People who might actually be going to France are currently in the process of weighing in on how good these films are, that they haven't seen, based on prior work and the politics of inclusion; meanwhile, over at the online home of the Village Voice, J. Hoberman has something to get off his chest.
Last year, the Times critics were somewhat unkind to the NYFF lineup, particularly A.O. Scott, who attempted to coin the term "festivalism" to encapsulate a lineup that seemed, to him, to eschew the pleasure principle in favor of rigorous international arthouse miserablism. "Tony should be ashamed of himself," is a sentence I am almost positive I heard last fall, from critics concerned that the lead Timesman was attempting to kill several eclectic, difficult works from small countries in one fell swoop.
Today Hoberman, a member of last year's selection committee, points out in his blog post that a good deal of the (many previously undistributed) films in the lineup that have subsequently played in NYC have been lauded by the same Times critics. (He also suggests that Scott's "fatigue" had less to do with grueling form and content, and more to do with "sitting through the movies, day after day," which is hard work.)
Now, I'm not sure there's an answer to the question of "why would Hoberman write this now?", but for sardonically sublimated exasperation there's nobody better ("Because this was published in the pre-Internet days of 1998, some have dismissed it as an urban myth. Uh-uh."). And it's an interesting bit of film politics.
Last year, as I observed at the time, three-fifths of the NYFF Selection Committee was comprised of major figures at the pre-merger Village Voice: Hoberman, former editor Dennis Lim, and former (and current again) contributor Melissa Anderson—three very adventurous critics, as good as anyone I can name at understanding and explaining films whose form, politics and sexuality might seem a stretch for the average moviegoer.
Hoberman's blog post makes a good case for the success of last year's festival: they did indeed champion unheralded films and, in so doing, help bring them to American audiences. (As for attendance, I'm afraid I don't know.)
With Hoberman off the selection committee (Todd McCarthy, until recently the senior film critic at Variety, took his spot), and with his former colleagues and committee members soon to pick up with the process all over again, perhaps now is a particularly good time to assail the Paper of Record's verdict, and remind viewers (and others in a position to dictate the direction of the NYFF) that "difficult" isn't a synonym for "punishing."
More than a Voice/Times spat, this is a maneuver designed to frame the Film Society of Lincoln Center's flagship event as a home for vital world cinema (or at least a few—very smart and influential—critics' idea of it).
As the FSLC continues to find its way under new management and with a new home in the works, much is up in the air; hence Hoberman's defense of last year's ambitiously curated lineup against karping UWS bluehairs and the film critics who speak for them.
Here, incidentally, is our generally enthusiastic coverage of last year's NYFF.