Maybe that headline above means nothing to you, but it should: Over the course of 21 years as the MFA's Katharine Stone White Head of Film and Video, Bo Smith has altered the cinema landscape in Boston while ensuring that in a film-exhibition universe stacked against alternative fare the best movies from around the world and in our own backyard have had a place to unspool.
Now he's leaving Boston at the end of October to become the Executive Director of the Denver Film Society, which involves programming the Starz Filmcenter and overseeing the Starz Denver Film Festival. Well, good for him and bonne chance -- two decades is a long time in one institutional gig. It's worth noting, though, how dramatically Bo has shaped quality moviegoing in this city. When he took over the museum's Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Film Program in 1987, the off-Hollywood exhibition circuit was on the ropes, battered by a home-video boom that had killed off the rep houses of the 60s and 70s. It was becoming harder and harder for foreign language and independent films -- not the Sundance genre but real indies -- to find a screen and an audience.
Bo not only provided the screen but reached out to filmmakers, audiences, and diverse communities within the larger community. Under his aegis, the MFA started programming mini-festivals: The Boston Jewish Film Festival, the Boston French Film Festival, the Boston Gay and Lesbian Film/Video Festival, the Boston Festival of Films from Iran. The MFA has also partnered with others to make possible the Boston African Film Festival, the Boston Human Rights Watch Film Festival, the Boston Turkish Film Festival, the Roxbury Film Festival and the Boston Palestine Film Festival.
Whole lotta festivals? Yes, and that's the point -- Bo likes to celebrate movies by serving them up in cuisines you just can't sample anywhere else. Same for local filmmakers; the Museum has offered a venue and support for dozens of feature filmmakers and documentarians in the greater New England area. Then there's the Friends of Film program, which sneak-peeks the more adventurous studio movies for Museum members. All this has made the MFA not just a welcome part of the Boston movie scene but a critical component.
So it's a rich legacy Bo's leaving behind, and I hope whoever fills his shoes has big and agile feet. Between his departure and that of Joe Zina from the Coolidge, it seems the Boston cinema world is entering a new era, one which sees one citywide film festival winding down and another gathering strength. Let's hope the Brattle and the Harvard Film Archive hold steady for a while.
On a personal note, I'd like to note that Bo's one of the more dapper human beings I've had the pleasure to encounter here and that he's also, like your correspondent, fool enough to bicycle everywhere in Boston. I'll miss seeing him wheel up Bloor St during the Toronto Film Festival while all the pasty-faced cineastes look at him like he's crazy. Bo, you know the oxygen's thin in the Mile High city? Better start practicing your sprints.