping, upgrading, ordering and inputting – first of tapes and lasers, then of 16 and 35mm prints. It was pre-DVD. It’s true that Marty and I both have similar kinds of memory banks in our heads, and it was obviously good for that particular job -- saved a lot of steps.

You co-wrote Scorsese's great documentary about Italian cinema Il Mio Viaggio in Italia. Are there still plans for a sequel?
Yeah, we’re going to take it up through the '70s. We had planned to do that originally, but it got very long, and we had deadlines. But yes, there is a part two.

Does having to assess the artistic merits of film for a living every ruin them as entertainment for you?
No, categorically. But sometimes in Cannes, when I have to get in line for something 30 seconds after I’ve just digested another film, I do find myself wishing for more time and space.

I read once that not only do you not have cable, but you don't even own a regular TV – just a monitor with a DVD player. Do you think television isn't an art form like film? With the explosion of TV series on DVD, have you started watching any of those?
Oh God, I think I said that in an interview. Well, I moved since then, and I do have cable now, but all I watch is TCM – occasionally I’ll turn on Charlie Rose. I mean, I really, really hate TV – the commercials, the “hand-held” camera, the music, the personalities of the newscasters. I’ve given things like Six Feet Under and The Sopranos a try, and I see their merits but they seem like canned art to me – stuff that’s already been carefully digested (the non-functional American family, the odd juxtaposition of the macabre and the everyday) and then sold as cutting edge: how else could it get on TV? Having said that, I love old TV: The Honeymooners, The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, which I’m watching a lot of right now with my sons. Well, my older son – the younger one runs out of the room sometimes.

How many films do you figure you watch in an average year? With all the new films from around the world you need to see, how much time do you have to revisit older pictures?
I have no idea how many movies I watch and wouldn’t want to count. But I revisit older films all the time. I have a big DVD collection. Just bought the Warners Gangster Collection – a must-have.

How do you feel about the greater notoriety all the various year-end critic's lists and various awards receive? Is it good or bad for the greater film world?
I guess it all feels like another component of the great traveling global entertainment show. I kind of hope it closes soon.

What do you think will take home this year's Oscar? What should? What are you rooting for?
My friendship with Marty aside, I loved The Aviator. I also loved Million Dollar Baby. It seems like they’ll both win a few Oscars. I hope they do.


Do you have an all-time favorite film and/or filmmaker?
No. The great ones -- Hitchcock, Welles, Ford, Rossellini, Powell -- get greater and greater as the years go by.


Ten things to know about Kent:

What's the best thing you've ever purchased/salvaged off the street?
My younger son found a $10 bill in a puddle the other day -- that was pretty cool.

Which city establishment sees more of your paycheck than you do?
A few – Shun Lee, Labyrinth Books, Silver Moon Bakery, the Thai restaurant on Baxter and Bayard.

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?
I’ve lived here for over half my life, so I operate according to its rhythms. And when I’m outside of it, I feel the difference now. For instance, it’s a very different experience to drive in Manhattan than it is to drive in western Massachusetts, or in LA.

NYC Confessional: Do you have a local guilty pleasure?
It’s not that guilty, but I do enjoy going with my kids once a week to Johnny Rocket’s.

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.)
The Met (Dutch and Flemish paintings) and in my apartment.

What's one thing you've done (or regularly do) in NYC that you could not have conceived doing anywhere else?
Walking through Central Park.

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?
Some guy on the subway was haranguing the young woman next to him about something – I don’t remember what. It was a bad time in my life, and I just turned to him and told him to shut the fuck up, then repeated it when he claimed he hadn’t heard me. He was shocked, the woman was shocked and so were the rest of the people in the car. But he shut up, and I won’t pretend that it wasn’t satisfying. But he was the asshole – inner and outer.

Besides more square footage, what luxury would you most like to have in your apartment?
A room devoted only to reading.

311: Help or hoopla? Have you ever put it to use?
No -- don’t even know what it is.

There are 8 Million stories in The Naked City. Tell us one, but try to keep it to a New York Minute.
Once Joanna Ney [the Film Society's Producer of Special Projects and Director of PR] and I were on a subway, on our way back uptown from Tribeca. One stop later, the doors opened and Daniel Auteuil and Marianne Denicourt wallked in and sat down across from us. They were there in town with the film Sade, which was at our theater, but they were having a nice, romantic moment -- he’d just bought her a red rose -- and we decided to not introduce ourselves and leave them alone.

The next day, I had to introduce Sade. Benoit Jacquot, who directed it, introduced me to Auteuil beforehand. He looked at me and said, “Weren’t you on the 1 train yesterday?”


The Walter Reade Theater wraps-up its "Film Comment Selects" series this Thursday. "Take No Prisoners: The Bold Vision of Kira Muratova" begins on Friday, and runs through Mar. 10. It will be followed by the Film Society's annual program "Rendez-Vous with French Cinema" from Mar. 11 through Mar. 20. Tickets go on sale this Wednesday, and films in this series often sell-out in advance. For more information, visit the Film Society's website at www.filmlinc.com. The Jan/Feb issue of Film Comment magazine is still available on newsstands and at the Walter Reade.

-- Interview by Aaron Dobbs and Lily Oei