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Interview with Filmmaker David Licata on the New Directors/New Films Festival

As we posted about a couple of weeks ago, this week is the New Directors/New Films Festival in New York City.  We decided to get the inside scoop on what makes this event so special from writer/filmmaker, David Licata, who participated in the festival in 2004.

Celen Cipriaso: Tell us a little about yourself.  

David Licata: I’m a writer and a filmmaker. The writing has appeared in literary journals and on literary websites. My films have screened at festivals around the world—including NewDirectors/New Films–and have shown on public television and cable stations across the country. I’m currently in post production on a film now, A Life’s Work, a documentary about four people working on projects they won’t complete in their lifetimes. It seems these days that I could be a subject in my film.

CC:  How did first come in contact with the New Directors/New Films Festival?

DL:  I became aware of them when I was submitting my first film, 8 1/2 x 11, to festivals. I submitted it to them because I was a new director and it was a new film. I knew it was a long shot, but I thought I’d try. The film was rejected. But someone from the Film Society of Lincoln Center wrote a note on my acknowledge-receipt postcard: “Cool title!” This was very encouraging. It takes very little to keep me going.

How my second film wound up screening at ND/NF is a complicated story.  The short version is this: I submitted Tango Octogenario, a film about an elderly couple that reconnects through dance, to a festival called Dance on Camera. The organization that runs Dance on Camera, Dance Films Association, had given me a post-production grant, so I thought I was shoe-in. But they rejected the film, as had every other festival up until then. I worried that I had made a film no one wanted to see. This was a very dark time. But as it turned out, one of the people associated with Dance Films Association also worked for the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and she saw the film and championed it. She contacted me and asked me a few questions: was I a “new director?” Had the film screened in New York City? When I told her I had made only one other film, a short and that Tango hadn’t screened in the city she invited me to submit it to New Directors. I did. They accepted it. After that many festivals wanted to screen the film. Funny how that works.

The lesson learned? You never know how your work will find its way to people. That’s why it’s important to get it out there, even if you’ve spent months weathering rejections.

CC: What was your experience there like as a filmmaker?

DL: New Directors wasn’t about schmoozing or glitz or swag. It was about respecting the artist and showing the work. They asked me to attend a tech run, and that was the only time that has ever happened. We shot the film on 35mm film and that’s how they screened it–most other places projected a DVD. The film projector bulb must have been new and bright because the film just glowed. The blacks were SO black and the golds really shimmered. They screened my film at the Walter Reade Theater, which is my favorite movie theater in the world and just happens to be three blocks away from my house. It was a remarkable experience, seeing my film projected on that screen. So far, that was the best experience of my moviemaking life. It was unreal.

CC: How does your experience at New Directors differ from your experiences with other film festivals?

DL: Each festival has its own thing, and much of what you experience at them is where you are in your life.  They each have a special quality and I have fond memories of the ones I attended and I am grateful to them for showing my work.

That being said, many festivals are meat markets; it seems like filmmakers are there to promote themselves and hook up with people who can help them distribute their film or help with their next project. Unfortunately, I’m not much of a pitcher or businessman. I’m an artist, so I enjoy talking about art much more than money, so New Directors was an ideal fit for me. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen at New Directors, but the showcase brings the filmmakers together more than filmmakers and producers and people with money. It’s more about introducing you to new work and new artists from around the world who are honing their cinematic vision. And that’s a big part of creating, right? Seeing stuff you might not ordinarily see.

 CC: As a moviegoer, what do you think sets the programming slate of the New Directors festival apart?

DL: Their mission is simple: present new work from new directors. It’s not really an agenda. I don’t think they’re particularly interested in showing work solely because it was made by someone who is of a demographic that is underrepresented in the film world. They want to show good films from people who are likely to be making good films in the future. And by good, I don’t mean “art films,” I just mean good films. If you look at their history, you’ll see they have a pretty good track record. They’ve shown directors who went on to make giant commercially successful Hollywood films, people like Steven Spielberg, Guillermo Del Toro, and Christopher Nolan, as well as directors whose interests seem to lie elsewhere , folks like Atom Egoyan, Sally Potter,  and John Sayles.

CC: What are one of the best films you’ve discovered through this festival?

DL: There are many. Last year, they showed Margin Call, which I thought was a brilliant and powerful film, and Shut Up Little Man, which was pretty awesome. But if I had to choose one film I’d say it is a Korean film called Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … Spring. It’s not a perfect film, and there’s a montage toward the end that I wouldn’t have included, but other than that, it’s a stunningly beautiful film about redemption and finding inner peace. That it’s not perfect makes it more endearing. New Directors isn’t interested in showing perfectly crafted films that are designed for mass consumption. Their mission is to bring attention to filmmakers who are the future of cinema.