France Honors Florence Almozini with the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres

June 18, 2014 | By French Culture

On June 4th, Cultural Counselor Antonin Baudry honored Florence Almozini with a vibrant speech before conferring on her the insignia of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters.  Mr. Baudry praised Florence’s passion for film and enormous knowledge of the subject, her propensity for discovering new film masters, and her exceptional career  (founding curator of BAMcinématek….); he remarked just as deeply on personal traits such as her solid humility, unaffected by her many successes, and her sense of humor.  The latter was clearly evident as Florence took to the podium for a delightful mix of planned and impromptu remarks.  On hand to celebrate, Simone and Jean-Pierre Almozini, her parents who shared their love of cinema with their daughter at a young age. Husband and son were also present and profusely thanked for supporting Florence’s passion for film. Gilles Bourdos and many other artists and industry luminaries shared in the fun-filled, heartfelt celebration.


Dear Florence,
Dear Simone et Jean-Pierre, your parents, qui sont venus depuis la France pour partager ce moment avec Florence,
Dear Devin and Aliosha, who missed his soccer practice to join us,
Dear Friends,
Tonight we honor an important member of our family at the Embassy. Florence Almozini, will be named a knight in the Order of Arts and Letters. Florence is even more talented, and more quirky, than you all know. She loves soccer as much as cinema.  Her heart beats fastest for Louis Garrel and Ryan Gosling. Sorry Devin.

As Director of Programming at BAM and as Film Officer at the French Embassy, she has shown her unique curatorial vision. And this vision has revolutionized independent cinema in our city – you know how the French like talking about revolutions… I’m no exception here.

I quote Karen Brooks Hopkins, President of BAM, who is here with us tonight: Florence is “a supremely talented film curator, a dedicated cinephile, and an expert in French films past, present, and future”. Future…it’s quite something!
*
Dear Florence.

I hope you're not too scared.
A medal ceremony is always supposed to be a little creepy, as you enter the realm of the Knights, and no one knows exactly which kind of monsters you French Knights are supposed to fight - as it is beautifully said in Savior of the Soul, "Beware ! Tonight your bones are going to be disconnected." But don't be scared. We'll do it progressively, and soflty.
You'll be fine.


So. It is not exactly a casual moment.
When I started to confer medals, I wondered why. Why do we confer medals. Why do people even accept them. What's going on exactly?
I really wanted to understand.
First I thought it was an occasion to have fun. To share a good moment with friends. But you don't really need all this protocol and medal thing to have a good moment with your friends, do you ?

Then I read Hobbes' Leviathan. He gives an ok explanation. Basically, Hobbes' statement is : you don't confer medals on people who deserve it ; you confer it on people who have in their hands an important power. And people accept it because it gives them more power, as –and it is the trick - appearance of power is power already.
It's European Real Politik.
It works.

And power you have and you will have, dear Florence.
At BAM, at the French Embassy, and very soon at the Film Society of the Lincoln Center, you have an important power. You choose filmmakers, films, that deserve to be screened and shared with the audience. The film industry is an industry. Sometimes you diverge from them.
Your choices matter. This is a real, important power. By choosing certain types of stories and images, you shape our world, you build our understanding of the world.

But you're not someone who's craving power. Hobbes' theory does not apply to you. And I'm not sure that a French medal would propel you in the Forbes list of powerful women. Actually it would not - I'm sorry about this Florence.

So, I had to think more of this. Why should we confer a medal on you? What's the point?

And as I was reading the newspapers, I cracked the code. At least, I hope.
The world is obviously messy - to say the least. What can we do about it ? Politicians wage wars. Diplomats try to avoid them. But how can we make the world a little better, a little less messy ? How can we globally improve our behaviour and do better?
I was reading the newspapers, seeing all these names of people who cause trouble all around the world, and I thought : maybe we should just have good models instead of having them.
Instead of being invaded by all these mean, greedy people who constantly mess everything up for their own interest. Maybe we should find a way to honor and celebrate the few people who dedicate their lives to the comon good.

I think it's all about this. And I think that confering a medal is part of it. By choosing you, Florence, the French Republic chooses you as a model.

Why?

I'll go straight to the point.
You're an excellent programmer and an excellent person.

I call upon a German philosopher, Georg Friedrich Hegel – it always helps in this kind of situation.
He says: “We call accomplished a man who devotes his whole energy to a specific end.”
Florence, you dedicate your whole life to films. You dedicate your whole will to these key, difficult choices : which are the images that must be seen ? Why ? When ? By who ? Instead of obeying the powerful interests of the film industry, you obey your own instinct, and always go for audacious choices. Instead of choosing the obvious films, you always choose the missing images - the images that we collectively need to see if we want to understand the world we live in.
The choices you make reveal the way you think : your inaugural retrospective was for Spike Lee and you invited great - but non obvious - figures of world cinema like Robert Altman, Milos Forman, Abel Ferrara, and organized retrospectives of Michelangelo Antonioni, Lucchino Visconti, Andrej Zulawski or Manuel de Olivera.

This ability to bring filmmakers and images from all around the world has set you apart as a game changer in our city and in the entire field of cinema.

That is why you have been appointed to serve as a juror for numerous festivals, such as the San Francisco International Film Festival, the IFP Gotham Awards, or the Sarasota Film Festival.
*
I will call upon another muse : Steven Soderbergh. He said : “Si vous ne déconnez pas avec le scénario, habituellement tout se passe bien.”  And in English, “If you don’t screw up the screenplay, usually everything goes ok”.
Surrounded by cinema since childhood, Florence definitely didn’t screw up the exposition or the screenplay.  
As a young adult, Florence came to New York and made her dream of working in film come true.  She joined BAM as a programmer in 1999, after she began her film career at a cinema club in Williamsburg.
And Florence has been smitten with movies -- and with Brooklyn -- ever since.

A leading cultural institution in New York, BAM has a global reputation for its bold curatorial vision. It is a platform for emerging talent and offers a unique stage for independent and rarely screened films.  
Florence was the founding curator of BAMcinématek, which presents classic films, premieres, festivals, and retrospectives.
Since 1999, thanks to Florence, BAMcinématek has grown to a department of nine staff members.  We know that Florence is invaluable in New York’s film scene, but what you might not know is that she has just the right touch of folly to rule the cinema world.  
American producer Samuel Goldwyn, says it best:
“Il n’est pas indispensable d’être fou pour faire du cinéma. Mais ça aide beaucoup.”
Or, in English, “You don’t have to be crazy to make films, but it helps.”
Florence has the right type of crazy. The crazy that we all should have more of. She finds success at every turn, yet she maintains a deep humility.  She works with many talented people, but exhibits a youthful excitement with each new one she meets.

I love and admire your true passion for films. We spent hours together - not enough actually, but still - speaking of films, and I could realize how passionate you are. It is hard to find a film you didn't see.
And I know you'll go on and on. I hope some day you will be able to say, as Jean-Luc Godard once said : "J'ai tout vu. Saptristi ! Ca m'a tout de même fait du bien." I won’t translate this one…
But I know you won't. You're too humble to say this. And your passion for new films is too strong - I know you will never stop discovering new emerging talents.

Florence can really feel what is missing in cinema and knows exactly what New Yorkers are craving.  Even before a filmmaker has attained the status of auteur, she can sense talent and has a propensity for discovering new masters.  She organized the first US retrospectives of Ulrich Seidl, Hong Sang-Soo, Joao Pedro Rodrigues, and so many more.  
Florence pushes American film forward.  In 2009, she spearheaded the BAMcinemaFest, a new festival that grew from a three year partnership between BAM and Sundance.  It was hailed as “the best independent film showcase” by The New Yorker.  Florence, as Festival director and head programmer, premiered films in New York by Lena Dunham, Craig Zobel, and Matthew Porterfield.
A master of American cinema, Florence is equally knowledgeable about the cultural fabric of America.  And by that I mean Seinfeld.  I heard that you dream of organizing a screening of Seinfeld episodes followed by a discussion with Arnaud Desplechin.  
Good idea.
*
Dear Florence,
I must confess that we also kind of share this passion - I'm not excessively proud of it, but...
Anyhow. Even through this passion for tabloids, you reveal your particular spirit : just like your cinema programming, you diversify your celebrity gossip. And sometimes you also mix up the gossip magazines with Mean Girls and a sing-along to Les Demoiselles de Rochefort.

And, even more surprising, when you take tabloids away from the laundry room, you always return them. It seems that your sharing spirit transcends cinema.

But enough with tabloids.
Martin Scorsese tells us that a film is an expression of a single vision. The more personal the vision, the closer it is to art. And the closer to art, the better it withstands the test of time.  
Well, you have shown special skills in bringing your vision to life. And you make your vision personal by connecting it to your roots in Brooklyn and in France.  

Thanks to you, since 2009, BAMcinématek has shown movies from the festival “Rendez-vous with French Cinema.”  This allows excellent actors and directors like Mathieu Amalric, Bertrand Tavernier, Gilles Bourdos (who is here tonight) and many others, to meet Brooklyn audiences.  You organized full retrospectives of the French legends like Jean Renoir, Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, and François Ozon.  But you also shared a new generation of filmmakers with the public – such as Olivier Assayas and Arnaud Desplechin.

*

Dear Florence,

I believe that your genius lies in your sense of humor.
I will quote Maître Takuan – my favorite Japanese Master: "Même si on explique bien le feu, la bouche n'est pas chaude"
“Even when you explain fire perfectly, your mouth doesn’t have to be hot.”
Florence, you are always able to show important, serious images without taking yourself seriously.
Though you have a deep knowledge of film, past and present - and even, somehow, I agree with Karen, future - you never lecture or preach. You teach by showing. You never look at films and people from a superior standpoint. You are a gracious presence and a magician behind the scenes. The only times I heard you being annoyed was when you were confronted with pompous, pretentious people, or by dishonesty. You always respect artists - and not only do you respect their achievements, but also do you value their intentions as an artist. I think it is a very rare quality - and the filmmakers know how lucky they are when they find you on their artistic and personal path.
 

So do we, at the French Embassy. Working with you was a bliss, for all of us - for Muriel Guidoni, the Film Attaché, of course, for Thomas Michelon and Sandrine Butteau, for me obviously, but really - for all of us. And I say that in the name of the whole team. It was a golden age and we will miss you a lot.

But it is also a source of satisfaction to know that you are going to be a Senior Programmer at the Film Society of the Lincoln Center. We all know that you are going to do great things there, with Dennis Lim, in a place that really has a leadership role in films. It is a happy news, and dear Dennis, even if I hate to say it because I will miss Florence a lot, you made a very good choice by hiring Florence.

And, as Sophocles says in Oedipe the King, "Par ailleurs ce qu'on raconte est confus, ce sont de vieilles histoires" ("Besides, what people recount isn’t clear. These are but old stories.") 

*

So. For all these reasons, I'm honored to bestow upon you the medal of Arts and Letters.
And I'll be actually satisfied if you decide to accept the heavy burden of being an official French model.
So. Prepare yourself
Don't be scared. It's going to be all right.
And now...

Chère Florence Almozini, au nom du gouvernement français, je vous fais Chevalier dans l’Ordre des arts et des lettres.


Image: Devin Rice and Florence Almozini.

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