Mingling and cinema magic at the 56th New York Film Festival

Emma Stone in NYFF’s opening night selection, “The Favorite.” | Photo by Yorgos Lanthimos

BY RANIA RICHARDSON | Does your idea of going to the movies involve lounging in pajamas? Even if you’re accustomed to seeing the latest offerings from the comforts of home, there are plenty of reasons to get off the couch and attend the city’s quintessential cinema event. The 56th New York Film Festival (NYFF) kicks off on Sept. 28 with “The Favourite” by eccentric filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos, starring Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone.

The closing night’s film, Oct. 14’s “At Eternity’s Gate” by Julian Schnabel, and centerpiece selection, “Roma” by Alfonso Cuarón, will share the spotlight with new work by the Coen brothers, Barry Jenkins, Claire Denis, Jean-Luc Godard, Jia Zhangke, and more.

Presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center (FSLC; filmlinc.org), the NYFF offers a highly curated selection of films and programs that mark the best in world cinema. Over the course of this 17-day event, moviegoers will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in a lineup that includes documentaries, shorts, virtual reality, experimental work, revivals, and director discussions.

Alice Tully Hall and neighboring Lincoln Center theaters will be a hive of excitement for those catching up with their favorite auteurs and embracing new talent at the must-attend gathering of cineastes who readily share comments and opinions.

You can’t get this kind of camaraderie on your sofa, and the big screen viewing experience could not be better. Sharp images in vivid color, in ideal size and ratio, create an optimal environment to appreciate the art.

This year’s main slate is comprised of 30 films from 22 countries. Unfortunately, there are no world premiere titles. A selection committee that includes NYFF director Kent Jones and FSLC programmers Dennis Lim and Florence Almozini culled many of the selections from international festivals, from Cannes to Sundance.

Described as “zany,” “The Favourite” continues a streak of quirky dark comedies by Lanthimos, whose “Dogtooth” ushered in a movement known as the “Greek weird wave.” Set in the royal court of 18th century England among feuding aristocrats, the new English-language feature focuses on its female characters.

“At Eternity’s Gate” continues artist Schnabel’s interest in filming the lives of creatives that started with “Basquiat” in 1996. Here, he explores the last days of Vincent van Gogh, with Willem Dafoe playing the painter.

“Roma,” a semi-biographical film, chronicles a year in the life of a Mexican upper middle class family in the 1970s, with a focus on the family’s indigenous nanny. Director Cuarón will participate in a conversation to discuss his career, including the erotic road movie, “Y Tu Mamá También” that was a hit at the 2001 NYFF.

“Too Late to Die Young” is the latest from Dominga Sotomayor. | Photo by Dominga Sotomayor

“Too Late to Die Young” is another semi-biographical film, this time set in a rural Chilean community in 1990. Filmmaker Dominga Sotomayor is one of only four female filmmakers in the main slate, along with Tamara Jenkins who follows a middle-aged couple in their attempt to have a child in “Private Life,” Claire Denis with sci-fi “High Life,” and Alice Rohrwacher with magic-realist “Happy as Lazzaro.”

Sotomayor and Jenkins are making their NYFF debut, a group that comprises one third of the lineup, including actor Paul Dano, with “Wildlife,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan struggling in 1960s Montana.

To expand the community for the NYFF, “If Beale Street Could Talk” the follow-up film to Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning “Moonlight,” will open at the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem. Adapted from James Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name, the Harlem-based tale follows a pregnant woman scrambling to prove that her fiancé is innocent of a crime he did not commit.

“Can we call it the most important film festival in the country?” asked independent distributor Ryan Krivoshey, in a statement for this newspaper. “I think that’s a fair assessment. No other festival accords the same kind of recognition and awareness.” The veteran film executive’s three-year-old outfit, Grasshopper Film, has a noteworthy number of titles in the lineup for a new distribution company: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s enigmatic romance, “Asako I & II” and Ulrich Köhler’s dystopian “In My Room,” in the main slate, as well as two documentary features.

There will be a retrospective tribute to renowned art-film exhibitor and distributor Dan Talbot, who ran the now-shuttered Lincoln Plaza Cinemas. Heralding one of the most influential figures in the world for foreign and American independent film, the NYFF will screen beloved classics that “carry the DNA of Talbot’s sensibility” according to Jones, such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “The Marriage of Maria Braun” and Louis Malle’s “My Dinner with Andre.” Talbot died in December at the age of 91.

Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s enigmatic romance, “Asako I & II.” | Photo (c) 2018 Netemo Sametemo Film Partners Comme Des Cinemas

As usual, the NYFF has cherry-picked titles from the most important film festival in the world, Cannes, including the winner of the Palm d’Or, “Shoplifters,” about an impoverished family in Tokyo, by Hirokazu Kore-eda.

Earlier this year, Netflix withdrew its titles from Cannes after the festival imposed a rule that bans films without theatrical distribution from its competitions. The NYFF, which is a non-competitive festival, embraces quality film from all sources, including the powerhouse streaming company.

“More and more people are watching movies at home, and they’re streaming them,” said NYFF’s Jones, in a statement to this publication. “For me and my colleagues, the filmmaker always comes first. When we invited ‘13th’ as opening night in 2016, we weren’t thinking of it as a Netflix title first, but as an Ava DuVernay film. In this year’s lineup, the same goes for ‘Roma’ — it’s an Alfonso Cuarón film. ‘Happy as Lazzaro’ — an Alice Rohrwacher film. ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’— a Joel and Ethan Coen film.”

Netflix is supporting filmmakers “in their need to make the films they want to make in the way that they want to make them,” Jones said, emphasizing that artistry is not compromised, even if the ultimate destination is the small screen.

Parallel to the main slate is a robust program of nonfiction films. Among the personalities portrayed are Steve Bannon, Roger Ailes, Kurt Waldheim, Bill Cunningham, and Maria Callas. In a local feature, Ron Mann’s “Carmine Street Guitars” follows Rick Kelly as he builds new instruments out of discarded timber from the likes of McSorley’s Old Ale House and the Chelsea Hotel.

Special events include Orson Welles’ Netflix release, “The Other Side of the Wind,” a newly completed film that had been in limbo for decades. The story follows an aging Hollywood director, played by John Huston, in his attempt to pull off a comeback. “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead,” a companion documentary by Morgan Neville, details the making of “The Other Side of the Wind” in an account described as “even more epic” than its subject matter.

Ron Mann’s “Carmine Street Guitars” follows Rick Kelly (left) as he builds new instruments out of discarded timber. At right, Cindy Hulej. Photo courtesy of Sphinx Productions


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