Harris Dew: Director of Programming and Promotions at IFC CENTER

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By Penny Gray

Since opening in 2005, the IFC Center at 323 Sixth Ave., at West Third Street, has become a cinema hub for the city. Harris Dew, director of programming and promotions, talks about the role of IFC in the community and the community’s role in IFC.

How long have you been at IFC?
I’ve been at IFC since the summer of 2005, just about the time it opened. Before that I was at Film Forum doing publicity and repertory programming. And before that I was at MoMA doing PR.

What exactly do you do as director of programming and promotions?
I program films with my boss, which means viewing a lot of films, going to festivals and watching screeners [films submitted by filmmakers]. About half of the films that we show at IFC were picked up at festivals and the other half were chosen from submissions. My boss and I have very different sensibilities, so the two of us can really cover the waterfront together.

How would you categorize the films that make it to the IFC screens?
It’s tough to do that. We’re not just an art house cinema and we don’t just screen documentaries. We’ve got highbrow, lowbrow, middlebrow. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the good, the bad and the ugly, but it’s quite a range.

What do you love most about your job?
I love discovering something great and then sharing it with people; it’s a pretty lucky position to be in. And I love working at an institution that is able to serve such a broad audience, not in a “lowest common denominator” sort of way but because we do lots of things in lots of ways. It’s tough to pigeonhole IFC. I love that.

What’s the most disappointing element of your job?
Getting it wrong. Just because you love a film and believe it to be great doesn’t mean other people will agree. I guess I hate not being able to find the right audience for a film. Other than that, I dislike the things that everybody dislikes about their jobs, right? The last-minute things that don’t come through…little things. But at the end of the day, there’s very little that I don’t enjoy.

How does being Downtown shape IFC as a cinema?
Well, it makes us as diverse as Downtown New York is. That’s really it. For one thing, it makes us a filmmaker’s theater. We never lose sight of the fact that screening films isn’t enough. We hold lots of Q&As and filmmakers screenings. We also have some pretty hardcore art house patrons from NYU and other academic institutions, as well as an international crowd.
The great thing is that we have programming to meet the needs of our diverse Downtown audiences. We’ve got Queer/Art/Film, a really fun weekly series in which a member of the New York gay arts community picks out an influential film for screening. We have the New York International Children’s Film Festival, in which we screen films for kids every weekend. We have our Midnight Movies series that attracts a very different crowd. So, yeah, I would say being Downtown shapes IFC tremendously.

Do you think IFC could exist uptown?
Not in the same way. We’re very much a Downtown theater in our sensibility. We take energy from this neighborhood and we give it back. It’s lucky to be on top of the West Fourth Street station because it’s so convenient and folks from uptown can easily access us. I guess if we existed uptown, we’d have a slightly different audience profile, and over the years of screenings you’d probably see a change in what we screened.

So what’s next at IFC?
We just opened a film called Urbanized, by Gary Hustwit; it’s a feature-length documentary about the design of cities that looks at the strategies and issues behind urban design. Gary will be at IFC with lots of city planners and designers for Q&A sessions discussing sustainability, climate change and how to urbanize better.
We also have the DOC NYC festival Nov. 2-10 in collaboration with NYU. It’s our second year and we’ve already expanded significantly. So that should be a pretty exciting festival.
In addition, we’ve just opened a Weekend Retrospective Series featuring the works of Aki Kaurismäki. Every weekend, a different film of his will be screened through Dec. 18. So there’s a lot going on.

And down the road at IFC?
The DOC NYC festival will continue to expand. And we’ll continue our collaborations with filmmakers and organizations in New York. We opened in 2005 and were HD from the beginning. We added two new screens in 2009, so hopefully in the future we’ll add more screens, more space. I want us to be idiosyncratic in the long run. It’s an exciting place to see what’s coming next. One thing’s for sure, you’re not going to get bored. There’ll be something.

PHOTO BY PENNY GRAY

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