Eugene Hernandez named director of New York Film Festival

NEW YORK (AP) — Eugene Hernandez will succeed Kent Jones as the director of the New York Film Festival, becoming only the fifth person to lead the esteemed Lincoln Center showcase for cinema in its 57-year history.

Lesli Klainberg, executive director of Film at Lincoln Center, announced the appointment Wednesday, naming Hernandez to the top position at arguably the most revered film festival in the country. Hernandez will oversee the New York Film Festival, along with Dennis Lim, the festival’s new director of programming. Lim already presides over year-round programming for Film at Lincoln Center.

Hernandez, who co-founded IndieWire, was first plucked away from the influential independent film website in 2010, when he joined Film at Lincoln Center as director of digital strategy. For the last six years, he’s served as deputy director. Now, Hernandez will take the reins of the prestigious film festival he first attended as a 20-something moviegoer in the mid-90s and later frequented as a reporter.

“My whole life in New York starts here,” Hernandez, whose first job in New York was at the nearby ABC studios, said in an interview alongside Klainberg in the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center on the Lincoln Center campus ahead of Wednesday’s announcement.

Hernandez said his task as director will be to carry on the legacy of the New York Film Festival while shepherding it through a tumultuous, ever-evolving era in film. Like other festivals, New York is adapting to the proliferation of streaming services (whose films have frequently been shown at NYFF) and navigating changes that make bringing international films to U.S. audiences both easier and harder than ever.

“We have to follow in the footsteps of the people that were here many decades before us in bringing this art form to a wider audience,” Hernandez said. “Now with this festival, we have an opportunity to bring it to an even wider audience and to engage people in different ways around the art form.”

Jones, the festival’s director since 2012, stepped down after last fall’s 57th edition to dedicate himself more fully to filmmaking. Jones, a critic-filmmaker who had worked in documentary, last year made his fiction-film debut with the acclaimed “Diane,” which in 2018 won top honors at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Before Jones, the last five decades of the New York Film Festival were led by Richard Peña and Richard Roud, who co-directed the festival from its inception, initially teamed with Amos Vogel.

“When we realized that Kent was going to go off and become a filmmaker full time, we started to think about what we needed and what we wanted to do. We don’t have many opportunities at institutions like ours to rethink things. The last two people that were here before Kent had their jobs for 25 years,” Klainberg said. “I hope Eugene has many, many years ahead of him in this role.”

Klainberg praised Hernandez as “a beloved person in the industry.” He has also been a formative influence on how film festivals exist in the digital age. He co-created IndieWire in 1996. It was initially just a newsletter sent to a few hundred subscribers from Hernandez’s AOL account. But IndieWire would grow to play a major role in bringing online more rapid film festival reports along with more comprehensive coverage of indie films.

The New York Film Festival has sometimes existed outside that new media ecosystem. Where other festivals use starry world premieres, awards races and acquisition markets to add buzz, the New York, coming on the heels of Venice and Toronto, has remained the fall season’s sober-minded, highly curated mainstay. Its main slate is usually limited to about 25 films, which regularly provides one of the best annual snapshots of world cinema.

“For us, the two key words are curation and audience,” Hernandez said. “Thankfully, we don’t have the same pressures to focus on world premieres exclusively as our mandate. If we can bring something new to a New York audience, and through our curatorial process find a film that’s going to be special for an audience here, that’s enough for us.

“That doesn’t mean that every so often there isn’t a world premiere,” he said. “We last year had, I think, one of the most exciting and thrilling opening nights that I’ve been to.”

That was Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” which kicked off the 57th New York Film Festival. It was a major get for the festival, and one of the year’s most anticipated premieres. The response at the festival, where “The Irishman” was widely greeted as a masterpiece, helped set it on a course to a number of awards, including 10 Oscar nominations. It was also a fitting match; Scorsese and Jones are friends and frequent collaborators.

But Hernandez will have his own connections with filmmakers to trade on as he takes over the festival. This year’s edition opens Sept. 25.

“This festival has always been on the forefront of discovering and showcasing what’s next in cinema,” he said. “It’s exciting to see that continue and to be a part of it.”

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Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP