Cinema Luminaries Celebrate 50 Years of Film Society at Lincoln Center — Now Minus the 'Society'

John Waters, Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Pedro Almodovar, Dee Rees, and Martin Scorsese - Getty - H 2019
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This year, for the first time since 1971, the Film Society of Lincoln Center — an organization that is best known for putting on the annual New York Film Festival, but that actually caters to cineastes year-round — is not presenting its highest honor, the Chaplin Award, but is changing its name, dropping the snobby-sounding 'Society of' in favor of 'at,' as in, Film at Lincoln Center, which is not unlike, well, Jazz at Lincoln Center.

But rest assured: FLC remains committed to the same mission FSLC has had for the past half-century: "to enhance the awareness, accessibility, and understanding of the art of cinema."

The immense impact of FLC on both New Yorkers and filmmakers from all around the world was the focus of Monday night's Chaplin Award Gala, which, sans honoree, was transformed into a love-fest at Alice Tully Hall, followed by a dinner at the David H. Koch Theatre, all to raise money for the organization.

Among those who took the stage to pay homage were Martin Scorsese, John Waters, Pedro Almodovar, Dee Rees, Michael Moore, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan. Others in attendance included Michael Barker and Tom Bernard, Julian Schnabel, Paul Schrader, J.C. Chandor, Jim Jarmusch, Jimmy Chin, Elliot Goldenthal, Christine Vachon and Ira Deutchman.

Scorsese spoke about being transformed after attending the second NYFF (he was unable to afford a ticket to the first), and then returning years later to premiere at the fest short films and ultimately his breakthrough feature, 1973's Mean Streets, accompanied by his mother. Dano and Kazan said they both attended NYFF as kids, making it all the more special to return last fall with their film Wildlife.

Moore recounted how, one day in 1989, he arrived from Flint, Michigan, carrying cans of his directorial debut Roger & Me, deposited them at FLC, went to see a movie across the street and then returned to learn that his film had been accepted into the NYFF (even though General Motors was a big sponsor of the fest), after which his life was never the same. Almodovar and Rees shared similarly profound memories of their debuts at the fest with 1988's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and 2011's Pariah, respectively.

A common refrain from famous speakers and in via video clips highlighting people who toiled behind-the-scenes at FLC, including past fest director Richard Pena and current fest director Kent Jones: how different the NYFF is different than almost every other major festival, in that it is carefully curated by a small selection committee (which aims to highlight minority filmmakers and those from around the world), does not require a film not have screened elsewhere, does not feature a marketplace and does pit films against each other for awards.

Almodovar also gave thanks for New Directors/New Films, a joint venture of FLC and the Museum of Modern Art, which had helped to put him on the map. And Waters expressed tongue-in-cheek appreciation for FLC's film retrospectives at its Walter Reade Theater and its in-house publication Film Comment, to which he said he continues to subscribe even though it gave one of his movies the worst pan of his career.

Gyllenhaal said that FLC "has defended the soul of film." Almodovar declared, "As long as Film at Lincoln Center exists, cinema will live on." And Scorsese, lamenting the idea of 'content' instead of films, said of 'content,' "It has no place in the house of cinema" as embodied by this "remarkable organization."