The War for the Soul of the Film Society of Lincoln Center

film-comment-coverIndiewire draws our attention to the recent New York Times article on the future of the Film Society of Lincoln Center. The organization screens hundreds of films from around the world in one of the country’s greatest theaters, the Walter Reade. Members could be guaranteed cut-price tickets to the cream of the global festivals and early dibs on New York Film Festival and New Directors New Films festival tickets. Now, it’s all change.

Led by new executive director Mara Manus, the FSLC have started construction on a new building that will hold two additional theatres, lecture rooms and the inevitable restaurant/cafe. With change has also come upheaval. Manus has fired seven members of the 42-person staff, replacing some with old cohorts from the New York Public Theater where she was executive director. Eyebrows then shot up when the popular programmer and Film Comment contributing editor Kent Jones ankled the society. Four colleagues followed him.

The real shock may come to members. Sure, the seats at Walter Reade will still be extra comfortable. But they’ve been denied free tickets to the society’s annual gala (a starry affair honoring the likes of Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and Francis Ford Coppola.) Manus is also looking into limiting the low-end member’s accessibility to NYFF tickets.

“We’re moving to change that structure, just to allow more people to have access to the New York Film Festival,” she said. “People who have been giving $75 have been taking up a chunk of the tickets when in fact this is the biggest thing we do and we want it to be available to more people.”

Denying tickets to those who pay for the privilege of an advance purchase doesn’t exactly sound like allowing “more people … access.” Manus is up-front that her job is to run the society “more like a business” and actually says things like, “You really need a marketing strategy and to put into place systems and structures and technology to drive our base.” So “more people” most likely translates into “corporate sponsors.” When it comes to getting into the closing night premiere of the new Almodovar movie, this man could be out of luck.

Head of programming Richard Pena is publicly supporting Pena. Jones is remaining diplomatic. When asked by the Times why he had left, he said, “I don’t think I really want to go there.” Manus’ predecessor, Joanne Koch is a little more damning: “I don’t presume the film society will fail because seven people hired on my watch were fired. [But t]heir loss will result in a significant diminution of the organization’s creative output and efficiency.” Members of the staff exodus have also described Manus as “brusque, aloof and noncollaborative.”

Filmgoers fear that Manus’ Hollywood background–she made her bones working for Roger Corman and Ray Stark–is incompatible with a society dedicated to finding the next Hou Hsiao-Hsien and revelling in Aleksei German retros. The society is also in financial trouble. The Times notes increased competition from theaters like Film Forum and the IFC Center, although it fails to cite a decline in ticket sales. But that hole in the ground costs $40 million and only $31 million was raised before the economic crisis went supernova. Will Manus’ commercial instincts save the film society? How have her changes directly affected you? Can this society be saved?

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One Response to “The War for the Soul of the Film Society of Lincoln Center”

  1. Dr. Mike (New York) Says:


    That may be true, but unintentional….
    The sad thing for me is that the FSLC still insists it is NOT disenfranchising its basic membership even as it points to the (accurate) NY Times story and throws out the red herring of “subscriptions” not being viable. Then the enclosed brochure shows changes – specifically no advanced opportunity for members to buy even a limited quantity of tickets for the NY Film Festival, which for many is a long-standing annual event and the primary reason for giving support to the organization. The heart and soul is being thrown out in favor of “catering” to the corporate and affluent rather than the devoted film goers, New Yorkers, and NYFF lovers who have been the very reason for continued existence.

    What gall, what chutzpah to send out notices that things aren’t changing other than “subscriptions” – while members are in fact (according to their own words and newly presented tier system) being abandoned, disrespected, devalued, and – amazingly – viewed as not only irrelevant but as too stupid to understand the Film Society’s own written statement as to dissing and spitting on basic members, obviously not of good or profitable enough stock for the new director, or not in keeping with the corporate vision, damn the film heritage of the NY Film Festival and its dedicated followers.

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