People and venues have come and gone from the film scene, but Linda Dubler, curator of media arts at the High, is blessedly eternal. Turning Atlanta on to world and art-house cinema that would otherwise never play in the city, Dubler is the high priestess who allows cineastes and the international community to join hands in the church of celluloid.
You often coordinate your film programming with exhibitions at the High Museum. Do you ever dream of an exhibition the High would do to coordinate with your programming? A few years back I explored the idea of an exhibition looking at the influence of Hollywood's art deco production design on home decor and design during the 1930s. At the time, the High's decorative arts curator, Stephen Harrison, was enthusiastic, but the project proved to be too complicated to pursue at that time.
You have been the High's first media arts curator since 1985. Has the way film programming interacts with art museums' programming changed since you began? Do you think film programming is still a priority at other museums? A lot has changed in the field since 1985. Audiences now can see beautiful prints of older Hollywood films on TCM and have a huge selection of films delivered to their doors via Netflix. So the old model of showing classic movies and European art films at museums doesn't speak to audiences in the same way, and only truly devoted cinephiles will choose to see a movie in a communal setting on the big screen over the convenience of watching it at home. But film remains the most vital and important art form of our time, and it continues to deserve a place in art museums. The challenge for programmers and curators is to carve out a niche for cinema in the museum setting that is unique, so that audiences have a reason to come.
Before your job curating film for the High, you used to write about film and you were previously a program director for IMAGE. Which role has made you feel most engaged with film? The pleasures of writing about film are quite different from those of organizing festivals and screening series. For me, writing a weekly film column was a process of articulating my own responses to movies and then sharing them with a readership that was usually pretty silent – I rarely got letters unless I really irritated viewers or shook them up in some way. At IMAGE and now at the High, when I select a film and then experience it with an audience, I get an immediate reaction from the public. I may not have had to analyze my own thoughts about a movie as much as if I had written about it, but I know right away whether my enthusiasm for a film is echoed by my fellow viewers.
If you were stranded on a desert island with only five films to watch until the end of time, which films would you choose? The Rules of the Game, 8 1/2, Notorious, Love Me Tonight, Bringing Up Baby.
You have programmed film series on Iranian, Latin American, Turkish and Danish cinema, among many others. What are your thoughts about Atlanta's international community based on the attendance for those series? Atlanta is incredibly diverse. One of the great rewards of my job is to bring together audiences who otherwise would not encounter each other. Film can be an amazing window into other cultures, and its capacity for breaking down stereotypes is as great as its capacity for perpetuating them.
Film people used to be very snooty about TV. But you are one of those cineastes who doesn't turn up your nose at television. What are you watching right now? I love "Ugly Betty," and I can't tear my eyes away from Hugh Laurie even if "House" is way too formulaic.
What's the film trend going on right now you most dislike? I am fed up with the gender polarization of Hollywood – the expectation that icky, lame, predictable romantic comedies will appeal to women, and that the normalization of extreme, mindless violence will bring men into the theaters.
What is your take on the Atlanta independent and art-house scene right now? Is it better, worse than when you first arrived? I think that film culture in Atlanta is thriving. With alternative spaces like Eyedrum and IMAGE, and with so many independent and art films opening at the Midtown Art, the Plaza, the Tara and Lefont's Sandy Springs theater, new releases are getting decent exposure.
Is film culture in general dying, thriving or just changing form? Film culture is definitely changing. The worst development, as far as I'm concerned, is the emphasis on box office. Newspapers routinely publicize the box-office grosses for the past weekend, as if we're all Hollywood moguls or the box-office take is some measure of a movie's value. And the shrinking space for film reviews in newspapers is a reflection of the dumbing down of mainstream film criticism. But the Internet is countering this with unprecedented access to film writing from around the world. Sometimes the user comments on the Internet Movie Database are more perceptive than those of published reviewers; I'm very ambivalent about that fact, because while everyone is a critic, not everyone has something interesting and intelligent to say.
If you could have either Richard Meier or Renzo Piano design an addition to your Virginia-Highland bungalow, who would you choose? I'd choose Piano if only for the chance to visit his studio in Genoa.
What's your favorite place to see a movie in Atlanta besides the High? The Fox.
Do you think foreign films and art-house cinema is bringing in younger audiences these days? I'm sorry to say that I don't see that many young people at festival screenings or in theaters for foreign and independent films. The exception is when local artists are featured or when the program features shorts or animation made by students and younger filmmakers.
Is there one film you can think of that inspired you and led you on the path to a career in film? The 400 Blows was the film that changed my life. I saw it when I was 16 and it opened my eyes to what movies could be.
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