Marty, Money, Movies & The NYFF

Oct 14, 2022

As always, his words get worked over like grapes under Lucille Ball’s feet. The following is the full appearance, taped by the festival itself. The section Ms. Houlihn captured starts at 11:15.

Here’s the rub…

I compeltely respect the history and persitence of the New York Film Festival. It has, through its 60 years, served one clear purpose… to bring the best films in the world to New York before they get (or don’t get) distribution in regular theaters. It has not been, for most of its run, about award season. Or selling movies.

It expanded quite dramatically under Rose Kuo in the early 2010s. And while it has remained expanded, it has become less about award season again, though they still offer more world premieres than was the case through most of its history.

That said… Scorsese talking about money issues being “repulsive” is a little ironic, given that NYFF is one of the festivals in the world most supported by the very rich of one of the world’s richest cities, New York, and has tickets for new movies priced at $30 and $80 - $125 for event screenings. Yes, there are some tickets available for as little as $12. And I don’t begrudge NYFF or any festival charging what is neccessary and what they can get. But like Cannes and Venice and Telluride and others, the big festivals and the big moments are mostly for people of significant means. (Aside from we press who bear witness and tell the world that important things happened there.)

Money is not the driving force for these film festivals… but the idea that money doesn’t hang over them like The Sword of Damocles all the time is just not the reality.

It’s also not the reality that festivals are as important to the arrival of films in America and various other parts of the globe as they once were. Don’t get me wrong… I LOVE film festivals. And I hope they continue on forever. But just 20 years ago, the significance of most festivals was something completely different. Even at America’s only real sales festival, Sundance, a significant segment of their films are now ending up on streaming or doing some theatrical before the summer after the festival, many of them purchased at the festival then pushed out in these short, under-marketed windows.

New York was the great local festival, leaning heavily on Cannes (some Berlin and Venice) to fill what was a very narrow swath of titles, not expected to land in New York until months and months later. Toronto has been driven for most of its life by Torontonians buying hundreds of thousands of tickets, often taking off 10 days of work. South By Southwest was a music festival before the film component grew, but it’s still, even with lots of visitors, all about the great weird Austin vibe.

Roger Ebert started a festival at his alma mater, Illinois Urbana-Chamaign. One theater (1100 seats), one long weekend, one screening per film, sold out, glorious. But the support of the festival by the university was about raising funds to rehab the Virginia theater. The Eberts could not be more generous. Filmmakers come and love the experience with this small hardcore audience. But the subtext was fundraising. Money.

Every festival is great from the seats. Watching the movies is life for those of us who love the cinema. All that other stuff is just a distraction.

But it’s there. Festivals are, for most of the audiences, an entitlement. Thank God for the gift. Truly. I have spent about half of my life attending at least 60 days of festivals a year. But I can’t ignore, the world keeps evolving.

Scorsese, for his part, has made 8 non-doc feature films in the last 20 years and one of them had a budget under $100 million (Silence). One of them cost anywhere between $200 million and $275 million, depending on who you ask.

I am thrilled that he has made these films with this kind of support. A win for cinema. But he basically makes dramas with thriller components. Sometimes, he varies. Hugo is a family movie. The Wolf of Wall Street is more a comedy than a drama. All 8 of his recent films were originals, some based on literary material, but none based on popular IP. Very, very few filmmakers in history have had the opportunity to spend money like Martin Scorsese has spent money for original dramas. (Having Leo DiCaprio as insurance for half of them has helped… a lot.)

Being a filmmaker of very expensive movies is a choice that Scorsese made. I honor whatever choices he makes. Even his failures are better than most directors’ successes. But rich guys talking about how icky money is… icky.

And I believe that what Mr. Scorsese was getting at was, simply, embracing the New York Film Festival (which his films had not appeared at until Hugo in 2011) and its core mission… which anyone who loves film should.

I don’t even think he meant to backhand Sundance, Cannes, Venice, and others by talking about how important it is that NYFF doesn’t have a competition component. He did backhand them. But I don’t think that was his intent.

I have to agree with Scorsese that cinema is being “devalued, demeaned, belittled from all sides.” But his last film was for Netflix with barely a patronizing theatrical release and his next film is funded by Apple, with Paramount handling (for now) domestic theatrical. Of course, they won the Oscar for Best Picture last year for a movie that had no theatrical release at all.

The reality is that Scorsese often says what he actually thinks these days. But he doesn’t always put every comment in the perspective of his own history and/or the history of others.

People are still talking about the Marvel thing. And even there, I don’t think he was attacking Marvel. I think he was talking about different kinds of cinema. And there are different kinds of cinema. The ambitions of each film is a legitimate point of conversation.

There are very few filmmakers who have ever done what Marvel does as well as Marvel does it. Same was true, back in the day, with Disney. Then Miyazaki came along and he doing something that had a different kind of ambition. Then Pixar. Disney and Pixar ended up moving closer to what Studio Ghibli has done so magically. Studio Ghibli never turned toward what Pixar and Disney did best.

It is one of the kesys to the ongoing survival of this art form is that there are so many filmmakers being inspired in so many different ways to do such a wide variety of work, even if it all seems to come from the same cookie cutter from a distance sometimes.

But almost instantly, defending Marvel and the love of Marvel overwhelmed any other more rational conversation about what Scorsese was saying. That’s how it works these days.

That’s a lot of words to say that Scorsese is right and Scorsese is an unintended hypocrite who lives in a bubble, which is one of the greatest, most beautiful bubbles in the world. His fight for cinema has been mostly about preservation. That is hard, hard work. No one has been a more relentless advocate for cinema. AND he has been a willing participant in the big business side of the business for over a decade. He can’t get funded the way he wants to get funded for the projects he wants to do by companies that need to make the money back. So he has taken the streaming money. I don’t judge that. But unlike someone like Soderbergh, he is not out there fighting the evolution of the model either. He’s about to turn 80… enough that he is still making movies.

Until tomorrow…