Office Hour with Richard Peña: Chinese Cinema, New Media, and The Future of Film Criticism

Part One

Trip to China, New Blood, and Platform Shift

Q: We know that you went to Shanghai last year for the Master Class. How was the experience?

A: I was at NYU Shanghai. I went there and had a couple of talks. One talk is on Jia Zhangke’s film A Touch of Sin. That was really fun. And then I gave a talk about short films. I was amazed because it was on May Day, or a day before May Day. I thought no one would come, but there’s a huge crowd. I was very surprised. A former student who was our student at Columbia years ago [and she] kind of organized it.

Q: I know you’ve been in China so many times. Do you feel this time, the audience and the student are different or they would like different ideas? What do you think of this time (and) how different did you experience?

A: It’s always hard to say. I mean I taught in China in December (2017) at the Communications University in Beijing. I had a wonderful class. But talking to students, I felt they were less hopeful. Somehow, one of the things that really impressed me (is) that Shanghai was how much energy I felt. You know, a lot of young people. Everyone is doing projects. It’s like somehow in Shanghai there was a different spirit. Beijing is northern and winter, more down. I just felt surprised to people. I used to think people would have so many ideas. As I said, in December, I felt a little bit of narrowing of that. Whereas, for whatever reasons, in Shanghai, I met so many wonderful young people and people (are) doing great projects. A number of them have written to me, sending links to me and stuff like that.

Q: Yeah, it’s more like you’re talking about New York compared to LA in a sense that New York is more like (a city with) film culture, (compared) to Shanghai…

A: That’s really the distinction. I think it’s maybe I can just be the luck of the draw. Maybe just the people I happened to meet in Shanghai were more energetic and hopeful. 

Q: And new projects that you’re interested in…

A: I mean everybody is working. I think the thing that has to happen is, for me, I would like to see China develop some kind of truly independent film sector. That would be independent not in terms of production, but in terms of exhibition. They can continue to have their multiplexes showing all the Hollywood blockbusters and Chinese language blockbusters. But there should also be some greater outlet for all the very good, low budget work. It’s there and I think even more will come. I’d like China to open up that way. They seemed to be reluctant. Control is a big word. I think that they’re a little bit reluctant to give up control just yet. One Chinese official told me, “our audiences are not mature enough.”

Q: like the young filmmakers need to reach out or… 

A: Not it is so great here, but you have all the multiplex and then you have Film Forum, Anthology. If you want another kind of cinema, you can find it. And of course, it’s a small part of the market, but still, it is there. It’s usually vital to the culture that such things exist. Unfortunately, in China there are very little. There are a couple places like Beijing there’s a place it’s like an art center 

Q: Film Archive, museum?

A: It’s the place I lectured. It’s a place like abandoned factory that turned into a very nice art operation

Q: 798. 

A: That place at least they invited me for a nice time. And then when I looked at the wall it’s like “Wow, look like they’re really showing a lot of interesting stuff”:

Q: That place is like a combination of art gallery, exhibition, installation, and film programs.

A: Yes, everything, like a real art center. I think they show more than one or two films a week. But I mean, film is a real presence there. 

Q: And I think still in China, like Shanghai International Film Festival, they focus more on the independent film, even from the US. But also, like want to use that connection to promote and present more independent Chinese films. And they focus more on the like art-house side instead of commercial. That’s more like a reflection of what we are doing here in the United States, like Columbia and NYU. In your class, you teach a lot of world cinema. So, it’s like a very independent site. On the other hand, we also have very commercial Chinese films in China. What do you think, as you mentioned earlier, the gap between them? 

A: As far as I can tell, the gap is when it comes to exhibitions. Because now I think there’s very few restrictions on film makers, as long as you’re not making something obviously loudly anti-government, I think you can get away a lot. But once you get it made, what happens to it? Who gets to see it? That’s still a bottleneck. The regime still pretty much controls film exhibitions and doesn’t seem particularly interested in allowing any kind of place. Basically, for the Chinese commercial films, the blockbuster kind of things, that takes a good portion of course; then you have 30 or 40 or 50 whatever foreign films, most of which are Hollywood films, and those (are) gonna take out the rest. So, I mean there’s no real place for small interesting Chinese films. 

Q: What about the role of film festivals?

A: The film festivals are great for publicity and they have become a sort of alternative form of exhibitions. But the ideal would be that one of those films goes into films theaters and stay for a few weeks, so it can find its audience. However, that’s done. I spoke over the years to a number of Chinese people telling me that they’d love to try and open such cinemas, but they don’t think they can get permission.

Q; Yes. two years ago, we have one of our classmates saying they were trying to open an independent art-house cinema in Shanghai, very similar to the model of Metrograph. By the very end that didn’t happen because of regulations, policies, permit, different things.

A: Yeah. I mean again it’s hard for me to know why they’re such opposition to that. But clearly, I think in meeting the students I met, there’s a real hunger to see that kind of alternative works the future. Now I’m sure people see it on DVD or they download it. That’s not really a good substitute. It’d be really nice if some of these films could have a normal theatrical life. 

Q: Off topic, I worked for the Cinema Guild, for Hong Sang-Soo’s film. We just noticed that for the past weekend is the third weekend for The Day After, and the box-office actually went over the second weekend. So, it’s like the longer periods we are giving to independent films…

A: That’s a good point. The word of mouth. You go to see it, then you tell two friends, and they get to see it, then they talk to two friends, and that’s how your film grows.

Q: Do you still go to the theaters to see films?

A: Yes. And unfortunately, or fortunately, I travel a lot. Unfortunately I’m not here a lot. I am trying to catch up a few films. They’re screening the Italian show at the Film Society and there’re a couple films I wanna see there while I’m here. I try to go to the movies a lot. 

Q: What do you think about Netflix and other online platforms?

A: I guess I don’t really use Netflix that much for movies. I use it for series. My wife and I just started the second year of The Handmaid’s Tale. We saw three chapters. So that’s what I use. There are very rarely that we will watch a recent release on it. That’s just me. I tend to use television to watch television.

Q: Recent years, platforms like Netflix and Amazon Studios started to work with international filmmakers… 

A: Exactly, lots of options. It will eventually lead to that. As I said, when I’m at home, I usually uses it to find series, like whatever the hot series at the moment. 

Q: Earlier we are also talking like there are so many good Asian films at Cannes this year. It looks like will be a big year for Chinese cinema…

A: Which is great!

Q: including Bi Gan’s new film. He is first discovered in New Director/New Film Festival, Kaili Blues. And right now, his second film is still waiting for distribution. (a question about US distribution of Asian films, unable to get the idea).

A: Listen, I think any aspects of cinema is not only difficult, but incredibly frustrated in film distributions. Because you know nowadays anybody can get anything produced. It’s not that hard or expensive and people can find their ways. As for exhibition, obviously with all the festivals you will find somewhere to show your film. But the actual distribution is really what’s falling apart. For the 25 years that I was at the New York Film Festival, there was a moment by the time I started, reliably everything that was in the festival will get distribution which means that within a year all of them would enter into the art house circuit. That certainly wasn’t true when I left. There were a lot of films that didn’t get any distribution. And the thing is it wasn’t that they were bad films. Often people came up to me, distributors, and others, and say “Oh I like that film so much”. I said, “You should distribute” and they will say “You know, I don’t think it will make any money” (whispering, can’t hear it clearly). Unfortunately, you know better than I do how expensive is it to launch a film. Let’s say you just spend fifty thousand dollars to acquire the rights for film X. Now we’ve got to spend how much on print advertising and all the kind of things? Another 50 or 60? And then you know, you put it in a movie theater, and they take their whatever cut. Unless you are getting a half million people to see it, you probably in most cases end up losing money. 

Q: In that case, any suggestions for young filmmakers or young student?

A: All I can do to encourage people to go to the movies as much as they can so that the distributors make money and they’ll be more encouraged. But it’s an uphill battle. You know more and more people are not seeing films in movie theaters. They are seeing films, there’s no question about that. They’re just not going to screening situations. In fact, nowadays, a lot of distributors I’ve spoken to, these are art-house distributors, except in rare cases, theatrical distribution is what we call in English a “loss leader”. In other words, you know you’re going to lose money, but you do it because it’s a good way to advertise the film, getting reviews and all that, so when the film goes onto cable or pay-per-view or whatever, you will do better. And that’s where you make money.

Q: Home videos.

A: But to make it up to the theatrical release itself is generally considered pretty hard. The audience isn’t there besides in a few major cities.

Q: Are there any young filmmakers that you like very much, or you pay attention to most recently?

A: Well you know, I’m very happy that the director of Kaili Blues is doing well. I really like that film a lot and I’m very happy when we showed it. I think he got a bright future. people. I’m also a great fan of Song Fang that we showed years ago Memories Look at Me. I think she’s really talented and I know she’s got a new project. I mean China doesn’t lack talent. There are an enormous number of bright young people there who are willing to do things. You know, they face obstacles, like all filmmakers face obstacles. There’s a little different. Sometimes they’re tackling a situation that is not just economically cruel but politically ambiguous. I’m not sure why such opposition to let these works get out there. 

Q: since like the recent change of the government…

A: Well, again, I’m not the person to lecture Chinese friends about Chinese government. But clearly this regime is much more conservative than last couple, much more authoritarian and like to be in control. The basic thing for the regime of the communist regimes is that they basically don’t care about film. I mean film is like such a low priority for them. So why allow it to cause trouble? Much better to control it and not think about it. But I think few years ago when they tried 大片, the big films (blockbusters). They were trying to make money like Crouching Tiger made money and stuff like that. And then had great success with Hero and that seemed to them like we found a formula. But it hasn’t really panned out. 

Q: The Great Wall was a loss…

A: and that was a disaster! So, I mean I think at this point they’re probably licking their wounds a bit and say it’s just not important. We have enough of an internal market and we don’t really need to create an international style cinema for anybody right now.

Q: Do you feel there’s still need for more people to see Chinese films here in the U.S.?

A: Of course.

Q: The market for Chinese language film is still smaller than other international films like French’s…

A: There is no country on earth that has a place in America’s future than China has. In terms of just understanding, I mean I guess you could put it in very basic terms and say, “know your enemy”. But I don’t think we’re enemies. I think you just want to know a culture that clearly is going to be perhaps the decisive culture of the 21st century. Films have a way of doing that. Obviously not one film can tell the whole story, but a number of films together give you a certain impression of what’s going on in different cultures. Chinese cinema is a wonderful way to seeing the culture. Obviously, there are literature and other ways you can do it, but those are more difficult for various reasons. If you bring someone to a movie and often they’re amazed what they learn about China in that movie.

PART TWO

New Media, New Film, New Criticism

Q: There’s also new technology and new media. Many directors in China are picking up. In Bi Gan’s new film Long Day’s Journey into Night, the last shot is an hour-long 3D shot. It’s a very different experience. Also thinking about other Chinese or Chinese language director, for example Tsai Ming-Liang has a VR film.

A: That’s true. Even Jia Zhangke is very interested in moving into VR. Last time I spoke with him, he’s doing experiment with VR. Ang Lee has become an unbelievable techie. I mean Life of Pi is clearly a great achievement. And beyond that, I think he’s just continued to work with people who are really on the cutting edge. I mean why not. You know that technology is available to everyone and there are clearly people in the Chinese world who are moving ahead with interesting event.

Q: I know Tribeca Film Festival they always have their VR panel. When you were at the New York Film Festival and Film Society, is there ever a possibility for this?

A: There is always a possibility. But we tended not to do stuff like that. I mean you know we tended to be more old fashioned in terms of the panels we ran. My problem is that in those VR panels is you never learn anything. I mean do you learn what you gonna read in a magazine. Nobody really has that much information. And I went to a couple years to their VR shows and the technology is really rudimentary .

I have my doubts about VR but I’m curious to see if it really emerges as a major force in the industry or maybe in certain point, it just becomes a kind of side shows, that you use it for different exhibits and things like that but it’s not really going to take over film. We’ll see. Now I just don’t know. They certainly spoke about it for a long time. And we’ll see if it eventually pans out.

Q: Also, for a longtime, Film Society at Lincoln Center is still like a very educational platform. Working with MoMA for ND/NF and seeing the theaters grow. What was that experience like?

A: Oh, it’s great. I mean I was very lucky to be there for 25 years and to see the program grow and expand in different directions. That said I think we were, and the Film Society remains somewhat an old-fashioned program. Because, in the end, we were dedicated to the art of film. That doesn’t necessarily make us popular but at least it gives the Film Society a vision. And that’s the vision that for 56 years now the Film Society was trying to propagate. If you look at the founding of the New York Film Festival and the Film Society, it was founded at Lincoln Center, really the place that was meant to be the mecca for American arts. All the major arts organizations in one place. So, it was very far-sighted for them in 1963 to invite film to be part of this. If film is going to be part of this, I think it has to match its sister disciplines at the level they’re working. If the New York City Ballet had George Balanchine, or New York Philharmonic had Leonard Bernstein, you know these are really major artists. So, if you’re going to be doing something with film, I think you should show work that can be conversant at the same level with people were seeing in dance, ensemble music, or theaters.

Q: And also, working with so many different institutions.

A: Well that for me it was just fun to work with people too. It’s just a great way of expanding. I mean obviously if we were to work with (not clear) institute, that would bring a whole new audience that might not necessarily be looking at our program. The idea is, of course, when people come, they may come because they’re interested in Chinese cinema, but they’ll see our program and it’ll show a lot of things. “Oh I really like that too. I can come back. ” The collaboration was great, and we are generally pretty open to collaborations.

Q: MoMa also has a film program and their own programmers, while at the same time they also work with Film Society. So how does that work out? Like the ND/NF program you selected every year?

Q: ND/NF started back in 1971. NYFF had been going for about eight years at that point and it’s was already doing pretty well. But at that point, there was no year-round home for the festival. Alice Tully Hall was built in 1969 and it was designed to house the New York Film Festival, but not an ongoing film program. It can be used for concerts and other things. So, there’s nowhere in Lincoln Center to show films. So, by that point, the Film Society was getting a little more active and thought, “well, maybe we could do a spring festival”. And I think the idea came up that maybe we should do one about new or emerging talents. So, the idea of ND/NF came up. The Film Society created it and then since it didn’t have space to show it, and there were numerous good relations with MoMA. And the people who work at the film society back then went to MoMA and said, “we’ve got this idea to do a spring festival like program. We wanted to focus on new directors. Can we do it here?” MoMA  said, “yes, we’d like to be involved”. So, it’s decided to be this joint production between the Society and the Museum of Modern Art. And for the first twenty-eight or thirty years, it was exclusively at MoMA. And then once we get the Walter Reade Theater we decided that we could get to bring it over to Lincoln Center as well. And there’s been different arrangements over the years. Now I think it’s actually became a fairly egalitarian in terms of budget. For long time, Film Society paid the whole thing. We just basically used MoMA. And of course, you know, use the expertise of their programmers and stuff like that.

Q: The program at MoMA is very interesting. Students don’t need to pay anything. It’s like more public in a sense. And they have ongoing Mondays different programs that is very different. More like a museum setting…

A: Exactly, it’s exactly what it is: films in a museum. And its functions like films in a museum. It is obviously because film has a public performance aspect to it. It does have that. It was really films in a museum. There were those who wrote the book because they were the first film program of any real stature in the United States. They were founded in 1947.

Q: Do you feel like that’s the future for films, going to the museums eventually?

A: No. I If anything, I mean film doesn’t fit that well in museum in a strange way. One of the things about museums, I used to work at the Art Institute of Chicago, so I get some knowledge about museums, museums are about objects, about keeping and preserving objects, valuable objects. So, you’ll have people who are great collectors of, say Chinese porcelain, or great collectors of French Impressionist art, and if they live in your city, you know whatever you hope they give you, their paintings and whatever, will let you use them. So, the curators there, really the Latin word cura, “to take care of”, they take care of objects. Film doesn’t have anything like that. I mean a copy of Citizen Kane is a copy of Citizen Kane. It’s not more valuable. You could say that it was struck from the original negative, OK. But very few people would know that and care. Film don’t have values in and of themselves as objects. It’s an experience. Because of that, they fit awkwardly in a museum. You don’t have a generation, for example, of film collectors who will donate heavily to the museum and will become part of the museum’s board of directors and stuff like that to advance the cause of film. Probably MoMA come closer to that to some people because they have this big collection. But the prints themselves aren’t valuable, it’s their ability to show. Film never really fit very comfortably in a museum. That’s always been the problem that when it’s been shown there, is like appendage, some something extra. Because it doesn’t really fit into museums do.

Q: Recently in Cannes Wang Bing also has this 8-hour long film, they are still looking for distributors in the U.S. From the audience perspective, it feels more like a museum piece.

A: Well, that’s certainly been a phenomenon in the last 20 years or so and that is what you might call gallery cinema. You now have the major person from out of it is Steve McQueen. Steve McQueen for many years made films, but they were only showed in art galleries. And then when he made Hunger, he made a mass market film, and obviously went on made 12 years a Slave. But you know, his early works are all museum work. And then, there’s now if you go to any of the major art festivals in the world, like Documenta, or São Paulo, literally half the works will be moving image works. Most of them using digital formats. One of my classes I just finish teaching, Cinema History of the 1990s, I’d say that it was the first period with the definition of “what is cinema” is up for grabs, because there are so many things that seem like cinema but are they cinema? If I see a painting in a frame that is actually a monitor, and this sort of image over half an hour disappears, is it a painting or is that a movie? If it’s a film, how do I think about film. I think people have, especially with digital, expanded the use of moving imagery. So, because of that, is a movie simply you gonna see in a movie theater? Most of us don’t see movies in a movie theater. The definition has become more fluid.

Q: the concept film or cinema, is becoming something broader…

A: It has in the last 20 or 25 years. I think that’s become an issue in a way. You mentioned gallery cinema, it is something that exists all over the world and a lot of people who are doing it. I like contemporary art quite a bit. Half of the time I am going to an exhibition vision they’ll be some kind of moving image work in it. Not all of these moving works are very good or very interesting but sometimes you’d be surprised to find someone who has an interesting eye, who can make interesting films alongside whatever else they do.

Q: Do you feel like that film criticism will move also towards the intersection between different formats?

A: There are already some film critics who write very well about that intersections, people like Amy Taubin, James Quandt, who are pretty knowledgeable of both the contemporary art and film and write them. Film criticism, you know, it’s the kind of very sorrowful state because film criticism as we known it has been dependent on publishing: newspaper publishing, or magazine publishing has all been really going downhill for 10, 15 years. The best thing that’s happened to American journalism has been Donald Trump because he says and does so many outrageous things every day that people run to the newspapers to read them. The New York Times and the Washington Post has both seen their numbers rise, amazingly, since Trump came along. I don’t know how long that will last, but he’s really done a lot for American journalism in that way. But it’s very hard. Just think years ago, when I was growing up, there were a number of really excellent film critics and were real personalities like Pauline Kael, Andrew Sarris, or Stanley Kauffmann, Hollis Alpert, and others. And you know, people really waited to hear what they thought about films. They would agree or disagree with it, but there were people you really trusted, people who had a certain authority. People might agree or disagree with them, but they will learn something from them. Those days are gone. Now I think it’s a form of consumer guide-ism.

Q: But people still go to the New York Times on Thursday or Friday to read the reviews…

A: Well, I think Tony (A.O. Scott) and Manohla (Manohla Dargis) did their best, but they have to review 340 films a year. So, it’s rare that they can actually write something of substance about anything. When people tell me that they want to become film critics, I just don’t think it’s a profession anymore, a paid profession. Certainly, there are a million blogs out there, where you can read people’s opinion, but it is really not a way of living, and that’s that. At one point when I was growing up in New York in the 60s was very lively in film criticism. Even though I don’t really like Pauline Kael, but you know you always have to read what she said because she always had something to say. And either you like the film and she didn’t and you might reconsider or vice versa. There was a kind of lively dialogue. Those days are gone. And I don’t see they’re coming back either.

Q: On the same stage, a lot of good Chinese films are discovered by those critics and gave them big support from people like you. So back in China, people might think, “Wow, these are some really famous film critics from the US.”

A: They might not know what the real situation is. Just how marginalized they are and few people read them.

Q: From an ex- Film Society programmer’s perspective, when you’re programming films, will you consider that “this film, we might get some publicity from these critics, and will get covered here and there…”

A: That’s also something changed over my 25 years. When I got there, the press was important. So we will think, “OK, which series are we doing, can we pitch to the Times that we’ll get space in Times, or the Village Voice, or Newsday”. Certainly, by 2000, that pretty much ended. And even though we were happy to get coverage at the Times, we didn’t count it any more. It is much more important to marketing now, usually online marketing. You can almost say that the job of a publicity person became less, or very often the publicity person would double as a marketing person. Because in fact, if you are going to be doing a series, marketing through the Internet mainly, or through brochures and things like, that was really going to be getting your audience. You just couldn’t depend on critics anymore. Because, A, they are overworked. There are far too many films to review, because of that, you might tell them, “oh we’re doing a Jia Zhangke retrospective”, “I love Jia Zhangke and I really want to write about it. But I can’t. I have six reviews due that Friday”. It happens all the time. People would just say, “I think that’s great. I just can’t cover it. I just don’t have the time”. Or, the newspapers would say, “we don’t have the space”. Now, even though newspapers get very angry when you say things like this, realize that now probably movie advertising is about 20% of New York Times budget. Of course, they gonna review every Hollywood film, no matter how terrible it is. Some little film from China or from Spain, if there’s space they’d love to review it, but they have no duty towards it, because we’re not advertise it.

Q: Why do they feel like they have a duty to review those Hollywood films?

A: Because those people buy space. If you buy a half page ad, that’s about 25000 dollars, Basically, you go where the money takes you. Clearly, if somebody is buying an ad in the New York Times, they are going to expect a review for their film. And they will get it. Whereas, if we put an ad this big, we can’t expect anything.

Q: It’s really sad. Even for Film Studies students looking to be film critics.

A: I just tell them it doesn’t exist as a profession. You’re welcome to start your own blog. I have a wonderful student years ago, who is a dentist living in Austin, Texas. She has her own blog and write a lot about movies. She is very good and very smart. I always enjoy reading her. But, you know, she is a dentist and that’s how she makes a living. I mean it’s fun. She is still a full-time dentist and has a family. But she does her weekly update on films that she’s seen. As I said, I often find her writing very good. But it’s a hobby. It’s not a form of work, where she’d imagine it would be. That seems to be the happiest situation now. Or someone like it David Bordwell, who’s a retired professor and very wealthy from all those books he wrote. He has a very wonderful blog that you can read and gives you lots of insights. But he doesn’t make a dime from it. In fact, he loses money.

Q: And talking about Jia Zhangke, his new film Ash is Purest White, was bought by Cohen Media Group. And they just reopened the Quad Cinema couple years ago and doing a lot of retrospectives right now on Wuxia films and Chang Cheh’s films last year. Metrograph also did a Sylvia Chang retrospective. They invited her to come over and to do three days Q&As. It looks like the Chinese or Asian film culture is growing. Do you feel like more theaters will pick up that trend, and maybe not only in New York, but hopefully other cities like college towns there and here?

A: They might. And again, there are much fewer theaters interested in showing things like that. They look closely how it does in New York. If those things do well in New York, they might be encouraged to show it; if they don’t do well, they probably won’t be encouraged to show it. Again, if you look at opera in 1900s, there were about 100 opera companies just in New York City. But few years ago, Lincoln Center had to shut down its second opera company because it couldn’t support two of them. That doesn’t mean opera will disappear. It’s still very popular and it’s very hard to get tickets. You go there and it’s packed. But it’s a very specialized audience. Yes, it’s here, and they do great productions sometimes. But is it gonna extend? I don’t think so. I think that’s where opera is now. It’s a very elite art and you’ll find in all the major cities. It’s almost always well-supported by its audiences. But I don’t think it’s going to grow into lots of opera companies.

Now, with foreign language films, I’d like to see expand, it expanded a little bit in the 90s with a bunch of new people and the discovery of Asian cinema at that point. But I’d be really surprised to see that it really expands much beyond what it is today. I mean we’re all really happy when a film comes along and does well.

There’s a film that I like very much and just played in New York, an Egyptian film called In the Last Days of The City. It’s a film I literally saw 25 minutes of in 2012. The filmmaker really struggled to finish and finally got the money. It showed in 2016 ND/NF and it got great reviews. And finally, in April, it opened and it’s done great. The distributor sends me all these wonderful reviews from all over the United States, and “thank you for all your support”.  Now that’s one of the happy stories. Here’s a little Egyptian film, nothing behind it and it’s a great film. I think it got fantastic reviews and it is making its way around that. The other day, it’s been showing in Raleigh, North Carolina, places where you didn’t normally expect to see films like that. That’s great. I don’t know how much money it’s gonna make but I’m sure they’ve made at least enough and certainly the exposure has been terrific. In most of these places it plays for a week in the local art cinema. Things like that happen and we get very encouraged. I’m delighted that it happened. I don’t necessarily feel it represents a trend. It would be great.

Q: Another trend recently is the “Criterion Closet”, very similar to your collection here. They invite all the filmmakers, whoever’s coming to the city, to their DVD stalks and ask them to pick up films. Are there anything from your collection you can recommend to me or maybe like your top three?

A: You know, next spring I’m gonna be teaching a class on the movement called Cinema Novo, from late 50s into the early 70s in Brazil. To prepare for that, I actually just got back from Brazil, I’ve been seeing a lot of works from that era. And I’m just always incredibly struck at how terrific those films are. Just how really inventive, really engaged, and really challenging that period was. There are a couple good Brazilian films and Brazilian filmmakers today, but that period is just so much talent in that country. Suddenly it really took off. If someone asks me, I’d say have you seen and name few of these films, if I could lend them copies or encouraging them to find them. That’s what happened. These become unknown part of film history. You have to go back and it almost sounds exotic. It shouldn’t be. It should be part of our vocabulary.

Q: Any other recommendations? Maybe Asian films?

A: Oh gosh. Well, I’m really happy to see that finally, Hong Sang-Soo seems to be catching on. He’s like making 3 films every 2 years. He’s a great guy and I really like his work. It’s interesting, I can only tell from my own anecdotal experience, how often I’ll go somewhere and people ask me, “what do you think about Hong’s works”. I think clearly his work is reaching a certain threshold of awareness. There are enough people around, or numbers of people around, are aware of his works, like it and follow. All the years when I was working at the festival showing his works, it never truly got that much attention. I think it was only the past couple of years, for whatever reason, he seems to cross that threshold. I’m happy for him and happy for us.

Q: It’s been great talking with you, learning so much about New York film culture and other different things. And also, your perspective on Chinese young filmmakers.