The New York Film Festival celebrates its 60th anniversary

In September 1963, the very first New York Film Festival took place at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center, and it counted as a kind of experiment, an early test of whether the kind of serious, arts-leaning festivals that were quickly establishing themselves in Europe could find real buy in the United States. United. The inaugural lineup included Luis Buñuel’s “Exterminating Angel”, Roman Polanski’s debut, “Knife in the Water”, and Yasujirō Ozu’s swan song “An Autumn Afternoon”. According to a report by Film Comment at the time, the inaugural festival sold over 20,000 tickets before a single film was released. Not bad for a first outing.

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As the New York Film Festival approaches its 60th annual, which will run from September 30 to October 30. 16, much has changed, but the essential elements of the institution remain in place six decades later.

The festival still calls Lincoln Center its home base, though it has recently expanded to pop-up screenings in the city’s other four boroughs. It still consists primarily of a carefully curated selection of highlights from past festivals of the year that debuted in New York, though it’s also peppered with several world premieres – Maria Schrader’s “She Said” ( starring Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan as the New York Times reporters who overthrew Harvey Weinstein) and Chinonye Chukwu’s “Till” (starring Danielle Deadwyler as Emmett Till’s mother) will both make their maiden voyage past the audience.

The Fest’s artistic director, Dennis Lim, says he often looks back on NYFF programming from years and decades past, to take note of both “what we showed, and also what we missed, to be honest”, and to remember the philosophical underpinnings of the festival. .

“With a festival like this – even more so than most festivals, because we rely on the whole year in cinema – I see each year’s program as a statement, as an argument,” says Lim. “It’s a summary of the state of the art. We really ask ourselves every year, if our job is to champion cinema as an enduring, important and exciting art form, what films do we select? What films do we present as evidence? And I think this question has been at the heart of the programming process for this festival from the beginning.

Eugene Hernandez, the NYFF festival director recently hired to lead the Sundance Film Festival, echoes many of Lim’s sentiments.

“New York is the capital of film culture in our country and one of the great communities of film culture in the world,” says Hernandez. “And what brings us back to the history of the festival is that this richness of the city even predates our festival. One of the founders of our festival, Amos Vogel, launched [film society] Cinema 16 in the 1940s. So having this specific cinematic audience as part of the larger New York art culture has been a factor for decades, since the 1940s. There’s always been this strong connection here between the artists and the public; it both predates our festival and was actually part of the founding of the festival.

After the 58th NYFF was forced into virtual screenings and drive-in engagements thanks to the pandemic — and the 59th was forced to tread lightly given unpredictable developments in 2021 — this year’s edition could be considered as the festival’s first full return to “normal,” though elements of the past two editions have remained. Most notably, NYFF will host satellite screenings throughout the city, expanding the reach of the festival beyond the confines of the Lincoln Center.

The move brings a number of benefits, the main one reinforcing NYFF’s identity as what Lim calls “a local festival.” Noting that all of the festival’s gala screenings are either directed by New York filmmakers or take place in the city, Lim stresses the importance of maintaining the same serious and adventurous spirit that drove the festival’s early days.

“There’s a big press and industry presence in New York, and obviously we consider that to be an important part of the audience — it’s not like we’re a festival just for the public,” he said. “We have a strong P&I presence precisely because we are in New York. But the local aspect is important. I think it’s the audiences that are not only the most connoisseurs and the most passionate about cinema, but also the most open to discovering new experiences. And we program with that audience in mind.

The festival’s main roster has no shortage of films that made waves from previous 2022 festivals, including Cannes Palme d’Or winner “Triangle of Sadness” (Ruben Östlund) and Grand Prix winner “Stars at Noon” (Claire Denis); Winner of the Berlin Golden Bear “Alcarràs” (Carla Simón); and Sundance Grand Jury winner “All That Breathes,” by Shaunak Sen. As usual, the program is also loaded with veteran NYFF filmmakers, with Todd Field (“Tár”), Pietro Marcello (“Scarlet”), Mia Hansen-Løve (“One Fine Morning”), Cristian Mungiu (“RMN “), Joanna Hogg (“The Eternal Daughter”) and Jafar Panahi (“No Bears”) among those making a comeback.

“It would be dishonest to say we don’t have favorites,” Lim laughs. “I think we do, and I think programmers and audiences do too. But I am especially excited this year by the number of newcomers to the festival. Whether it’s newbie filmmakers or people showing here for the first time, I think there’s a higher percentage than most years.

Of these, Hernandez names people like Davy Chou (“Return to Seoul”), Alice Diop (“Saint Omer”), Charlotte Wells (“Aftersun”) and Huang Ji and Ryuji Otsuka (“Stonewalling”) as new came from particular Note. “There are a lot of filmmakers who might be new to New York audiences, who have one, two or three films in their career, and we’re really excited to be able to give them that kind of platform with their films,” he says. .

Looking back to the festival’s beginnings in the 1960s, it’s hard to imagine that its founders would have predicted how propitious the time would be. The NYFF’s position as an early fall festival, falling just after the Toronto-Telluride-Venice trifecta, means it’s long been seen as a strategic momentum-maker for the Oscars, and this year is no shortage. no films considered Oscar hopefuls, from the opening night film “White Noise” (Noah Baumbach) to come close to “Armageddon Time” (James Gray). Rarely, however, does the festival seem too eager to position itself as a mere stage in the awards campaign, and its strong emphasis on international and independent film – along with the more experimental fare of its current section – helps maintain artistic merit. of the festival. fides intact.

The same goes for his awareness of history. Appropriately for a festival that can boast of its early support for then fledgling filmmakers such as Jean-Luc Godard, John Cassavetes, Martin Scorsese, Hou HsiaoHsien and Krzysztof Kieślowski throughout its history, NYFF takes its revival screenings more seriously than most. The 2022 festival includes rarely screened films such as Glauber Rocha’s “Black God, White Devil”, Jean Eustache’s “The Mother and the Whore” and Cauleen Smith’s “Drylongso”, all presented in new restorations.

“I think it’s important that all festivals not only sum up the moment, but also look back at the history of cinema,” Hernandez says. “And it’s a section that we’ve been thinking a lot about over the last few years: not just to celebrate and rehearse the canon, but to challenge it and expand it.”

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