Scorsese film launches campaign at festival

The surprise New York Film Festival screening of Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” last nightcould yield benefits both for the film and for NYFF itself.

Given the fest’s reputation as a small, exclusive showcase of the year’s movies — the main slate consists of only 25-28 pics per year, with 27 movies on the menu this year — NYFF can serve as a high-tastemaker launch for a fall film, as evidenced by last year’s world preem of “The Social Network.” The buzzed-about addition of “Hugo,” seen in 3D but still in an unfinished cut, served as an early thumbs-up from the famously discerning festival programmers, and could act as an attention-getter for more serious-minded auds who might be tempted to dismiss family-friendly “Hugo” as kiddie fare.

From that angle, the fest showing looks poised to serve as a strategically high-profile opening shot in a fall campaign for awards attention.

The fest, meanwhile, drummed up the interest of Hollywood with a move that seemingly captured more buzz on the West coast than in Gotham. The spontaneous sked addition also helped loosen up the image of a festival that can, to some observers, feel a little stodgy in its unyieldingly rigorous approach to programming. “Hugo” was only the second work-in-progress screening in the festival’s 49-year history.

The fact that “Hugo” is a family film also seems significant for the fest, which this year aimed to create a more all-ages vibe with screenings of kid-friendly pics including animated superhero outing “The 99,” a couple of Hayao Miyazaki pics and Charlie Chaplin silent film “The Gold Rush,” the latter shown with live musical accompaniment.

The bid to expand the demo of the festival, and of fest organizer Film Society of Lincoln Center in general, coincides with the recent opening of the newly completed Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center. Execs at the Film Society hope the Center will underscore the festival’s status as a significant destination for both industryites and general Gotham auds.

With “Hugo,” the current edition of NYFF heads into its final week, with screenings of “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” “The Artist” and closing night offering “The Descendants” before the fest wraps Oct. 16.

Based on Brian Selznick’s illustrated young adult novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” “Hugo” centers on an orphan in 1930s Paris who struggles to reanimate a robot that his recently deceased father had made work. Film stars Johnny Depp, Chloe Grace Moretz, Jude Law, Sacha Baron Cohen and Ben Kingsley, alongside Asa Butterfield as the central orphan.

From production company GK Films, “Hugo” is skedded for a Nov. 23 release from Paramount.

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