American Cinematheque Head of Programming Gwen Deglise Moore became the latest to receive the distinguished Insignia of Chevalier (Knight) of the Order of Arts and Letters, an award established in 1957 to recognize eminent artists and writers as well as people who have contributed significantly to furthering the arts in France and throughout the world. The Hon. Christophe Lemoine, Consul General of France in Los Angeles, made the presentation Monday evening at the French Consulate home in Beverly Hills.
Deglise joins a list of past honorees that includes George Clooney, Sofia Coppola, Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep, Uma Thurman and many others. “I’m so proud, very intimidated, and so grateful,” she told me before the ceremony. “To give me the opportunity to look back and to be mostly grateful for the American Cinematheque, and for the importance of our institution and to believe in what we do and to me it is the whole team that is honored tonight. I am just the face of it, but it is for everyone’s work.” She also noted the contributions of associates like her co-programmer Grant Moninger and mentor Dennis Bartok, who now is interim director of the organization, assuming the role after last year’s retirement of Barbara Smith after four decades of service.
Deglise has been with the Cinematheque, which was founded in 1981, for 22 years. The viewer-supported nonprofit film exhibition and cultural organization operates the world-famous Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood and the Aero in Santa Monica, dedicated as they say to “the Moving Picture in all of its forms.” One of those forms is French cinema, which Deglise has championed tirelessly with numerous programs dedicated to it ever since she started as a programming intern in 1997. Recent Honorary Oscar winner Agnes Varda was an early supporter of the France native and even made a short film about her immigrant life story called Gwen la Bretonne in 2007.
American Cinematheque Chairman Rick Nicita and Consultant to the Board Ken Scherer were among those also in attendance, both giving big props to Deglise. Nicita told me the Cinematheque, a premier source for repertory cinema in L.A. (in addition to Quentin Tarantino’s 35mm film haven, New Beverly Cinema) and film programs, is undergoing a transitional period as it moves forward in ever-changing times for the industry. “It is transition that is turning out to be transformative,” he said.. “We are on the verge of some very major changes and improvements, for lack of a better word, but still our mission remains but I think we are going to be able to adapt to the changing landscape very well. Nicita added that he was not trying to be coy but indicated there are plans in the works that will lead the organization into some very great things. “What we do will remain but I think we will be able to do it better, more publicized, branded better, marketed better in a world where branding is so important. We are rethinking, but rethinking in a positive way. With all the technological changes and advances, people go to the theatre, they want to see the right movies, the theatrical experience. We’re doing fine in that regard. The audience is loyal and considerable. No problem.”
A visit to the website shows a variety of programming of classic cinema including an appearance tonight at the Aero with Al Pacino and director Harold Becker after a screening of their 1996 film City Hall. Upcoming this week is a tribute to Italian great Luchino Visconti with pristine copies of The Leopard, Death in Venice and Rocco and His Brothers. Next week director Mike Leigh will be in attendance for his new film Peterloo and a retrospective of the seven-time Oscar nominee. On the opposite side of that scale, John Landis and others from his 1978 comedy National Lampoon’s Animal House will sit for a Q&A for that movie after a screening. At the Egyptian, the longest-running noir festival in L.A. returns for its 21st year beginning Friday, hosted by Eddie Muller and Alan K. Rode and programmed by them with Deglise. Among 70MM film prints the Cinematheque has bought exclusive rights to for exhibition are the eternally popular Lawrence of Arabia and 2001: A Space Odyssey, both of which show several times a year to turnaway crowds on the big screen where they belong.
Nicita told me he tried to get his 30-year-old son to come to a screening of Lawrence last year but was met with resistance when he told his dad he thought he had already seen it on TV once. “I said I would make him a deal. There’s an intermission. He could leave at intermission. When the lights came up, he said, ‘I’m staying’,” Nicita laughed. “It’s interesting. The young audience hasn’t seen these movies. I grew up on them. You can’t see them now, except on TV like TCM or one or two other places. I think there really is an audience for such movies, the great ones, and especially from the younger people.”
For Deglise making these movies available to audiences who never had the opportunity to experience them on a big screen is a real mission as she said when she accepted her award. “As the Cinematheque is carried by a new wind, as we are re-imagining the Cinematheque for the next decade, I want to remind ourselves that institutions like ours are essential for the health of our city, for our community, for our democracy.”