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_larrykardish_big.jpgVital Stats:
- Laurence Kardish
- "As old as I was when I first arrived in New York in the fall of 1966. Curious how the Fountain of Youth is in the energy that is this city’s."
- Grew-up in Ottawa, Canada; now lives in the West Village.
- Senior Curator, Department of Film and Media, Museum of Modern Art


Larry’s world:

How did you end up at such a venerable cultural institution? You’ve been on staff at MoMA since 1968!
I came to New York for graduate study in Film, Radio and Television at Columbia’s School of Arts and immediately found part-time work at the Film-Makers’ Distribution Center, the short lived commercial arm of the New American Cinema Group, placing films like Chelsea Girls and Scorpio Rising into movie houses. I got a salary and course credit. When the Distribution Center went belly up, I applied to MoMA which was then starting a program, "Cineprobe," devoted to the avant-garde cinema. Since I knew many of the makers and allegedly spoke French (coming from Canada), I got the job, taking a pay cut for the privilege of working full time.

What do you and other organizations like MoMA Film and Media offer the average Gotham movie-goer seeking sanctuary from a sterile multi-plex experience—and what makes you unique? Does MoMA have a specific mission?
MoMA’s mission is to educate. [We provide] a context in which cinema is one of many arts. Our two theaters are two galleries within MoMA. We have an archive, a permanent collection from which we draw.

Do you find that many people consider film an afterthought at MoMA? Within the organization itself, has the film and media department always been given as much care and attention as paintings and sculpture? Are visitors ever surprised that MoMA even presents film programs?
When I began, the Department of Film was marginalized, but that is no longer true. The Department of Film and Media is one of the largest departments in the Museum, and indeed, we have our own archives in Hamlin, Pennsylvania where our collections are stored. In spite of this and the fact that part of MoMA’s original mandate articulated that “collecting, cataloguing, and exhibiting of films” was to be carried out so that motion pictures could be “studied and enjoyed” as any one of the other arts is, some visitors are still surprised to find us presenting films at least twice daily in each of our two cinemas.

What effect has the new MoMA building had on your patronage?
We now have added a media gallery on the second floor of the Museum in which we present projections and installations.

How do you choose your programs? Are decisions based solely on artistic merit? Do financial considerations (commercial appeal of certain directors) come into play?
Decisions are made on what the curators should be seen in terms of discovery, rediscovery, assessing, reassessing. We like to think what we present is good in and of itself.

Who is the average MoMA Film and Media patron? Are the majority die-hard cinephiles? Do you program to draw in a younger crowd—such as with the Work-in-Progress program which has honored directors like Sofia Coppola and David O. Russell?
The average patron is like the average New Yorker: enthusiastic, knowledgeable and abrasive. The younger crowd comes for the cutting-edge short works which embrace music and performance. Not necessarily for independent feature narratives.

You're in the midst of a mammoth year-long series called "112 Years of Cinema" in which you're choosing one film or video to represent "every year of moving-image history." Can a series of such breadth and scope actually be cohesive, or is it more of a simple survey?
"112" is a survey of works from our collection. As such, since it is not a loan show, it is predicated on what is in our collections. .

You programmed the current "Miramax: 25 Years" celebration. What made MoMA decide to single out a studio? Was focusing on what is essentially a business unusual for a museum and if not, what convinced you of Miramax’s influence on the artistry of film?
To celebrate two birthdays in the same year -- MoMA’s 75th and Miramax’s 25th -- Miramax made a donation of fifteen films that are important in the development of popular cinema, including all of Tarantino’s feature-length films. In cinema, art and commerce have always gone together, and over the years we have mounted tributes to most of the major studios -- Columbia, Warner Bros., Paramount, Universal, MGM and even the feisty American-International.

How does MoMA collaborate with the Film Society of Lincoln Center on the annual New Directors/New Films festival? Can you give us any early clues on this year's program?
We make the selection together, share the expenses and show the films in both locations. As of today, we have announced Duck Season from Mexico, Sequins from France, Kontroll from Hungary, Our Brand is Crisis from the US, The Hero from Angola and Somersault from Australia. There will be twenty-four or twenty-five features all in all.

One of the exhibits going on now at MoMA is two weeks worth of international documentary programming. What’s your thought on the current vogue for docs?
We show documentaries actually all the time in many different contexts. You will find many in "New Directors/New Films" like Our Brand is Crisis by Rachel Boynton listed above. My thoughts about documentary – well, before there were narrative films there were non-fiction films, views of the world. Cinema began as a record of reality.

How comprehensive is the collection—and how accessible is it? Do fans of the medium have access to things beyond what’s currently on exhibition? (For instance, award-winning commercials enter the MoMA permanent collection. If we wanted to see an old Michele Gondry ad, would we be able to?)
We have a Study Center for bona fide scholars working on specific projects and trolling filmmakers. It is possible to make an appointment and view films on a limited basis from our collection. Remember ,we are a private institution and our resources are limited.

How many films do you figure you watch in an average year? Does your position at MoMA Film and Media require you to see more new films from around the world or revisit older ones?
More films than there are hours in the year, and yes, all the curatorial film staff deals with the whole history and evolving culture of the moving image.

How do you feel about the greater notoriety all the various year-end crix lists and various awards receive? Is it good or bad for the greater film world?
I think it is as arbitrary as much of what passes for film criticism today, but it does provide certain sign posts that are more about society than art.

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 hope a short animated film from Canada by Chris Landreth called Ryan wins. What was most definitely overlooked was Ousmane Sembene’s Moolaade which closed almost as soon as it opened.

Do you have an all-time favorite film and/or filmmaker? If so, what/who and why?
I have favorite films and filmmakers but not just one. I have seen La Dolce Vita fourteen times when I was underage in Canada, and was deeply influenced by Fellini, and I have seen Randal Kleiser's Grease about ten, but I have no idea why.


Ten things to know about Larry:

What's the best thing you've ever purchased/salvaged off the street?
A wooden rolling duck that used to drive my dogs crazy when I pulled it along.

Which city establishment sees more of your paycheck than you do?
Taxis are irresistible.

Gotham Mad Lib: When the _____ (noun) makes me feel _____ (adverb), I like to _____ (verb). (Strict adherence to "Madlib" rules is not required.)
When the movie makes me feel deeply, I like to recommend it to others.

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?
New York has made me believe that problems are solvable.

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.)
Seeing something mindless at the AMC Empire on 42nd Street

What's one thing you've done (or regularly do) in NYC that you could not have conceived doing anywhere else?
Go within two hours to a barber, the laundry, a pet food store, a bookstore, a gourmet food market, visit a clothing store and housewares emporium and still have five minutes to walk home.

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?
I wasn’t aware I had one – inner asshole, that is.

Describe that low-low moment when you thought you just might have to leave NYC for good.
Has not yet happened.

Besides more square footage, what luxury would you most like to have in your apartment?
Silence.

There are 8 Million stories in The Naked City. Tell us one, but try to keep it to a New York Minute.
MoMA bought some films from a Brazilian media artist. He wanted cash. We had been prepared to wire him a bank transfer, but he wanted to take his dollars down to B&H and buy equipment -- which he did -- explaining that the store was famous all over Latin America for filmmakers who got the goods they needed at a price they could well afford. Not very exciting but he said, “Only in New York.”


MoMA's Department of Film and Media features several ongoing and limited film series showing in the Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters 1 and 2 at the Museum (11 W. 53rd St. betw 5th & 6th Avenues). Admission to the museum ($20) also gives you admission to the film programs, however you can also purchase tickets to individual films for $10 without paying the museum ticket price. "112 Years of Cinema" runs through October, and "Miramax: 25 years" continues into the summer. MoMA's annual "Documentary Fortnight" plays until Feb. 28, and their series of conversations "Great Collaborations" features Richard Linklater and Ethan Hawke on Feb. 28. "George Stevens: A Centenary Tribute" featuring the director's classic Hollywood films like Giant and Shane continues through Mar. 6, and "Louis Feuillade: A Sampling of a Master" focusing on one of the earliest and most influential French filmmakers plays into June. The "New Directors/New Films" festival will run from Mar 23-Apr. 3. For more information, visit the Museum's website at www.moma.org.

-- Interview by Aaron Dobbs and Lily Oei