Blurry cinematic year focuses at New York Film Fest

NEW YORK – A film year of turmoil, delays and twists and turns has at times been difficult to follow. Knowing exactly where and how a new movie premieres has become a sport in its own right. Even for those who follow new films closely, it’s been a sometimes exhilarating, sometimes confusing, half-virtual and half-in-person year of cinema.

But at the 59th New York Film Festival, which begins Friday, an abnormal film year is highlighted. The New York Film Festival, hosted by Film at Lincoln Center, isn’t the sum total of everything worth seeing in 2021, but it’s about as close as most festivals. Over the next two weeks, 32 feature films will hit New York’s main roster, along with add-ons, covers and tributes.

“The festival’s mandate has always been to take stock of the year in cinema,” explains Dennis Lim, director of the festival’s programming. “Besides being a strange year, I think it was also a very strong year.”

The premiere of Joel Coen’s Shakespeare adaptation “The Tragedy of Macbeth”, starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand, kicks off the festival Friday at Alice Tully Hall. The film, which hits theaters through a24 on December 25 and on Apple TV + on January 14, is the festival’s biggest event, adding to the growing revival of the arts in New York City. In recent weeks, on the Lincoln Center campus, the Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Ballet have all returned to their indoor stages. Down the street, the best Broadway shows are back.

After the pandemic forced last year’s New York Film Festival to hold virtual screenings and citywide drive-ins, the annual parade of top international filmmakers and some of the year’s most acclaimed films will return. at Lincoln Center.

“There was this disturbance that occurred. We all come back from it”, explains Eugène Hernandez, director of the festival. “For us, as a festival, we have decided to prioritize the in-person experience.”

While some films, like “The Tragedy of Macbeth” will debut for the first time, the New York Film Festival is a highly curated collection of films that have stood out at other festivals this year. This includes Jane Campion’s gothic western “The Power of the Dog”; Pedro Almodóvar’s tender maternity tale “Parallel mothers”; Joanna Hogg’s exquisite memory piece “The Souvenir Part II”; “Titane”, the explosive winner of the Palme d’Or in Cannes, by French director Julia Ducournau; Norwegian director Joachim Trier’s keen study of “The Worst Person in the World” characters; Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s meditative “Memoria” with Tilda Swinton; “Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn”, winner of the Golden Bear in Berlin by Romanian filmmaker Radu Jude; and Haruki Murakami’s adaptation of Ryusuke Hamaguchi “Drive My Car”.

Part of what sets the New York Film Festival apart is that while there are red carpets and standing ovations, the Upper West Side rally has always put sober thinking above the show. For festival organizers, the debate and conversations that take place around the cinema screens are, in the end, the purpose of the festival.

“We agree that festivals are about the big screen experience. They are about bringing people together,” Lim said. “Last year, I thought going virtual was necessary and an important thing to do. But it’s another time and another climate, and we have to react accordingly.”

Some projections have become unexpectedly timely. Just days after the death of pioneering filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles, a new restoration of his flagship 1971 film “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” will premiere on Sunday to mark its 50th anniversary. Van Peebles’ death on Tuesday at the age of 89 sparked a wave of tributes for the groundbreaking independent filmmaker.

Proof of vaccination will be required for all festival-goers, and there will be no concessions. The biggest hurdle related to COVID-19, Hernandez said, is adjusting travel restrictions for filmmakers and actors. Who can and cannot attend is still changing daily.

The screening will not only take place at Lincoln Center. To help foster a wider resurgence of New York cinema, screenings will also take place at arthouse theaters in Brooklyn, Harlem and the East Village.

But at Lincoln Center, Hernandez said, “It looks like a different place than the one he’s had for a long time.”


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