New York Film Festival Appoints Eugene Hernandez New Director, Taps Dennis Lim As Director Of Programming

Eugene Hernandez
Eugene Hernandez Henny Garfunkel

Eugene Hernandez, the deputy executive director of Film at Lincoln Center and founder of IndieWire, has been named director of the New York Film Festival. He’ll will work closely with Dennis Lim, who has been appointed the festival’s director of programming.

The announcement made Wednesday effectively creates two roles, both of which were previously held by former festival chief Kent Jones, who announced his departure last fall.

Hernandez will oversee the strategic direction and leadership of the prestigious festival and serve on its selection committee. He’ll retain his current duties across the broader canvas of Film at Lincoln Center, including as leader of its Artist, Industry, and Education initiatives and publisher of Film Comment, an online and bimonthly print magazine.

Lim expands his current role as director of programming for Film at Lincoln Center, which puts on films and events throughout the year at the organization’s three theaters and public space in Midtown Manhattan. He will now lead programming for the festival and chair the selection committee.

The due is teeing up for 58th edition, which runs September 25-October 11, 2020. Hernandez said he has been a huge fan since the 32nd festival. “I had just moved to the city and saw Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, opening night … and was immediately under the spell,” he said.

A statement announcing the appointments today advised of “a number of innovations to the selection process and structure of the festival.” Hernandez told Deadline one goal is to expand the selection committee, which had been whittled down in recent years from “five or six” to three staff members. An expanded committee that includes external programmers will be announced in the spring.

The ideas is to include “new voices, in a number of specific ways,” Hernandez said. “Once we can tell you who those people are, I think it will make sense.”

Hernandez, an entrepreneur who founded IndieWire in 1996, will also work with fundraising and explore enriching and expanding the festival’s categories beyond the venerable Main Slate. Currently they include Documentaries, Talks and Special Events; the experimental Projections; Revivals; and Convergence, focused on advances in VR and game play and new technology.

Film at Lincoln Center’s executive director Leslie Klainberg called Hernandez “a singular presence in the film community … whose background as a journalist [and] his more than eight years at FLC make him uniquely qualified to lead NYFF into a new era.”

The shift comes as Klainberg said the festival has grown along with its physical footprint, moving from one theater to three. It’s worked out its kinks – like ticketing – and continues to sell out thanks in large part to a devoted local base. (“Ticketing is a huge part of the festival and I think we finally have it right. But there were many years when we did not have it right at all,” she said.)

Hernandez was on the way to Berlin to get the ball rolling. “The process of sitting down and having the kinds of meetings that we are able to have at a place like Berlin that kind of teases up Cannes … between the films that we’ll watch in screening rooms and the meetings that we’ll have this coming weekend and over the next few days, will be a big part of shaping some of the relationships that will lead to films that we will show in the fall,” he said.

It’s key that the festival and the year-round film program support each other. He described a ripple effect after the festival team secured Parasite for last year’s NYFF lineup after seeing it at Cannes. It subsequently played at the Walter Reade Theater (still is) and grew into a retrospective event last month called “The Bong Show,” which featured Bong Joon Ho’s features and shorts as well as a handful of his own favorite films, with the director himself appearing.

Asked about any fallout from the deadly coronavirus, which is shadowing film and many other industries, Klainberg said it hasn’t impacted long-term planning yet but “it is certainly a concern and something we are thinking about.”

Film at Lincoln Center is planning a retrospective of Wong Kar Wai’s work this summer, she said. The South China Morning Post reported last weekend that shooting in China of the Hong Kong director’s film Blossoms has been put on hold, and filming of a Blossoms series, like all shoots there, is delayed thanks to the outbreak.

At the New York Asia Film Festival, an annual summer event, “We usually travel a lot of people from Asia here,” she said. “Filmmakers and people come who are like sponsors and business people. We do travel a lot of people from around the world.”

The broader arts complex faces similar issues.

“I had a meeting a couple of weeks ago with the Lincoln Center Council, which are my counterparts on the campus,” Klainberg said. “There is an issue of course … because the opera, the philharmonic, they are bringing in people from everywhere. Fifteen percent of the students at are from China. So it’s something on campus we think about.”

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