New York Film Festival Provides a Local Platform for the Years Top Films

After going entirely digital in 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns, the New York Film Festival is returning to its Upper West Side home starting today. The 59th edition of the festival, running from Sept. 24 to Oct. 10, will feature a lineup that includes 65 narrative features and shorts and 29 documentaries. Selected films will play in one of four sections – Main Slate, Spotlight, Currents or Revival.

Like pre-pandemic years, each NYFF film will screen before an audience at various Lincoln Center theaters including Alice Tully Hall and the Walter Reade Theater. New this year will be proof of a Covid-19 vaccination before entering any movie theater.

The world premiere of Joel Coen’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth” will kick off the 17-day event. The black-and-white film from Apple and A24 starring Frances McDormand and Denzel Washington is the latest adaptation of the classic play by William Shakespeare.

“The Tragedy of Macbeth” will debut at Alice Tully Hall as will Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog,” which is this year’s Centerpiece selection, and Pedro Almodóvar’s “Parallel Mothers” – the festival’s closing night film. Both “The Power of the Dog” and “Parallel Mothers’ made their world premieres at the Venice Intl. Film Festival.

After a virtual premiere at Sundance, Rebecca Hall’s “Passing” will finally screen in front of an audience during NYFF. Based on the novel by Nella Larsen, Hall’s “Passing” follows two African-American women, one of whom is passing as white in 1929 Harlem.

“New York is the home of the movie,” says Hall. “So, it feels important that the film has a proper New York moment.”

Another Sundance title coming to NYFF is Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s “Flee.” About a child refugee who leaves his home in Afghanistan to find safety in Denmark, “Flee” also screened at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals and was a Cannes 2020 official selection.

The film’s successful festival circuit has been a “very long, slow run,” says Rasmussen. “But now I feel the momentum is building.”

Several films that premiered at the 2021 Cannes Intl. Film Festival are featured on this year’s NYFF slate include Cannes Palme d’Or winner “Titane,” Nadav Lapid’s “Ahed’s Knee,” Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Memoria” and Joachim Trier’s “The Worst Person in the World.”  Mike Mill’s “C’mon C’mon,” which debuted at Telluride, is also part of this year’s lineup.

“We see ourselves as a local festival,” says Dennis Lim, NYFF director of programming and chair of the main slate selection committee. “A festival that is an important launch pad for the U.S. market and for U.S. critics. Since we are not a premiere festival other than trying to have a nice premiere for our opening night,  it’s totally fine for us to show films that have premiered at other festivals.”

Another Cannes title coming to Alice Tully Hall is Todd Haynes’ first documentary “The Velvet Underground.” About the influential 1960s avant-garde group, “Velvet Underground” is, according to Haynes, a perfect fit for this year’s fest.

“This movie really is a love letter to New York City and to this incredibly fertile period of its creative history and of its artistic history in the mid-sixties,” says Haynes. “It’s unique to find a subject that so demands a broader look at the time and place that it grew out – beyond just the music culture – than The Velvet Underground and its relationship to film and art and the Warhol scene and New York.”

While Sundance and TIFF remain hybrid film festivals offering in-person and virtual screenings, NYFF will not be available online this year.

“Last year we reached people all around the country,” Lim says. “But we are very mindful of this being a different year, a different context and filmmakers and audiences wanting to get back into cinemas. We are supportive of that. We are also mindful of our place within this larger ecosystem. If we are all invested in a healthy future of film exhibition and film festivals in the real world, I think it’s important to move back into the real world.”

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