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An Interview with Kathleen Carroll, Artistic Director of the Lake Placid Film Forum & Former NY Daily News Film Critic

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Kathleen Carroll Talks about the Lake Placid Film Forum

By Monica Sirignano and Dave Bower

Kathleen CarrollKathleen Carroll spent almost three decades working as a NY Daily News film critic. Among her many credits, including interviews with some of film’s biggest stars, such as Clint Eastwood, Federico Fellini, Natalie Wood, Peter Sellers, Woody Allen and Robert Redford, Carroll was also highly involved on another level. A lover of film festivals and a presence at many of them, she regularly covered Cannes, co-producing and appearing in the documentary Diary of the Cannes Film Festival. Carroll also served on the juries of the Berlin, Montreal and Santa Barbara film festivals, presented at both the Toronto and Sarasota film festivals, and along with Roger Ebert and Richard Corliss, was a Featured Programmer on the Floating Film Festival.

It’s no wonder then that her lifelong love of films and her love of Lake Placid (her hometown) led to her founding the Lake Placid Film Forum in 1999, with Russell Banks and Naj Wikoff. Now in its eleventh year, the festival has grown and changed; yet amidst its many changes, the Forum’s held strong to its original principles, remaining an intimate setting where people can gather to discuss film and share ideas. Though she still spends most of her time in Manhattan, where she currently resides and organizes a good deal of the festival, Kathleen often spends time in Jay, NY as well. We recently had a chance to talk to Kathleen about this year’s festival, the prospects for filmmaking in the region, what it means to be an Artistic Director, and the process and history behind such an undertaking.

The Free George: When did the idea for the Lake Placid Film Forum come about, and what inspired you to choose Lake Placid as the backdrop?
Kathleen Carroll:
I still think of my hometown of Lake Placid as practically a movie set with its visual charm. In fact during the silent era, episodes of The Perils of Pauline and William Randolph Hearst’s million dollar production, Janice Meredith, were actually filmed in part in Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. So I did think it would be a perfect setting for a film event especially because of its remarkably well-preserved movie theater which first opened in 1926. I’m afraid I have to confess I am also a film festival junkie. I covered the Toronto and Cannes Film Festivals for years as a film critic, experiences that led to some very special friendships with such people as Roger Ebert. I even attended a film festival in Tehran in 1975. I later found out that the main purpose of that festival, which was officially sponsored by the Shah of Iran, was to distract the students so they wouldn’t riot in the streets. The Adirondacks have inspired many famous artists over the years, including one of most gifted American novelists, Russell Banks, who offered his support and encouragement in 1999 when another Lake Placid native, Naj Wikoff, and I decided that we would like to put on a film show in the Adirondacks.

TFG: You decided to call it a “Film Forum” over a “Film Festival”, can you talk a little bit about the distinction and why its central to the LPFF?
KC: Film festivals were springing up all over the country at the time or so it seemed. We felt we had to separate ourselves from the pack in some way. What we were trying to do was really a forum or, as the documentary filmmaker William Greaves put it, “a homey think tank” for film industry professionals, future filmmakers and film enthusiasts. In fact the whole idea, as Russell explained it, was “to build a concept where people who are passionate about films can come together and learn from each other.”

TFG: How has the festival grown or changed throughout the years?
The LPFF started off with a bang. We had major sponsors back then and a fairly ambitious program. I think the Forum of 2000 still ranks as our most successful event. Like every arts organization, we have had to cut back in recent years. But the smaller program has made the Forum seem even more intimate and relaxed so that everyone who comes has a chance to mix with our guests. We also added Sleepless in Lake Placid, a 24 Hour Filmmaking competition, featuring film students from various colleges, and that has added a burst of youthful energy and intellectual curiosity to the LPFF. Last year Craig Randall, the actual mayor of Lake Placid, was cast as the mayor of Lake Placid in one of the competition films which showed local residents looking blissfully happy because they were constantly drinking maple syrup.

TFG: What have been some of your most rewarding experiences as Artistic Director of the LPFF?
One of the great pleasures of doing this event was the fact that I could invite many of the people I most admired in the film industry. To my delight, Milos Forman, Buck Henry, Norman Jewison, John Sayles, Jonathan Demme, Debra Winger, Cliff Robertson, Jennifer Jason Lee, Campbell Scott and even Martin Scorsese managed to make the long trip to Lake Placid. Russell also invited such talented personal friends as William Kennedy, Richard Russo, Francine Prose and Elmore Leonard. What was even more pleasing is that our guests seemed to really enjoy the low key informality of the LPFF. Steve Buscemi was stunned to discover he could saunter down the main street alone and see a silent film at the Palace, Lake Placid’s historic movie theater, without being noticed. The truth is people quickly recognized him, but they were too shy or polite to say anything to him. By the next day, he was asking me if it would be all right if he stayed a little longer. I have known Scorsese since he was a highly strung young film teacher at NYU so it was especially rewarding to see him at the Palace theater, introducing a screening of the classic Italian film, Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard.  What’s more the normally jittery Scorsese seemed positively calm that memorable night.

TFG: Many of this year’s films are based regionally–revolving around local events or are filmed locally. Was this purposeful–to promote filmmaking (and makers) in the region?
With the encouragement of my sidekick, our project manager Timothy Brearton, we are trying to promote the work of local filmmakers as much as possible. The truth is we have always tried to acknowledge such regional filmmakers as the late Fred Sullivan of Saranac Lake. We have also presented films by a number of Vermont writer/directors, including John O’Brien and Jay Craven. Kevin Craig West, an extremely gifted actor and filmmaker from the Albany area, has been to every LPFF and introduced his own films in recent years. Kevin did an acting workshop for children for us last year and the response from both the young participants and their parents was so positive that he is presenting a similar workshop this year as part of our program.

TFG:  What do you think about the prospects for future filmmaking in the region?
Jerry Stoeffhaas, the Deputy Director of the Governor’s Office of Motion Pictures, just sent me an e-mail listing several producers who are planning to shoot films in upstate New York in the near future. I’m also hoping that Dancehall, writer-director Tennyson Bardwell’s adaptation of the novel by Bernard J. Connors, will start shooting in the Lake Placid area some time in the near future. I find this renewed interest in filmmaking in this part of the country very encouraging because we have some unique locations here. It so happens that Jerry is going to be moderating a panel for us (we’re calling it “A New York State of Mind…”) about the fact that New York City and New York State locations have inspired so many filmmakers, including the late Sidney Lumet. Film critics are usually the last people a director wants to have snooping around on a movie set. But I was lucky enough to have a chance to see Lumet in action in a rented Manhattan office. As I watched, Lumet used all of his considerable charm to sweet talk Faye Dunaway through an intense scene from Network, offering such praise as “that reading was divine.” Woody Allen also invited me to visit him on location at Bloomingdale’s. I suspect he did so because the newspapers were all on strike at the time, including the Daily News where I worked.

TFG: Whit Stillman and Nancy Savoca are going to be special guests this year, which is very exciting. How do you go about choosing the guests each year?
I happen to be a fan of both these filmmakers. I have followed their careers from the very beginning. I saw Whit’s first film, Metropolitan, at a screening at the Museum of Modern Art. I fell in love with the film on the spot and I must have been giggling a lot as I watched it because Whit recently told me that he was sitting behind me at that very screening. He added that it was my obvious enthusiasm for the film that was apparently his first indication that Metropolitan might actually be a hit (the film eventually received an Academy Award nomination for best original screenplay). Whit then said that he “owed” me and he volunteered to come to Lake Placid. Needless to say, I was thrilled.

In general finding guests is a matter of luck and timing. I was lucky enough to be invited to a screening of Nancy Savoca’s upcoming film, Union Square, which I really enjoyed. Beginning with True Love, her 1989 film, which won the Dramatic Feature Jury Prize at the Sundance Film festival, she has continued to make intimate, socially conscious films that reflect, in many cases, her own Italian American heritage. Nancy, whose husband Richard Guay is her co-writer, and Whit, who’s known for his extensive use of ironic, rapid-fire dialogue, are both exceptional screenwriters and directors. They represent the creme de la creme of American independent filmmaking.

TFG: Can you talk a little bit about the process behind selecting the films?
In general we rely on such film festivals as Sundance or MOMA’s New Directors, New Films program to find out just what films might be available. For example, the minute I read about the Sundance entry, Letters from the Big Man, I felt that it would appeal to an Adirondack audience because of its wilderness setting and its spunky heroine, an expert hiker who works for the Forest Service. I knew the film’s writer-director Chrisopher Munch because we had screened his film The Sleepy Time Gal in 2001 so it was easy to track him down. I ultimately found him working on another script at the McDowell Colony in New Hampshire

TFG: Does your background as a film critic ever influence the types of films selected?
Variety once described me as “the toughest critic in New York.” I think I’m a softie, but the truth is films deal with feelings and emotions and, like everyone, my reactions to a film reflect my own personal experiences. So yes my experiences as a film critic inevitably influence my programming choices. Interestingly, David Ansen, the former film critic of Newsweek magazine, recently became the artistic director of the Los Angeles Film Festival. It seems to be a natural progression for a film critic to become a film programmer. What I love to do more than anything is to introduce an audience to a film that I think is worthy of attention.

For more info on the Lake Placid Film Forum, visit

–Monica Sirignano and Dave Bower are Co-Publishers of The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our new City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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