Karen Cooper is retiring after 50 years at the Film Forum. Film Forum Director Karen Cooper took over the cinema in the fall of 1972 when it was a 50 seat loft space on the Upper West Side and only open on the weekends. The cinema projected American Independent films not playing in commercial cinemas. Cooper grew the cinema over the past 50 years to a 500 seat, 4-screen, open 365 days a year theater. Once working with a 19,000 a year budget she now oversees a 6 million dollar annual enterprise.
Cooper notes that much has changed since the 1970s, having once kept the theater's mailing list on 3x5 index cards and projected the films (sometimes herself) on a single 16mm machine no bigger than a breadbox. Today Film Forum is a major force in international film exhibition. It has won numerous awards given by: Brandeis University, The New School, The NY Film Critics' Circle, National Board of Review, NY Women in Film and TV, the Municipal Arts Society, and others. Cooper received an honorary doctorate from the American Film Institute in 1995 and was celebrated at the Museum of Modern Art with a program highlighting "40 Years of Documentary Premieres at Film Forum" in 2010.
Karen Cooper's responsibilities as director had her programming the cinema's premieres since 1972. Artistic Director Mike Maggiore joined her in 1996 and in 2018 Sonya Chung became part of the programming team. Cooper counts the New York openings of hundreds of indie narratives, documentaries and animated features - many by debut filmmakers - as her greatest accomplishment.
Sonya Chung who now has 20 years with Film Forum has been named as Director Karen Cooper's successor. Film Forum's board, headed by Gray Coleman (Partner, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP), unanimously voted on the change in leadership this past November. It will take effect on July 1, 2023. Cooper will remain an advisor to Chung, with a focus on programming premieres and fundraising.
Says Coleman, "To say this is a transitional moment would be a vast understatement – for virtually all of its history, Film Forum has been energetically and most ably guided by Karen, not least during the very challenging pandemic period from which we are emerging. My board colleagues and I are extremely grateful for her tenure, and excited that in Sonya we have secured a very talented successor with her own long and productive history with the organization."
Says Cooper: "Running a business, any business, is about solving problems, and more importantly seeing around corners and solving them before they become problems. I have the highest regard for Sonya. She has superb taste in films and impeccable judgment on a wide range of administrative issues, ranging from finance to personnel. Knowing she was ready and willing to become Director gave me the luxury of stepping down at a time when the theater is financially solid, ceding to a woman who is both intellectually astute and ethically grounded."
Says Chung, "I count it both a great honor and great responsibility to bring Film Forum into its next stage. Karen Cooper is an extraordinary leader: she has demonstrated what 50 years of unwavering excellence yields – a rigorously, lovingly curated cultural space that generations of New Yorkers consider indispensable. I am deeply grateful for the board's vote of confidence, Karen's counsel, and the staff's talent and commitment as we work to fortify what makes Film Forum beloved today, and embrace exciting opportunities to evolve going forward."
The Film Forum is located at 209 West Houston Street in NY, 10014. For more info on the theater and its current screenings, go to FilmForum.org