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The 53rd New York Film Festival kicked off on Saturday night at Alice Tully Hall with the world premiere of Robert Zemeckis’ “The Walk,” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The Sony Pictures release tells the story of Philippe Petit, the famous high-wire artist who on Aug. 7, 1974, performed for 45 minutes on a tightrope that connected the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.

“He’s such an optimist,” Gordon-Levitt said of his character while briefly stopping to talk to reporters on the red carpet. “He’s such a positive thinker.” Like Petit, 66, who was in attendance, Gordon-Levitt said he isn’t afraid of heights. “My dad’s really scared of heights, though,” he said. The performance is a stretch for the actor, as a leading role that has him speaking in a French accent.

Tom Rothman, the chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Motion Picture Group, said “The Walk” was a four-quadrant movie that could appeal to audiences from ages 8 to 80. “I think that’s the very unique thing about ‘The Walk,'” he said. “It’s truly for everyone. It’s very rare in today’s business — it’s a PG-rated live-action film. The last movie I worked on like that was ‘Life of Pi,'” Rothman said of Ang Lee’s 2012 Oscar contender that grossed more than $600 million worldwide.

Although the opening selection of the NYFF is usually scheduled on a Friday, this year organizers had to postpone it one night to get out of the way of Pope Francis’ visit to New York, explained festival director Kent Jones. The film’s final sequence received a smattering of applause, and Zemeckis shot “The Walk” in RealD 3D. “This has been a passion project for me for many years,” the director said as he introduced his cast onstage. “And everyone on stage stepped up to bring their passion to it, and you can see it on the screen.”

The after-party at Tavern on the Green went until past 1 a.m., where rumors swirled that Beyonce might show up following her performance at the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park. This year’s New York Film Festival lineup includes Danny Boyle’s “Jobs,” starring Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs; Don Cheadle playing Miles Davis in “Miles Ahead;” Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies” starring Tom Hanks; the Todd Haynes love story “Carol,” with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara; and the Sundance darling “Brooklyn” with Saoirse Ronan.

“The Walk” opens on Sept. 30.