The Latino Behind New York Film Festival Bids Farewell After 25 Years, Goes Out With a Bang

During our talk, I felt a little bit like a student in one of Peña's classes at Columbia. I actually know a bunch of people who have had him as a professor and they have always raved about him.

Now I get why.

Twenty-five years goes by fast, doesn't it?

Amazingly, it does.

Anything you didn't get to do in that time that you wish you had?

I always felt a little guilty that we didn't do more publishing in that time. We do publish a magazine, Film Comment, which is wonderful, but in terms of putting out more books and film guides, I would've liked to move into that area. We have the new Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center, and over the years we've talked about starting some sort of satellite program in Brooklyn or in some other community -- we also never got to do that. There's lot of stuff for the people coming in to see if they want to move in those directions.

In all this time, did this become your life? Did it consume you? I think when you love what you do with a passion, there is that tendency.

Looking back, I worked probably more than I should've. But what can I say, I took it on myself. I really wanted to have an academic career alongside my Film Society career and I had to give up a lot of weekends, and I worked late nights. But I happen to have a wonderful wife who herself is a great professional [Director of Adolescent Medicine at Columbia Rush Presbyterian Medical Center], and I think respected my needs and was attentive to them. There's no way I could've done any of this without all of them [my wife and kids]; they were my rock.

How was NY changed as an audience and as a city in those 25 years?

One of the great things is that New York became a much more ethnic city, again, it always has been, but we've had such a large influx of, for example, Mexicans. When I got back to NY in '88, there were still some Mexicans but right now, I think Mexicans are the second largest Latino community here, with wonderful restaurants, great cultural activities, a very active Mexican Fine Arts Center that I'm on the board of. Beyond that, of course all the Asian immigration from South Asia, from many different parts of China, Koreans have become a very important community. As the festival began to spread out and include more work from those countries, they were very supportive.

I read somewhere that you feel your students are becoming increasingly impatient as a film-going audience.

I think that's the result of all those years of television. TV is structured in such a way that you've got to capture the audience in the first 3 minutes because if not, he/she is going to change the channel. With movies, the whole idea is you pay your money, you go in, you sit down, and the filmmaker has time to tell the story, and bring you in. Since most of our students are formed by television long before they're formed by the film narrative, they bring that sort of narrative orientation to them when they're watching movies.

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