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MIFF Gets the Scoop on Page One: Inside the New York Times

The film will officially open at Claridge Cinemas in Montclair on June 24.

It’s not that people who live in Montclair actually think movie events held here can outshine the glitzy film premieres typically available in New York City, not at all.

That is not to say, however, that there wasn’t more than a glimmer of satisfaction when the Montclair International Film Festival upped the Big Apple with its exclusive screening of  Magnolia Pictures’ documentary, Page One: Inside the New York Times, at the Bellevue Theatre on Monday night.

The event was superbly sweetened by the presence of Montclair residents David Carr and Jonathan Alter who were available for a post-film chat. Carr, a columnist for the New York Times, writes for the business section with his focus on media topics encompassing print, digital technology, film, radio and television. He plays a principal role in the film, which chronicles journalistic life at the grey lady, examines the impact of the digital revolution on what now might be called old-fashioned media, and ponders  the Times’ future.

Alter, who interviewed Carr after the film was shown, writes a weekly column for Bloomberg View and is an analyst and contributing correspondent for NBC News and MSNBC. For 28 years, he worked at Newsweek with a long stint as senior editor. Alter is also an award-winning author. His 2010 book, The Promise, President Obama, Year One, was #4 on the New York Times Nonfiction Bestseller List and was one of the Times’ “Notable Books” of the year.

The documentary, directed, produced and shot by filmmaker Andrew Rossi and co-written by his wife, Kate Novack, was celebrated at the Sundance Film Festival in January. It will open at the Angelica Theater and the Lincoln Center Film Society’s Elinor Bunn Film Center on June 17. The 200 audience members who filled the Bellevue Theatre to capacity Monday evening can happily pocket the train or car fare they might have spent to see Page One in the city on it’s opening night there.

MIFF board member Evie Colbert got the evening started as she graciously made introductions for the event, thanking MIFF volunteers for their help. The lights then dimmed, and the journey into the world that’s given us “all the news that’s fit to print” began.

One of the first scenes in Page One is that of a truck with the Times' logo on it loaded up with newspapers. We then see a close-up of that familiar trademark. Anyone who has been nursed on the Times cannot help feeling a momentary sense of comfort: we are not, hopefully, looking at a symbol of the past… a vehicle filled with so many papers that people want to read. For a few seconds, we think that life is what it always was, that nothing has changed.

The film moves quickly into the present reality. We hear negative comments about major newspapers folding…”the obit columns are filled with the death of the American newspapers.”

As the film unfolds, it becomes apparent that the daily workings of the paper are not quite as important to the filmmakers as commentary on the changing status of traditional media. 

News events are not presented  in the order in which they really occurred. When Carr was asked why, he stated, “I don’t know what was in the filmmaker’s head. I think he wanted to get the larger picture.”

Carr is the star of the film. We can’t take our eyes off his off-beat presence: for much of it, he appears unshaven, dressed casually in slightly rumpled clothing.  His voice has a raspy quality as he espouses his uncensored opinions. His demeanor makes it believable when he reveals that he's a former crack addict and a single parent who has raised two children. In the latter part of the film, he appears neat in semi-corporate attire. We get the point; the film is half over and we no longer need to be convinced that he was once a druggie. The openness with which Carr speaks about himself on screen is endearing and adds a sense of warmth to the hard subject of failing newspapers.

We watch some of the crackerjack reporters on staff: among them are Brian Stetler who was a blogger before he was hired by the paper, Tim Arango who became the Baghdad Bureau Chief, and top financial reporter, Andrew Ross Sorkin.

Through the commentary of media personalities such as New Yorker Magazine Editor-in-Chief David Remnick, investigative journalist Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame and Gawker founder Nick Denton, we gain  additional perspectives on the state of media affairs.

Controversy over the way WikiLeaks operates is covered with input from it’s founder, Julian Assange. The relevance of Twitter is discussed. We see a staff meeting which covers the way the media and networks are reporting events. The challenges of the iPad  to print media are touched upon. The Tribune bankruptcy is explored.

With all the threats to the way things were and aren’t anymore, Carr is positive about the Times’ ability to survive and blend with technology. He is a beacon of hope for the preservation of standards in news reportage.

In the post-film interview, Alter said he thought the film returned some of the lost romance to newspapers. Carr humorously responded, “It’s not ‘The Front Page.' There’s no women in it.” Alter pursued the exchange by asking Carr if the “romance” juxtaposed with the business aspect of what’s going on brings sadness to him. Carr was pleased to say that the paper’s financial position has improved. He said “ the pay wall seems to be gaining traction. It’s a daily struggle but it doesn’t feel (he made an exasperated sigh) as tragic."

Of working with filmmaker Rossi, Carr said, “originally the filmmaker was just about me.” Carr persuaded him not to just focus on him. “There was never a back-up (moment). “It was authentic, not acting.” It was important to Carr that the film didn’t look like a scripted television show. “While he (Rossi) was watching us, we were watching him. He knew what he was after, he was on things in a moment.”

Kudos to the MIFF for making the “Page One” event happen. The film will officially open at Claridge Cinemas in Montclair on June 24.
       

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