Harry Chotiner – Panelist

Posted on November 5, 2014 by


Harry Chotiner has spent his entire life going to the movies. Born to a couple of movie buffs in West Los Angeles, Chotiner grew up going to movie theaters owned by his grandfather. “It was there from forever,” he says. “I’m pathetically in love with movies.”

After earning a Ph.D. in history and writing for a left-wing magazine, Chotiner decided that his calling wasn’t in history and politics. He left the magazine and by a stroke of luck, got a job reading scripts for Francis Coppola’s company. Currently, he teaches film courses at New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies.

Film, it seems, is in Chotiner’s blood. He loves movies, and, as you’ll read in the Q&A below, he loves to talk about movies. He’s been involved with the Virginia Film Festival for a few years now, introducing films and hosting lively conversations with actors and filmmakers as a panelist. Catch him doing just that after the screenings of Big Stone Gap and 5 to 7 this weekend.

Read more interviews from The Makers of the Virginia Film Festival series »

Harry Chotiner

Harry Chotiner with his granddaughter.

Harry Chotiner with his granddaughter.

Share your story. When did you first become interested in film? 

I became interested in film very early in life. I grew up in West Los Angeles and was around people who were in the industry. My parents loved movies. My dad’s father owned a couple of movie theaters. So, it was there from forever. I’m pathetically in love with movies.

I got into film accidentally. After I got my PhD in history, I worked for a left wing magazine, Socialist Review. But after several years, I burned out of doing left wing politics and didn’t want to teach. So, I went back to my “roots” and begged for a job reading scripts for Francis Coppola’s company. And the story editor there was a lovely woman who gave unqualified me a job. A series of lucky breaks followed.

What is the first movie you remember seeing?

The first movie I can remember seeing is Lady and the Tramp. Not surprisingly, my first dog was named Lady.

What is your favorite movie? (And why?)

My favorite movie is the first two Godfather films. Why? Oy… I could go on forever. Suffice it to say:

  • I’m a guy, and to me they’re the quintessential guy movies.
  • They’re so beautifully crafted – the set design, color scheme, photography, music, editing, acting. Except for the sequence in Sicily, I think they’re perfect.
  • They’re about everything: American capitalism, American crime, the nature of family, the immigrant experience, the nature of manhood, the question of fate and free will (was Michael fated to end up back in the family, etc?).
  • They re-created a whole film genre – the crime film. VERY few people re-create a genre. Tarantino did with Pulp Fiction. George Lucas did with Star Wars. I love those who think outside the box. And Coppola did here.

What drove you to teach film? Do you have any advice for future generations of film professors?

I teach film because I love it. My advice is to work at what you love. Wish I had something to say that’s less banal.

Describe your relationship with the Virginia Film Festival. You’ve been a friend of the festival for around six years now– how did you get involved, and how do you contribute?

I got involved through my best friend – Ron Yerxa – who’s on the [VFF] board of directors. And I basically come here to introduce films and do some conversations with filmmakers. That’s my “job.” But what I most love about this festival are the volunteers and staff who work at the Regal Cinemas. They’re like a little community that’s fun, funny, thoroughly professional, they spoil me and all the other people who come to speak after their movies, and….well….they’re just really delicious human beings.

How many Virginia Film Festivals have you attended?

Good question. No idea how many I’ve been to.

What sets the VFF apart from other film festivals?

I love that it’s both a part of the University [of Virginia] but also a part of the community. It lives on campus and it lives on the mall. And draws from both.

Finish this sentence (feel free to be creative!):  Film is…

Film is… currently being eclipsed by television. Appropriately. TV is so much more creative now than film. There are exceptions of course, but TV is the interesting cultural conversation. It’s going to be awhile, I suspect, before movies recreate their importance in our cultural life. But hope springs eternal…

What films are you excited to see at the Virginia Film Festival this year?

Really eager to see the new Jean Luc Godard film, Fishing Without Nets, Girlhood, All Fall Down (fascinating documentary!), and A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night.

Where do you go for a quick bite in Cville between screenings?

My favorite place is the diner and the other place up the block from the Regal that has great soup and sandwiches [Revolutionary Soup].