×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

New York Film Festival’s 55th Edition Hopes to Make a Strong Case for Cinema

For an event that doesn’t hand out prizes, host swag suites or foster an acquisitions market, the New York Film Festival remains a remarkably essential event on the movie calendar.

More than half a century after its debut, it serves as a cinephile’s cauldron of competing ideologies, storytelling traditions and global perspectives, unspooling against the high-art backdrop of Lincoln Center. One more reason it remains especially relevant in industry circles: It is timed to the start of Oscar campaign season.

This year’s 55th edition, which runs Sept. 28 to Oct. 15, promises to also be something of a referendum on the nature of cinema, capping off a year of vigorous debate about that topic. From Cannes to SXSW, festivals of all sizes and missions have been grappling with the flow of filmmakers, talent and creative capital from independent film to the episodic realm.

Are series created for such streaming services as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu comparable to feature films? Should buyers, sellers or audiences differentiate between a 90-minute feature and a nine-hour show, if both come from comparable auteurs? In this unsettled climate, New York Film Festival has answered those questions by remaining steadfastly New York, holding firm with a main slate of 25 titles and again mixing them with retrospectives, rare conversations and dashes of virtual reality and spectacle.

“We don’t pursue any kind of agenda,” says Kent Jones, director of the festival, speaking while biking across the Manhattan Bridge toward the city. “We pick the movies that mean the most to us.”

This year, on the heels of last year’s Netflix opener “13th,” all three of the festival’s tentpole slots — Opening Night, Centerpiece and Closing Night — are occupied by Amazon Studios titles. Given the company’s traditional film roots — head of marketing and distribution Bob Berney came up through arthouse exhibition — and strategic focus on platform theatrical releases à la “Manchester by the Sea,” Amazon’s strong showing isn’t completely shocking.

Jones also insists that the titles — director Richard Linklater’s opener, “Last Flag Flying”; Todd Haynes’ Centerpiece “Wonderstruck”; and Woody Allen’s closer, “Wonder Wheel” — are all richly deserving on their own merits. (Allen’s is also noteworthy as it will be the first distributed by Amazon alone as opposed to partnerships it has struck with established players like Lionsgate or Roadside Attractions.) “For me, the question of who is releasing them is not that relevant. It’s more about, is the movie good? And the answer is yes. … How movies are disseminated is another topic.”

The Linklater and Allen films are world premieres. “Wonderstruck” launched in Cannes and recently played Telluride. New York often affords distributors with a prime opportunity to fire up what they hope will be months-long campaigns. It doesn’t hurt that major TV networks and international press outlets have easy access to its openings: no shuttles through snow or gondolas through the canal. But it is hardly an automatic ticket to a nom — aside from Ava DuVernay’s “13th,” neither of last year’s tentpole selections, “20th Century Women” and “The Lost City of Z,” became serious Oscar contenders.

Beyond tentpoles, New York will offer North American and U.S. premieres of major fest titles including Lucrecia Martel’s “Zama” and Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected).” As Jones notes, a striking eight titles in the main slate are directed by women.

With nonfiction filmmaking continuing to thrive, the festival also will host several documentary world premieres, including HBO’s “Spielberg,” Netflix’s “Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold” and “No Stone Unturned,” a new work by Alex Gibney. One landmark event, under the heading “Claude Lanzmann’s Four Sisters,” will include world premieres of four of his docs plus an appearance by the filmmaker, who turns 92 in November. The films, ranging from 52 to 89 minutes apiece, are all offshoots of his epic Holocaust exegesis, “Shoah.”

Jones is also revved up about the fest’s Robert Mitchum retrospective and new restorations of silent masterpiece “Pandora’s Box,” which will play with a brand-new orchestral score in a setting that is ideal for such entertainment.

As he sizes up the landscape, Jones is strikingly less apt to gush about the merging of small and large screens, as other decision-makers have been lately prone to do.

“Episodic storytelling is terrific, but it’s really more of a tool,” he says. “There’s good and bad episodic storytelling. … The line tends to be, it’s more involving because there’s more of it” and sheer volume of episodes designed to “keep you hooked.”

Cinema, meanwhile, “is all about precision and compression,” Jones says. “From our perspective, it’s not about sticking up for cinema versus other forms. But we have always wanted to put the focus on filmmakers and that’s what this year’s festival is all about.”

More Film

  • Alfonso Cuarón, Emmanuel Lubezki Discuss the

    Alfonso Cuarón Details 'Roma' Cinematography With 'Gravity' DP Emmanuel Lubezki

    As part of an overall push to bring Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” to awards season voters, Netflix’s “‘Roma’ Experience'” played host to guild and Academy members Sunday in Hollywood. The all-day event featured panels focused on the film’s crafts and an audio-visual installation akin to the streamer’s FYSee initiative for Emmy contenders, featuring costumes and art [...]

  • IFFAM: Erik Matti Hatches Plans for

    IFFAM: Erik Matti Hatches Plans for ‘On The Job’ Franchise

    Filipino director Erik Matti is known for his eclectic body of work that includes “Honor Thy Father” and “Seklusyon.” His 2013 effort, “On The Job” travelled widely and won several awards including two at the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival, and was nominated for an SACD Prize at the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight. Matti is at [...]

  • Joan Chen attends the season premiere

    Joan Chen Talks Diversity in Hollywood, Welcomes #MeToo

    Chinese-American actress, writer and director Joan Chen says that she was flattered when Time magazine described her as the “Elizabeth Taylor of China.” When asked at an in-conversation event in Singapore on Saturday whether she paved the way for Chinese actresses to follow in Hollywood, Chen said, “We never go to work because we want [...]

  • Kyzza Terrazas Joins Garcia Bernal, Diego

    Kyzza Terrazas Joins Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna’s La Corriente del Golfo (EXCLUSIVE)

    BUENOS AIRES — Launching their new production house, La Corriente de Golfo, last April, Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna have tapped Mexican writer-director Kyzza Terrazas as the company’s head of development. The appointment will certainly help build the company appointing an old-rounder capable of overseeing and implementing development, writing and directing, and a longtime [...]

  • IFFAM Actress in Focus: Yao Chen

    IFFAM Actress in Focus: Yao Chen Talks Performing, Producing and Public Pressure

    Macao’s Actress in Focus is a woman who has trained as a boxer, likes British actors, especially Benedict Cumberbatch and Jeremy Irons, and is now setting out her stall as a producer. Yao Chen has built a career over 20 years thanks to TV shows including “My Own Swordsman,” and films including “If You Are [...]

  • Bradley Liew's 'Motel Acacia' Shoots After

    Cautionary Tale, 'Motel Acacia' Under Way After Four Years of Development

    Production has begun on Malaysian director Bradley Liew’s upscale horror film “Motel Acacia.” With a clearly topical message, the film features a hotel bed that eats immigrants. Actor, JC Santos called it: “A cautionary tale of what’s going to happen in the future.” Indonesian star, Nicholas Saputra said the he agreed to the role “because [...]

  • Jon M. ChuUnforgettable Gala, Inside, Los

    'Crazy Rich Asians' Honored at Unforgettable Awards: 'One Movie Every 25 Years is Just Not F—ing Enough'

    Fresh on the heels of its Golden Globe nomination, “Crazy Rich Asians” was the talk of the evening at Kore Asian Media’s 17th annual Unforgettable Awards. Saturday’s event, which celebrates Asian-American trailblazers and their achievements in the entertainment industry, honored a host of Asian actors, directors and influencers, including “Crazy Rich Asians” director Jon M. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content