NS Divisions Work Together, Create Successful Festival
On Friday, April 1, The New School kicked off The New School Arts Festival Presents Noir, the beginning of a week-long multimedia celebration of noir that marked the first time an arts festival has ever been held at the university.
Robert Polito, director of The New School's writing program and one of the festival's chief organizers, emphasized in an interview that the festival's main objective is not to be seen as a "downtown Greenwich Village event," but as a festival for the benefit of the school. "I think it's really important that an arts festival at The New School exist primarily for New School students," Polito said.
The festival, which involves student and faculty participation from every division of The New School, possesses an impressive roster of events, including a screening of "Fargo" followed by a conversation with actress Frances McDormand, who stars in the film; a keynote address from noir scholar James Naremore; poetry, fiction and jazz recitals from students and alumni; screenings from director Guy Maddin, and much more.
The idea to host an arts festival was conceived almost two years ago, in part as a way to help boost the school's unity and morale in the aftermath of tensions that surfaced over the presidency of Bob Kerrey.
"The Noir Festival is ultimately about the New School community and the coming together of all the divisions," Polito said. All events are free, and open to New School students and faculty.
But festival planning has not gone without its share of obstacles. James Miller, who is chair of liberal studies at The New School for Social Research and originally proposed the festival, conceded that there were many logistical challenges to putting together the event, including obtaining funding and finding available space to showcase student work.
"In the past, when there has been an attempt to do trans-divisional collaborations, there [have been] many barriers that make it perversely difficult to do," Miller said. "By the standards of these sorts of things, we've actually done it on a shoestring."
The past year-and-a-half of extensive planning that went into organizing the festival also coincided with the departure of former President Bob Kerrey. Fortunately, the change in the administration did not prove to be a setback for the festival. Polito described the transition as seamless, adding that the festival was in equal measure, "supported by Bob, and supported by David [Van Zandt]."
The only event in The New School Noir Festival solely run by students will be the double-feature screened at the IFC center on Friday, April 8 from 11 a.m. - 3p.m. (free to all New School students).
The event will feature screenings of "Sunset Blvd.," a classic film noir from 1950, and "Mulholland Dr.," a neo-noir from 2001 - two films that Maxwell Wolkin, one of two students involved in organizing the event, says reference each other. "We picked those because we thought they'd get a crowd," said Wolkin.
Although film noir, the heyday of which was in the '40s and '50s, may be unfamiliar territory for many New School students, Wolkin is optimistic that the event will get a good turnout.
"There's a lot of filmmakers today that use noir tropes," said Wolkin. "It's not the most ubiquitous style, but you can see traces of it almost everywhere."
"It seems to me that as a style, this has never gone away," reiterated Miller.
"On one level, noir is just this thing that happened in the '30s, '40s, and mid-'50s. But it's one of those jack-in-the-box cultural products that keeps popping up."