PARIS — The iconic founder of the Cinematheque Francaise, film historian Henri Langlois, is no doubt turning in his grave.
The grande dame of French cultural institutions has an American managing director, a hefty budget deficit and a staff that’s up in arms decrying management’s lack of operational savvy and editorial policy.
Probably the only thing Langlois would be happy about is that the institution’s planned move to the Frank Gehry-designed building in rue de Bercy that was once the American Center probably won’t come to pass.
But though many expected Peter Scarlet, the controversial American manager who previously topped the San Francisco Film Festival, and/or filmmaker Jean-Charles Tacchella, the institution’s president, to get the boot at last week’s general assembly, both are still in place. Tacchella, in fact, was re-elected.
“Wait until summer,” prophesized a government insider who attended the meeting. “Here, things happen in hallways and behind closed doors.”
Indeed, things are already happening.
After the institution’s $400,000 deficit for 2001 came to light, several finance department employees lost their jobs, as did the head of the cinema museum.
And David Kessler, head of the Centre National de la Cinematographie (CNC) — who picks up 80% of the institution’s annual tab — made it clear he won’t shell out another euro.
Kessler demanded a debt-reduction plan, which was put into effect immediately, and calls for scaling down the premieres, cocktail parties, trips and glossy publications that have flourished since Tacchella’s arrival two years ago.
Tacchella also has been blamed for taking too long to find a managing director and, once he did, being reluctant to release the reins.
But others fault Scarlet’s lackadaisical management style.
“He’s not often here,” states one insider. “He doesn’t devote much time to the day-to-day operations.”
All agree there’s tension among employees, many of whom came in with the previous administration, and who, legally, are practically impossible to fire as long as they show up to work.
“The staff doesn’t pay much attention to the public,” Scarlet told Variety. “I’ve come down hard in areas where the place is run not even as adequately as a film society at a midsize, Midwestern university.”
Cahiers du Cinema editorial director Franck Nouchi opines that the current malaise has been exacerbated by the tentative move to rue de Bercy — where the Cinematheque would join the film library and archive service — which has been on-again, off-again for 15 years.
Though new cultural minister Jean-Jacques Aillagon will announce the final verdict in September, most say the move is dead.
“It’s got lead in its wings,” is how one government official describes it.
Which actually makes most employees rejoice. Why schlep to a smaller building on the edge of Paris, they reason, when they’re presently ensconced in a palace a stone’s throw from the Eiffel tower?
“No one knows where the Cinematheque is headed, and the people who are running the place are not throwing much light on the situation,” states Nouchi.
With luck, in all the brouhaha, Langlois’ mission won’t get lost.
“We’re saving and showing films and promoting the history of movies,” says one employee. “In the end, all this other stuff is unimportant.”