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Arthouse fare to rule N.Y. festival

Event designed for easier public access

This year’s New York Film Festival sports a revamped venue, an array of arty films seen at other fests and several changes designed to make the event easier for the public to access.

But in a year that has seen major cost-cutting at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, as well as a new topper in former studio exec Mara Manus, the fest has several challenges ahead.

The goal was to “make the festival accessible, but that was never, ever applied to the programming,” said Richard Pena, director of programming for the Film Society of Lincoln Center (which runs the fest) and the chair of the selection committee. “We feel that there’s a far larger audience for these films than people think.”

This year’s menu consists mostly of challenging fare that has already made the festival rounds. The fest, which open Friday and runs through Oct. 11, opens with Alain Resnais’ “Wild Grass” and closes with Pedro Almodovar’s “Broken Embraces.” Lee Daniels’ Toronto and Sundance prize winner “Precious: Based on the novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” is the centerpiece pic. Other selections include Lars von Trier’s polarizing “Antichrist” and Todd Solondz’s “Life During Wartime.”

In recent years, so many mainstream American movies crept onto the slate that diehard festgoers accused Pena of kowtowing to Hollywood. But there’s not a “No Country for Old Men” in sight this year, so artfilm enthusiasts have cause to rejoice.

The fest’s 26 features will unspool at the Walter Reade Theater and the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse as usual, but for the first time in a while, event will utilize the Alice Tully Hall, back in state-of-the-art shape after a 22-month, $159 million refurbishment.

The expansions aren’t finished, either: By 2011, the new Film Center will be ready for use, adding two more screens and areas for video and installations.

While the Film Society of Lincoln Center has new facilities to work with, the recession-hit fest is working with fewer staff members and facing the need to generate cash.

One of the most visible signs of cost-cutting was moving the opening night shindig from Tavern on the Green to the lobby of the Tully.The Tavern party had become “enormously expensive,” Pena observed, but may return in the future.

Meanwhile, the fest’s mission is to get the movies out to everyday New Yorkers. Fest screenings will have more options for walk-in viewers, keeping back 50 tickets until a few hours before showtime. The fest has also done away with its subscription model — in the past, auds bought passes to all the films but attended only a few, leaving screenings full of paid-for but empty seats.

Pre-fest events have already kicked into gear: Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story” unspooled Monday as a pre-festival premiere, while Oliver Stone pro-Hugo Chavez docu “South of the Border” screens Wednesday. After the fest ends, the Film Society of Lincoln Center will jump into the couture-and-canapes screening biz dominated by event planners like Andrew Saffir and Peggy Siegal. Pena said the society will program two or three premieres this year at the Tully.