On December 5, 2018, Bénédicte de Montlaur, Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy, awarded Anne Kern and Jake Perlin with the insignia of Chevalier of Arts and Letters in a ceremony held at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York.
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen! It is my pleasure to welcome you all tonight in my capacity as Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy, as we honor two ardent advocates of the “septième art”, and French culture enthusiasts, Anne Kern and Jacob Perlin.
The Order of Arts and Letters was established in 1957 by the French government to honor not only prestigious artists and writers, but also individuals whose commitment to the arts, and to French art in particular, deserves wide recognition.
Anne, Jake, in separate ways you have both made valuable contributions to the influence and prestige of French cinema in the United States. Throughout your prolific careers, you’ve ceaselessly tied in cinematographic theory and practice, as programming directors, curators and celebrated pundits. By encouraging pioneering projects and carrying out demanding thinking on the history and aesthetics of French cinema, you’ve tirelessly honored its heritage while promoting contemporary innovation. For all of these reasons, paired with your sustained enthusiasm, I am glad to present you with the medal of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
Let me start with you, Anne. I’ve been told by Barry Pearson, your colleague at Purchase College, that your mantra in life is that “there are no problems, only solutions”. Your positive and fiery mindset accounts for your tireless energy in efforts big or small, as an educator, a scholar and a program director. A look upon your prolific career easily fleshes this out.
I’ll begin with a quote from your high school French teacher, whom I’ve been told single-handedly instilled a love of France in your heart. Ms. Cory Schlangen stated that, and I quote: “Anne was such a good French student, with an intense interest in the class, but would often fall asleep in class because she was trying to ‘do it all’ in High School, running cross Country and track, student council, full load of classes, volunteering, working. I never scolded her because I understood.”
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, you pursued a MA at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in Foreign and Comparative Literature. Your close friend Mary Hardy sums up your enduring fondness for Wisconsin in one telling phrase: “You can take the girl out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the girl!”, adding that hidden behind your brilliant mind is a solid base of mid-western principles; kindness, generosity, humility, sincerity.
During college, you spent a semester in Strasbourg, then flew out to the East Coast to do your PhD in Cinema Studies and Comparative Literature at Yale. For the last thirteen years, it’s Purchase College, at State University of New York, that has benefitted from your dedication to teaching and research.
As an historian, you’ve written on European and American cinema, Surrealism and psychoanalysis. We are honored that French cinema lies at the core of your research interests, be it in acute academic essays such as “Renoir and the Ethics of Play” which was published in A Companion to Jean Renoir in 2013, or in publications destined to the general public. The article you wrote for Le Monde in 2013 opens with a question that is vital to us, here at the Cultural Services: does French cinema maintain a worldwide influence? In your nuanced answer, you eloquently touch upon cultural exception, international polyphony and New French Extremity, but I’ll make one addition: it is thanks to sharp and pedagogical specialists such as you, Anne, that our national “septième art” can find its place among American audience and institutions.
I’ll ascribe your achievement first and foremost to your sincere love of teaching. When asked why you’ve been working in a state university for the last thirteen years, your answer is forthright. You state that you’ve had the good fortune of receiving a privileged education at some of the best private and public institutions in the United States, and firmly believe that students at state schools deserve access to the same quality of instruction and opportunity as the Ivy League.
The excellence of your research and your remarkable command of the French language have entitled you to exciting, prestigious duties. In 2014, you were part of the jury for the Francophone Film Festival in Angouleme. You also presided over the interest group on French and Francophone cinema within the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, a top level conference on the state of contemporary research on cinema and audiovisual media. From 2014 to 2017, you lent your expertise to the programming of the festival Focus on French Cinema, organized by the Alliance Française of Greenwich. On this occasion, you fiercely advocated the diversity of French voices and cultures, bringing the world closer through cinema.
Ever since your college years, you’ve cultivated the presence and prestige of cinema on campus. You frequently host French artists at New York State University – to name but a few, Sylvie Pialat, Julie Bertuccelli and Abd Al Malik. In addition, you seat on the selection committee for our program Tournées Film Festival. Since 1995, Tournées has enabled over 500 000 American students to attend screenings of French films, either recent or heritage, and I’m glad you’re part of this initiative.
In 2017, you launched the Transnational Film Exchange Program, allowing 90 film students from five countries: France, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and the USA to engage in cross-cultural filmmaking through social media, video conferencing, and travel.
An emblem of your educational philosophy, this project proves once again that it’s no wonder you were recently appointed as Dean of Global Strategy and International Programs at Purchase College. After all, as Mary Hardy rightfully mentions, you’ve always enriched the lives of all students just as your life has been enriched, by developing and facilitating access to international exchange programs, and promoting cross-cultural dialog.
I am proud to see that you’ve fostered French cinema on so many levels and to such a wide audience, whether fellow experts and scholars, students whose access to these films you’ve tirelessly eased and encouraged, and the general public. Your dedication is truly exemplary, and combines the utmost intellectual rigor with great curiosity and passion. For all of these reasons, it is my honor to bestow this medal upon you.
Anne Kern, au nom du gouvernement français, je vous fais Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
Dear Jake Perlin,
As the Artistic and Programming Director of Metrograph, you’re without a doubt one of the most consummate cinephile in Manhattan. I have to say you’re worthy of this status, as evidenced by the little notebooks you scribble with notes on the films you see each day. Your spouse Laura recalls that you’d go to the movies after work, and all day on weekends, seeing as many as 700 movies a year!
Since opening in 2016, Metrograph has presented retrospectives and hosted guests including Olivier Assayas, Jeanne Balibar, Vincent Macaigne, Marie Losier, Françoise Lebrun or Christophe Honoré. The program kicked off with a retrospective on Jean Eustache, conceived with the Cultural Services of the French Embassy. This is a telling decision, underlying both your sustained Francophilia and will to shine a light on little known or rarely seen artists. We’ve been relying on your passion for French cinema ever since, and gladly partnered up with him for cycles, tributes and special nights dedicated to Isabelle Huppert, Eric Rohmer and Philippe Garrel, just to name a few. The latter is especially dear to you: he ranks among your cinematographic heroes, and conversely you’ve been the champion of his works here in the United States.
But let me go back on your previous experiences, which are no less significant, to retrace your journey as an enthusiastic moviegoer, clear-sighted producer and talented program director. And even though I won’t have enough time to dwell on this part, know that I’m not forgetting your more discreet acting career including a few cameos, and, from what I’ve heard, your more or less successful attempts at learning French!
I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to conjure up the French New Wave as a common theme running throughout your career. In 2008, you founded Film Desk, a film distribution company releasing new 35mm prints masterpieces such as Alain Resnais’ “Je t’aime, je t’aime”, Claire Denis’ “Chocolat”, Eric Rohmer’s “Le Rayon vert” and Maurice Pialat’s “We Won’t Grow Old Together”, out for the first time in the United States. Thanks to your company, you’ve published the works of film critics and professionals such as Lillian Ross’ articles on François Truffaut, L’Enfant secret by Philippe Garrel and the first English translation of Duras/Godard Dialogues. To sum it up, we consider you one of the greatest advocates for French cinema in New York.
What might come as a bit more of a surprise, though not all that confidential, is your fervent, fiery passion for cats. Some cat lovers in this room, including your friend Amélie, who works here at the Cultural Services, can attest to your passion, which she definitely shares. The most observant among you will have noticed that cats in films are always included at the back of the Metrograph brochure. This year, you curated “Habicats for Humanity”, a film series on what we might call the feline canon, at the Austin Film Society.
In 2013, as Programmer-at-Large for the Film Society of Lincoln Center, you co-curated “The Spirit of the Forms”, a major retrospective on Jean-Luc Godard marking the 50th anniversary of Contempt. On this occasion, you managed to screen 35mm or 16mm prints of almost all the films meant to be shown in these formats. The gorgeous, authentic results regenerated the grain and texture of these masterpieces, intensified their colors, a welcome achievement in an age of mechanical reproduction so challenging for the art world.
The very same interest in authentic formats had already earned you a first Film Heritage prize from the National Society of Film Critics in 2011, for the complete Vincente Minnelli retrospective with all titles shown on 16 or 35mm that you crafted as assistant curator at BAMcinematek. During the eight years you worked there, you programmed retrospectives for Alliance Française New York, working closely with French filmmaker Marie Losier who was their film curator at that time, and presented film programs at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid and the Human Rights Film Festival in Zagreb.
All along, you’ve taken risks, championing unsung artists and surprising your audience with unexpected, bold choices. This demonstrates not only your wide culture and reliable taste, but also a remarkable and endearing work ethics. Actually, your programming skills go way back: your childhood friend Kazembe Balagun told us how, during one summer camp in Camp Thoreau around 1988, you used to make references to “this Woody Allen guy who he’d never heard of”, and organized a screening of of “She’s Gotta Have It” from a VHS bootleg Kazembe’s mom mailed to camp.
Your sustained efforts to ease and encourage access to lesser-known movies account for your achievements when you served as Executive Director of Cinema Conservancy, a film production and consultancy non-profit dedicated to American Independent film. Among its co-productions, I’ll mention “Hermia and Helena” by Matías Piñiero and Laurie Anderson’s “Heart of a Dog”.
Please excuse my extensive name-dropping, which is far from exhaustive, but that’s just how it is when retracing Jake’s career path. Your dedication has come as a blessing to so many directors, who are still very thankful today. Filmmaker Manny Kirchheimer told us how you moved heaven and earth to help him. You cleared the music rights for his film Stations of the Elevated, made sure the movie found a distributor, introduced him to Josh Siegel who subsequently arranged for a retrospective at MoMA and the acquisition of his archives. Manny Kirchheimer reached out to us to reassert his gratefulness: “For me, at age 87, this late success has been a miracle, entirely due to the dedication and efforts of my dear friend, Jake Perlin. I am thrilled to see him receive this well-deserved honor.”
Many long-lasting friendships took roots in your contagious passion for cinema, and more especially French films. I know Melissa Anderson cherishes the black-and-white photograph of Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac you sent her with care, and which assumes pride of place on her desk at home. “Every time I look at it”, she says, “I think of Jake, and of the magic he has brought into my life and into the lives of thousands of others who are similarly besotted with cinema”.
You’re a dear friend to French and American cinema indeed, Jake, given your love our “septième art”, and your efforts to help and promote it with passion. Partners showing such unique dedication and enthusiasm are rare and precious allies, and I’m not exaggerating when I say our collaboration is one of a kind. So tonight, I believe I speak for everyone as I warmly agree with Melissa: “We can think of no other person, or institution, who has revitalized film culture in New York in the past decade as much as Jake Perlin”.
Jake Perlin, au nom du gouvernement français, je vous fais Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.