Florence Almozini at BAMcinemaFest. Photo by Godlis.
A pillar of New York's film community is making a big change.
Last week's closing night of the 5th BAMcinemaFest marked a bittersweet moment for a mainstay of New York's film scene. Florence Almozini wrapped her final high profile event as Artistic Director and Founding Curator of BAMcinématek after serving nearly a decade and a half at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), where she forged BAMcinemaFest and grew its year-round BAMcinématek, putting Brooklyn on the map as a key corner for film culture. Almozini will stay in New York, moving this month to French Cultural Services, an arm of the French Embassy, leading cultural exchanges for French cinema in the States.
The change at BAM continues a period of considerable turnover within New York City's cinema culture. Dennis Lim joined the Film Society of Lincoln Center this spring as the Director of Cinematheque Programming after the departure of Robert Koehler. Aliza Ma recently joined the Museum of the Moving Image after the departure of longtime curator Rachael Rakes. And just this week Cristina Cacioppo, programmer for the late 92Y Tribeca, celebrated joining Alamo Drafthouse. She's relocating to Austin, TX temporarily before taking up programming in New York City for the expanding company. Finally, all eyes remain on the Museum of Modern Art ahead of an anticipated announcement of a new programmer there to replace retired longtime curator Lawrence Kardish.
BAM, which also recently saw the departure of longtime marketer Troy Dandro for a post at IFC Films, has not announced succession plans. Gabriele Caroti, former head of PR for the film program there, was named Director of BAMcinématek earlier this year.
"We are enormously grateful for everything Florence has done these past 14 years to build BAMcinématek into what it has become," Caroti said in a statement on Wednesday. "Her curatorial talent, taste and leadership has been unparalleled. In five short years, she took BAMcinemaFest from a festival built on BAM’s partnership with Sundance, to a major independent player in the New York festival scene. We are indebted to her and she will be missed!"
Gabriele Caroti added that future curatorial plans at BAM are still being formulated. He said that Almozini will be back at BAM in the coming weeks to host and present Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives and next month hosting David Gordon Green.
Almozini started at BAM in 1999, soon after the organization opened its BAM Rose cinemas. She helped create a cinematheque that faced formidable challenges from an industry establishment that didn't welcome Brooklyn as a beacon for film in those days.
"In the beginning it wasn't easy to get films or guests," Almozini told FilmLinc Daily this week, "Some people didn't know what BAM was in terms of cinema and I'd get questions like, 'Why are you showing movies where there's music?' People who had been working in marketing for decades weren't really willing to give us a try."
Almozini forged ahead, catching notice with events including an extensive survey of the Czech New Wave in 2000 and an Ed Pressman retrospective. She also organized spotlights of foreign filmmakers on the cusp of getting noticed on this side of the Atlantic and eventually put BAM, and Brooklyn, on the cinematic map.
"I'm proud to have done the first American Arnaud Desplechin [and] Nicolas Winding Refn retrospectives," Almozini said during the conversation. "It was very meaningful because we really admire their work and we were able to bring something to them and share their work with a great audience. It was very rewarding."
Now well over a decade in, Almozini has presented work from a cross-section of world filmmakers including François Ozon, Olivier Assayas, João Pedro Rodrigues, Nicolas Winding Refn, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Matteo Garrone, Andrey Zvyagintsev, Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-Ho, Kim Ji Woon, Greg Araki, David Gordon Green, Jay and Mark Duplass, Lynn Shelton, Andrew Bujalski, Jodi Lee Lipes, Azazel Jacobs, Alex Ross Perry, Ry Russo-Young, Bradley Rust Gray and So Yong Kim, Craig Zobel and many more.
However, she did not always receive praise for her choices. Like programmers at cinematheques and festivals everywhere, taking programming chances with ambitious programs proved challenging. She featured one eventual Cannes Palme d'Or winner early in his career but received a bit of backlash.
"The first time I showed Apichatpong Weerasethakul's film in '00 or '01, people were questioning my sanity," Almozini said, "I think it was his first feature film and I thought he would go somewhere. But, that's what a programmer has to do. Take chances and not be ruled solely by marketing."
The decision to leave her job atop BAMcinématek was not an easy one for Florence Almozini.
She said that she weighed the possibility of staying on in a position that many in the film community and beyond readily identify her with, even joking that, "everyone knows me as 'the BAM girl'." Ultimately, she decided that now is the time to try something new.
"It was a very difficult decision because in a way I had felt like I'd always be here," Almozini admitted.
"I love my job so much and it's been challenging and exciting," she elaborted. "But, I've been here 14 years, so at the same time if I don't leave now I'd really have to accept that it's all I'm going to do. I would be happy to work on the next programs, but I also just think I've done everything I can do here. I want to do something different and meet new people and work on new programs.
She'll continue to pursue her passion.
"I love programming," Almozini declared.
Almozini also offered up some advice for whomever fills her role at BAM. Like other successful arts organizations, BAM faces the challenges of maintaining a vision amidst opportunites to simply book obvious crowd pleasing programs.
"The person who comes after me will have to be a very strong programmer who can deal with a lot of interference from inside and outside who will try and influence you to program things [you] may not really believe in," Almozini explained.
"Say 'no'," she advised.
Almozini advocated for originality in programming.
"There's a lot of [influences] like marketing, publicity and others, and if there's not an obviously popular program, it will be a challenge," she explained. "I don't think it's interesting to do five sneak screenings of the same film with the same guest in New York. It's okay to do that once in a while, but it's not going to take your programming to the next level. You're just going to be doing the same thing as everyone else."
As the new Chargée de Mission at French Cultural Services started on July 8, Almozini will be able to flex her programming chops in a new context. Established in 1945 as a division of the French Embassy in the U.S., Cultural Services offers American organizations and individuals access and resources related to French culture, promoting an array of activities across the country.
"I will be working with all kinds of programmers," Almozini explained. "I will help and suggest ideas for [many groups] organizing programs and guests for many people in America interested in French film. This is a very interesting program that is also fully funded by the French government."
Adding a plug for France's cultural reach and prowess, perhaps most clearly manifested in the New York film community with the annual Rendez-Vous with French Cinema festival each Spring, French-born Almozini said Cultural Services should be a blueprint for others.
"I don't know why every country doesn't do this," she said.