By Ozzi Ramirez
Let’s welcome Carly Mattox to NYWIFT! Carly is a curator with a passion for writing and film who believes in the power of film programming and arts education as a bridge to ignite people. Having received her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and French from NYU, her honors thesis film highlighted the struggles of same-sex ballrooms dancers in Utah and was featured as a part of a fundraising event when one of her subjects decided to run for office. Subsequently, Carly graduated with a Master of Arts in Film Studies, Programming, and Curation from the National Film and Television School in England.
When she is not writing fantastic and insightful reviews on Sally Potter’s Orlando and the more recent Netflix rendition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover on her website, Carly is also very much connected to the dance world!
Learn more about her relationship to the online magazine Waltz Tango Foxtrot and her views on the cultural significance of programming as we converse about the revelatory moment she experienced while watching a 1962 French film in her high school classroom, the more worldly perspective she’s developed having lived in Alabama, NYC, and the UK, RADICAL filmmaking, and the recent “Barbenheimer” craze!
Tell us about yourself. Give us your elevator pitch!
I’m something of a Swiss Army knife when it comes to the film industry. I’ve served in a lot of different capacities, from film publications, international festivals, repertory film programming, nonprofit events organizations — I even worked at a virtual reality arcade, which has benefited my film career in many ways.
I’m still passionate about freelance writing and editing, which allows me an avenue to explore my opinions independently, but I’m currently seeking positions within the field of nonprofit fundraising at an organization where I can get in on the ground floor and eventually make a difference in terms of who is allowed to make films on a financial level.
To some extent, film critics and curators serve as gatekeepers between films and moviegoers. An astute programmer, for instance, may provide a platform for an unseen but brilliant film, and introduce it to a wider audience. Similarly, a critic’s negative review of a project could limit the extent to which viewers give it a chance.
What are some examples of films that reached great success because of smart programming specifically? Can you recall some instances when critics may have missed the mark with a good film that was later revitalized through programming?
Jennifer’s Body is the touchpoint example in recent years — a film that was derided by critics, misunderstood by its own distributors, and marketed poorly, but one which eventually found its audience, who could recognize it as kind of a campy comedy that initial critical voices missed.
We’ve seen through this summer’s “Barbenheimer” phenomenon that people still love going to the movies, especially when you turn moviegoing into an event! For example, screenings of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room are always going to sell out, because curators have turned them into inside jokes, which people on the outside want to be a part of. I’m certainly not going to argue that The Room is a good film and critics simply missed the mark, but its eventization allowed for some broad financial success.
There is now an endless stream of content at our fingertips, and it seems like what people want and need more than ever is someone who will recommend a movie to them — this is why the role of curator should not be to gatekeep, but to open the gates for films which may never otherwise find their audience.
In reference to your high school experience watching Chris Marker’s La Jetée, you’ve alluded to the “radicalizing power of film.” What was it about this viewing experience that solidified your passion for cinema? Who are some contemporary filmmakers whose art, from your perspective, is significantly influencing the culture in potentially radical ways?
I was raised on a diverse roster of science fiction films, all of which served in some way as my formative film education. One of these films was Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys (1998). I can’t exactly advocate for the film, nor its director, other than having seen it very early on in my life. Years later, when a high school teacher screened La Jetee (1962) during our lunch period, I was late and therefore missed his introduction. But while watching it, I slowly put together the pieces that this film inspired my own childhood favorite, Twelve Monkeys. It was a radical moment for me, experiencing that same satisfaction of solving a complicated puzzle, except these films are living-breathing pieces of art having conversations with each other across decades, languages, and genres.
Another film which performs this same act of time travel is Laura Poitras’s All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (2022), which somehow manages to bring together the very broad topic of our nation’s current opioid crisis with a family’s own domestic tragedy nearly 50 years ago, simply through its subject and the art she created. This film feels very radical because of its core message which is, “What you do matters.”
What you do matters. The art you create matters. The power you have, however much power you have matters when you strive to make the world a better place. Experimentation is always going to be radical — we have to encourage it at all costs, and I mean that literally. We need to fund films which push the boundaries of what we believe can be accomplished, because this will shape the future of our cinema.
You are the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Waltz Tango Foxtrot Magazine (WTF), an online magazine for ballroom dancers. Synonymous with this organization’s mission is the quote, “We believe not only in the spotlight under which we perform, but also in the shadows where we practice.” What do these words mean to you, and what is your relationship with the dance world?
I suppose a lot of people think of ballroom dance as it’s depicted in films like Strictly Ballroom (1992). I mean, sure, it’s a Baz Luhrmann film, but there is a certain exaggeration to the color and spectacle, and as per usual, Luhrmann dials the camp up to 11. It’s actually the intimacy of ballroom dance which I find to be the most compelling artistically, and the most rewarding. This isn’t always something you see on the competition floor, the building of a connection between two individuals who are often strangers when they first start dancing together. It’s complicated.
I actually brought in an intimacy coordinator, a position I’m familiar with through my work in the film industry, to workshop with my fellow ballroom dancers in the city, as many of the principles remain consistent across both fields. I’m constantly trying to find ways to bring these two great loves of my life together, which mainly manifests itself through the publication I founded Waltz Tango Foxtrot, and our event series Dance for Pride. Here’s where I have to direct you to our website to learn more — I promise that’s my only plug!
What is the best and worst advice that you’ve received?
As a dancer, I tend to overthink everything to a paralyzing degree, and hesitated with each step in my routine. Eventually, my teacher, exasperated, told me, “At some point, you just have to make a bold decision.” He was talking about dancing to music without stopping, but it’s a sentiment that I have applied to other areas of my life. Choosing a career in the arts can be daunting, but to extend the metaphor, you always have to shift your weight forward or backward in order to progress down the floor. Standing still is antithetical to the dance.
The worst advice I ever received is a natural opposite — “Go along to get along.” I was born in Montgomery, Alabama, and my parents raised me to have my own opinions independent of theirs, even when that meant I would turn out to be a radical leftist who argues with them constantly about the basic principles of human rights. I’ve been told many times throughout my life to be more diplomatic, less confrontational, more level-headed, less ambitious, more amicable, less opinionated — I’ve never personally found that denying my own nature has gotten me very far.
What brought you to NYWIFT?
Attending a Master’s program in the UK, and then immediately moving back home to the United States was difficult in a lot of ways. I built an entire professional network overseas, which I had to largely abandon when I started here. But there’s not a single day where I regret returning to New York. I really wanted to hit the ground running and immerse myself in a professional environment which values the same mission as my own — making the film industry increasingly accessible and diverse.
Speaking for myself, I can contribute a very transatlantic perspective, having lived in the UK, but also having grown up in Alabama, which can feel pretty much like a different country sometimes. The issues filmmakers face there are the same, only they have less resources than we do in New York City.
How did the pandemic influence your career?
I spent the entirety of my four undergraduate years at NYU very confused about what I wanted to do, and I was constantly changing majors. I started with journalism, then politics, followed by psychology, only to circle all the way back to journalism. But I didn’t feel very satisfied with a CNN-style career, which NYU is very good at producing. I knew my true passion was documentary film.
Then suddenly, after graduating during the pandemic, I was willing to try anything if it meant I could have a job. It was a long nine months of job hunting, and treading water for so long can be exhausting. That’s why I decided to go to graduate school. The program I attended is incredibly unique, and pretty much only exists in the UK, hence my move. But this somewhat whimsical decision completely changed the trajectory of my life and allowed me to truly solidify what I want to do professionally.
What’s next for you? Do you have any exciting projects in the works?
I am still looking for a full-time permanent position within the field of film and arts programming, but I’ve also been able to really flex my creative muscles during this transition period in my career. Recently, I produced a video essay for the film publication Little White Lies, which I’m particularly proud of, and writing about film, in general, has always been my first love. I used to review films for my school newspaper, and it is always just as thrilling to see your own byline. Maybe there’s a book in store for me down the line — who knows?
Congratulations to NYWIFT Board Member Joyce Pierpoline, Executive Producer of Mediha, which just took home the U.S. Competition Grand Jury Prize at DOC NYC! In this immensely collaborative film, a Yazidi teen once held captive by ISIS takes us into her world of grief, pain, and hope. We spoke to Pierpoline (prior to the exciting win) about her involvement in this important film.READ MORE
Welcome to NYWIFT, Eileen Wolter! After working as a motion picture lit assistant at CAA, working on the Universal lot, and writing lots of coverage in LA, Eileen brings her creativity to us in New York! She holds a BA in Art History & Film from Vassar College, studied acting as The Atlantic Theater Company and The Actors Studio/The New School, and studied writing at UCLA, NYU, Sundance Collab, Stowe Story Labs, and NJ Play Lab. Eileen tells us about her fascinating family history, covering Fashion Week for Comedy Central in 1993, and attending SNL dress rehearsals.READ MORE
NYWIFT member Luchina Fisher’s powerful new film The Dads features fathers tackling tough, complex issues of parenthood, masculinity, and more – learning to love and support their children the best they can. On a fishing trip with Matthew Shepard's father, five disparate dads discuss their love, hopes and fears for their trans kids in this short documentary. The film is screening now at DOC NYC, where is was named to the festival’s influential awards short list. We spoke to director and producer Luchina Fisher about her personal connection to the dads, her exciting Netflix opportunity, and the film’s superstar supporter.READ MORE
Welcome to NYWIFT, Jaya Mahajan! Originally from Mumbai, India, Jaya is a filmmaker with Executive Producer credits for documentaries and factual shows that have been on networks such as CNN, BBC, Discovery and the National Geographic Channel. She spent the initial part of her career as a business reporter and producer with CNBC and Bloomberg. More recently, she has been running an award-winning production company, creating films and documentaries and teaching journalism students in Malaysia and Singapore. Jaya recently moved to New York and is looking forward to focusing on projects that highlight and amplify traditionally underrepresented, diverse, and marginalized voices.READ MORE