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At New York Film Festival, directors talk the talk

By Jake Coyle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 24, 2010; C07

NEW YORK -- Film Society of Lincoln Center program director Richard Pena has moderated countless post-film Q&As in his nearly quarter-century of overseeing the annual New York Film Festival.

"Jean-Luc Godard once said, 'The cinema is what takes place between a screen and an audience,' " Pena says. "When I'm up there doing these Q&As, I maybe become that embodiment."

At the New York Film Festival, which begins its 48th annual edition Friday, those post-screening discussions between filmmaker and audience can sometimes feel like a battle line. New York audiences are typically opinionated. The showcased films, too, often have much to say.

As ever, that's true at this year's festival, which begins with the premiere of "The Social Network" on Friday at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall. The film, directed by David Fincher and written by Aaron Sorkin, has been hotly anticipated.

It's also a big get for the festival, which is renowned for its tastefully curated selection of films -- 28 this year -- but often loses out to the Cannes and Toronto film festivals in glitzy premieres.

"It's a wonderful fit for both of us," says Pena, who also chairs the festival's selection committee. "Hopefully, it points out what we think is the real cultural and cinematic significance of this film by having it as the opening act of the festival. And at the same time, they've done wonders for us by showing that 'Look, the festival's as open to great Hollywood films as we are to anywhere else in the world.' "

Acclaimed international films are always well-represented at the festival, and 2010's offerings are no different. They include: Olivier Assayas's five-hour "Carlos," a biopic of the 1970s terrorist Carlos the Jackal; "Aurora," by the Romanian director Cristi Puiu ("The Death of Mr. Lazarescu"); and "Film Socialisme," the latest from the 80-year-old Godard.

Serving as the festival centerpiece is "The Tempest," a rendition of the Shakespeare play by Julie Taymor (who directed the 2007 love story "Across the Universe"). Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter," starring Matt Damon, will close the festival.

"One thing that really strikes me this year is how a number of filmmakers are employing approaches we might think of as anti-psychological," Pena says.

Pena sees a plethora of movies that avoid easy interpretations of characters and allow for contradictions. He points to the complex portrayal of the young Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in "The Social Network," and that of a real-life marathon runner who robs banks in the Austrian film "The Robber."

"It's almost as if filmmakers are looking at the world and saying, 'We love to record it, we love to reflect on it -- we can't always explain it,' " Pena says. "Reality is awfully messy -- there aren't easy answers."

-- Associated Press

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