Fallon Young is thrilled about her opportunity to fill the big shoes left by Jolene Pinder.
Young, speaking last week during her first day as executive director of the New Orleans Film Society, says she’s ready for the work ahead.
“The staff is incredibly talented, and I’m excited about getting to know them better,” she said. “I am really impressed with the organization’s transition plan. They’ve welcomed me, and I have all of the tools I need.”
During Pinder’s six years as the film society’s executive director, audience numbers for the nonprofit organization’s signature event, the New Orleans Film Festival, grew from 8,500 to 20,000. So did film submissions. In 2016, the festival received 3,800 entries from 115 countries.
The New Orleans Film Festival, now in its 27th year, also became an Oscar-qualifying event for short films in the documentary, live-action and animated categories.
Young, 33, comes to the New Orleans Film Society from the SOMArts Cultural Center in San Francisco. She served as SOMArts’ interim executive director for 14 months after four years as its director of communications and community engagement.
The New Orleans Film Society, in addition to its annual fall film festival, presents the French Film Festival in early summer and screenings throughout the year.
Other film society programs include the Emerging Voices Mentorship Program, launched in 2014 with a grant from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; the Create Louisiana Filmmakers Grant Program, a partnership with the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities and Deep South Studios; and Cinema Classroom, a program for students interested in film careers.
Following Young’s community engagement work at SOMArts, she wants to increase the New Orleans community’s involvement with the film society and its events.
“A lot of tourism happens around the film festival,” Young said. “But I want people who live and work here to feel like the festival is theirs, and that it’s something they can be proud of.”
Before the film society adds new programming, Young said, she wants to strengthen the organization’s infrastructure. Doing so can help sustain the growth Pinder led, she said.
Young is especially enthusiastic about the film society’s Emerging Voices program.
“I love that the film society is taking a lead in supporting the indigenous filmmaker community here,” she said.
A native of East Texas, Young spent summers with her grandparents in Eunice while she was growing up. Until this year, she knew more about southwestern Louisiana’s Cajun Mardi Gras than Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
“My aunts and cousins are all Comeauxs,” she said,
Young graduated from the University of Texas with an English degree in 2005. She moved to San Francisco in 2007. Her post-college work includes positions at Apple and the handbag company The Sak. She’s also an artist who creates installations. Passion for the arts inspired her to become an arts administrator, she said.
An internship with the San Francisco Arts Commission helped Young learn about the Bay Area’s arts landscape. The internship also introduced her to film as fine art. Although SOMArts doesn’t present a film series, the center screened many films as well as new media and video art.
“I’ve also thought of filmmaking as a powerful storytelling tool,” she said. “And right now, it’s important to me that well-supported organizations can help artistic voices tell stories about identity and the world we live in. It’s wonderful that we can come together and share perspectives. A film festival is a place where that happens. I’m excited about that.”
Alex Glaser, New Orleans Film Society board president, said Young’s selection to be executive director came down to experience, fundraising, temperament and dedication to the arts.
“She checked all of the boxes for us,” Glaser said. “Also, the commitment she showed to her previous nonprofit organization, that was the most impressive thing about her.”
Despite having bought a house in New Orleans, Young delayed her move from San Francisco to be SOMArts’ interim executive director while the organization searched for a permanent leader.
“I love SOMArts and wanted to ensure a smooth transition,” she said.
Young finally moved to New Orleans in August. She attended her first New Orleans Film Festival in October.
“The dialogue that surrounded the films impressed me,” she said. “I heard strangers talking with one another about what they’d just seen. That’s the greatest hope for an arts presenter: that your audience leaves ready to socialize and discuss what they’ve experienced.”