On its 50th birthday, Film at Lincoln Center has a new name but an unchanging mission.
The uptown institution formerly known as the Film Society of Lincoln Center celebrated half a century as a “sanctuary of cinema” on Monday in a gala at Alice Tully Hall that brought out much of New York’s cinephile community.
Martin Scorsese, Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal and Dee Rees were among those who paid tribute to Film at Lincoln Center, which annually hosts the New York Film Festival and year-round serves as a standard bearer for film as an art form.
“I know when I enter this place, cinema will still be safe and protected because that has been their mission from the start,” said Scorsese, who added that he doesn’t care much for the buzzword movies are increasingly lumped in with: “content.” ”I don’t understand that word. Content has no place in the house of cinema.”
The nonprofit organization on Monday jettisoned the “society” part of its name, which it said doesn’t represent its evolution or its openness. Film at Lincoln Center also revealed a new logo and a summer season of free screenings — changes meant to signify the stalwart institution’s goals for expansion and further outreach to younger moviegoers.
Scorsese recalled when he was one those young moviegoers, attending the 2nd New York Film Festival in 1964 — back when some at Lincoln Center still questioned whether movies deserved a place alongside opera and ballet at the performing arts center. Lincoln Center chairman John D. Rockefeller III is said to have questioned: “What’s next, baseball?”
In the decades since, Film at Lincoln Center has expanded to include new theaters on the Lincoln Center campus. And it has regularly served as a vital introduction of international and American filmmakers to art-house audiences. Michael Moore on Monday said he wonders if he’d even have a career if his debut, “Roger & Me,” hadn’t been selected to the New York Film Festival.
John Waters said the society’s well-regarded magazine, Film Comment, gave him his worst review ever — but he still didn’t cancel his subscription. Waters playfully satirized Lincoln Center — where the selections can be aggressively uninfluenced by commercial concerns — for “50 years of feel-bad treats from lunatic directors from all over the world.”
Darren Aronofsky, the “Black Swan” filmmaker, called it “a beacon.” Swinton, armed with more metaphors than anyone else, called it “mega-wattage of a lighthouse,” ”a bloodstream” and “an invaluable oasis.”
“Under this roof,” she said, “culture thrives.”
Much of the evening, Film at Lincoln Center’s primary fundraising event of the year, recounted its role in curating, celebrating and uncovering the best in film, and steering a higher discourse for cinema. Its festivals, which include the New Directors/New Films festival (put on in conjunction with the Museum of Modern Art), have helped launch directors from Jean-Luc Godard to Pedro Almodovar on American shores.
But Dee Rees, whose “Pariah” played at New Directors and whose “Mudbound” was a New York Film Festival selection, cautioned not to view movie history through a single lens. Noting that racism has stood in between generations of African Americans and the movies, Rees said, “the golden age of cinema was not golden for all.” She saluted Film at Lincoln Center as “an organization that challenges us to keep our eyes open.”
Others said prayers for Film at Lincoln Center’s future. Aronofsky said he looked forward to centuries of film programming to come. Almodovar went one step further.
“If you have survived five decades,” the Spanish filmmaker said, “it means you are eternal, honey.”