New York City’s most prestigious film festival, the New York Film Festival, returns for its 54th edition beginning this Friday with a slew of the most renowned, and highly anticipated, international films any film lover could ask for.

With a Main Slate of award-winning films boasting New York and(filn USA premieres, a Revivals section hosting unmitigated classics, Documentaries that spotlight fascinating people and events, and Talks, video works, and special events that are too good to miss, the Festival is outdoing itself once again.

Of extra-special delight are the Opening Night film 13th, star director Ava DuVernay’s documentary on the “horrors of mass criminalization and the sprawling American prison industry,” and Barry Jenkins’ first feature film since Medicine for Melancholy, the widely lauded drama on a young, Black gay male, Moonlight.  We’ll have reviews for both in the coming days.

Still, with what has turned out to be unofficial themes of self-realization, coupled with films featuring ultra-strong female performances, there’s so much more to see and do, we’ve taken the liberty of highlighting those films and events deemed special to our readers sensibilities (see how we’re looking out for you!).  While many of the films are already sold out, there is a ‘Standby’ line available that often allows you to get in, so don’t despair.  You can find the entire New York Film Festival lineup at:  http://filmlinc.org/nyff

 

13TH
Directed by Ava DuVernay
USA, 2016, 100 min.
World Premiere
Series: MAIN SLATE (Opening Night)

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Screenings and Venues:

Friday, September 30: 6:00, 6:15, *6:30, 9:00, *9:30, *9:45 PM
*tickets still available at:  Alice Tully Hall, Walter Reade Theater, Francesca Beale Theater, & Howard Gilman Theater  – see website for details

The title of Ava DuVernay’s extraordinary and galvanizing documentary refers to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which reads “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.” The progression from that second qualifying clause to the horrors of mass criminalization and the sprawling American prison industry is laid out by DuVernay with bracing lucidity. With a potent mixture of archival footage and testimony from a dazzling array of activists, politicians, historians, and formerly incarcerated women and men, DuVernay creates a work of grand historical synthesis. A Netflix original documentary.

 

MOONLIGHT
Directed by Barry Jenkins
USA, 2016, 110 min.
Series: MAIN SLATE
Screenings and Venues:

Sunday, October 2, 6:15pm at Alice Tully Hall (standby only)

Monday, October 3, 9:00pm at Walter Reade Theater (standby only)

Barry Jenkins more than fulfills the promise of his 2008 romantic two-hander Medicine for Melancholy in this three-part narrative spanning the childhood, adolescence, and adulthood of a gay African-American man who survives Miami’s drug-plagued inner city, finding love in unexpected places and the possibility of change within himself. Moonlight offers a powerful sense of place and a wealth of unpredictable characters, featuring a fantastic ensemble cast including André Holland, Trevante Rhodes, Naomie Harris, and Mahershala Ali—delivering performances filled with inner conflict and aching desires that cut straight to the heart. An A24 release.

We’ll be releasing a full review of Moonlight, in advance of its NYFF screening.

 

Special USA Premiere Presentation

JACKIE
Directed by Pablo Larraín
USA/Chile/France, 2016, 99 min.

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Screenings and Venues:
Thursday, October 13th, 6:00pm at Alice Tully Hall (standby only)

Pablo Larraín’s first English-language film is a bolt from the blue, a fugue-like study of Jackie Kennedy, brilliantly acted by Natalie Portman. Dramatizing events from just before, during, and after JFK’s assassination, this carefully reconstructed, beautifully visualized film is grounded in Jackie’s interactions with her children, her social secretary (Greta Gerwig), LBJ’s special assistant Jack Valenti (Max Casella), her brother-in-law Bobby (Peter Sarsgaard), a priest (John Hurt), a journalist (Billy Crudup), and others. In this emotionally urgent film, from a script by Noah Oppenheim, we feel not only Jackie’s tragic solitude but also her precise awareness that every move she makes carries historical ramifications. A Fox Searchlight release.

To call Pablo Larraín one of the top directors of the 21st century is not giving him enough due.  With films about his native Chile that possess startling portraits of often ordinary seeming people thrust into extra-ordinary situations, Larraín has crafted a set of work that breaks storytelling boundaries, but still intimately watchable.  If you cannot get into see Jackie, check out his other NYFF film Neruda (see below), on the eponymous Chilean poet.

 

NERUDA
Directed by Pablo Larraín
Chile/Argentina/France/Spain, 2016, 107 min.
Spanish and French with English subtitles
Series: MAIN SLATE

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Screenings and Venues:
Wednesday, October 5th, 6:00pm at Alice Tully Hull
Thursday October 6th, 9:00pm at Alice Tully Hall
Pablo Larraín’s exciting, surprising, and colorful new film is not a biopic but, as the director himself puts it, a “Nerudean” portrait of the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s years of flight and exile after his 1948 denunciation of his government’s leadership. Larraín’s heady blend of fact and fancy (the latter embodied in an invented character, straight out of detective fiction, played by Gael García Bernal) is many things at once: a loving, kaleidoscopic recreation of a particular historical moment; a comical cat-and-mouse game; and a pocket epic.

Featuring Luis Gnecco (who Larraín also directed in No, featured at NYFF 50), a dead ringer for the poet and a formidable actor, alongside a terrific cast. Released by The Orchard.

 

I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO
Directed by Raoul Peck
USA/France/Belgium/Switzerland, 2016, 93 min.
Series: Spotlight on Documentary
Q&A’s with Raoul Peck

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Screenings and Venues:
Saturday, October 1st, 4:15pm at Walter Reade Theater (standby only)
Sunday October 2nd, 9:00pm at Francesca Beale Theater (standby only)

Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck has taken the 30 completed pages of James Baldwin’s final, unfinished manuscript, Remember This House, in which the author went about the painful task of remembering his three fallen friends Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, and crafted an elegantly precise and bracing film essay. Peck’s film, about the unholy agglomeration of myths, institutionalized practices both legal and illegal, and displaced white terror that have long perpetuated the tragic state of race in America, is anchored by the presence of Baldwin himself in images and words, read beautifully by Samuel L. Jackson in hushed, burning tones. A Magnolia Pictures release.

I CALLED HIM MORGAN
Directed by Kasper Collin
Sweden/USA, 2016, 91 min.
Series: Spotlight on Documentary
Q&A’s with Kasper Collin

NOTE !!: Must be marked with following credit: Kasper Collin Produktion AB / Courtesy of the Afro-American Newspaper Archives and Research Center

Kasper Collin Produktion AB / Courtesy of the Afro-American Newspaper Archives and Research Center

Screenings and Venues:
Sunday, October 2nd, 6:00pm at Walter Reade Theater
Monday, October 3rd, 8:45pm at Francesca Beale Theater

On the night of February 19, 1972, Helen Morgan walked into the East Village bar Slug’s Saloon with a gun in her handbag. She came to see her common-law husband, the great jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan, whom she had nursed through heroin addiction. They fought, he literally threw her out; then she walked back in and shot him, handed over her gun and waited for the police to arrive. Many years later, Helen was interviewed about her life with the brilliant but erratic musician, and the tapes of that interview are the backbone of this beautifully crafted and deeply affecting film from Kasper Collin, director of the documentary My Name Is Albert Ayler on the avant-garde free jazz saxophonist and composer.

 

TWO TRAINS RUNNIN’
Directed by Sam Pollard
USA, 2016, 80 min.
Series: Spotlight on Documentary
Featuring Common, Guy Clark Jr., Buddy Guy, Lucinda Williams, Dick Waterman
Q&A’s with Sam Pollard, Common, and the film team

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Screenings and Venues:
Thursday, October 13th, 8:45pm at Walter Reade Theater
Friday, October 14th, 9:30pm at Francesca Beale Theater
In the “Freedom Summer” of 1964, hundreds of young people—including James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner—were drawn to the deep South to take part in the Civil Rights movement. At the same moment, two groups of young men (including guitarist John Fahey and Dick Waterman, the great champion of the Blues) made the same trip in search of Blues legends Skip James and Son House. That these two quests ended in the volatile state of Mississippi, whose governor famously referred to integration as “genocide,” is the starting point for Sam Pollard’s inventive, musically and historically rich film.

Any opportunity to see the vision of Sam Pollard, most widely known as an editor on a number of Spike Lee’s films but a master storyteller in his own right, is one that should be taken immediately.

 

MEMORIES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT (Memorias del subdesarrollo)
Directed by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea
Cuba, 1968, 97 min.
Series: REVIVALS

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Screenings and Venues:
Tuesday, October 11th, 6:15pm at Bruno Walter Auditorium

When Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s 1968 film was finally released here in 1973, it startled film critics and casual moviegoers alike. No one was expecting such a film out of Castro’s Cuba: a sharp, funny, pro-revolutionary period piece (the action is set in 1961, right after the Bay of Pigs) with a disaffected intellectual hero (Sergio Corrieri) who, as Vincent Canby wrote, “moves through Havana as if he were a scuba diver exploring the ruins of a civilization he abhorred but cannot bear to leave.” The English critic Derek Malcolm wrote that  Memories of Underdevelopment is “one of the best films ever made about the skeptical individual’s place in the march of history.”

Derek Malcolm is more than correct on this.  A stellar achievement in cinema, Alea’s film after his affecting 1966 film Death of a Bureaucrat, is a must-see for any interested in Latin American cinema, but for all interested in crafting cinema on a personal, political, and even slightly activist level.  This release is made possible by the Martin Scorsese-led World Cinema Project.

A presentation by the Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC), Les Films du Camélia, and the Cineteca di Bologna. Restored by the Cineteca di Bologna/L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory and financed by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project.

 

THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS
Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo
Italy/Algeria, 1966, 120 min.
with English subtitles
Series: REVIVALS

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Screenings and Venues:
Saturday, October 1st, 7:30pm at Francesca Beale Theater
Gillo Pontecorvo’s account of the popular uprising that led to Algerian independence from the French took “documentary realism” to a new level, electrifying and polarizing audiences throughout the world. Pontecorvo created a de-centralized structure in which the events themselves took center stage, cast the film almost entirely with non-actors, and filmed in grainy black-and-white to create a heightened “you are there” immediacy. Banned in France, embraced by the Black Panthers, and studied by the Pentagon following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, The Battle of Algiers, based on the book “Souvenirs de la bataille d’Alger” by Saadi Yacef (who also plays a character based on himself), returns in a new 4K restoration. A Rialto Pictures release.

We’ve written about this landmark film on Bold As Love in 2013, so the opportunity to see this film on the big screen is a can’t miss.

Restored by Cineteca di Bologna and Istituto Luce – Cinecittà at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory, in collaboration with Surf Film, Casbah Entertainment Inc., and CultFilms.

 

THE B-SIDE: ELSA DORFMAN’S PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY
Directed by Errol Morris
USA, 2016, 76 min.
Series: Spotlight on Documentary
Q&A’s with Errol Morris and Elsa Dorfman

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Screenings and Venues:
Sunday, October 9th, 6:00pm at Walter Reade Theater
Monday, October 10th, 9:15pm at Bruno Walter Auditorium

The new film from award-winning documentarian Errol Morris (A Brief History of Time [1991], The Fog of War [2003]) follows a simple visit to a simple looking woman who has led an extraordinary life.  Morris travels to the Cambridge, Massachusetts studio of his friend, the 20×24 Polaroid portrait photographer Elsa Dorfman, who specifies on her website that she likes her subjects “to wear clothes (and to bring toys, skis, books, tennis racquets, musical instruments, and particularly pets…).”  This self-deprecating, charming, and talented woman, digs through fifty-plus years of her photography – from paid portraits, to commissioned works, to candid photos of beat poets and friends (most notably Allen Ginsberg) –  and tells her life’s journey through her work.  Intimate and historical, The B-Side is a pure delight.

 

AQUARIUS
Directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho
Brazil/France, 2016, 142 min.
Portuguese with English subtitles
US Premiere
Series: MAIN SLATE
Q&A’s with Kleber Mendonça Filho & Sônia Braga

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Screenings and Venues:
Sunday, October 9th, 8:30pm at Alice Tully Hall
Tuesday, October 11th, 6:30pm at Francesca Beale Theater
A highlight of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Kleber Mendonça Filho’s follow-up to his acclaimed Neighboring Sounds revolves around the leisurely days of a 65-year-old widow, transcendently played by the great Brazilian actress Sônia Braga (Kiss of the Spider Woman, 1985; upcoming Luke Cage television series). Clara is a retired music critic and the only remaining resident of the titular apartment building in Recife. Trouble starts when an ambitious real estate promoter who has bought up all of Aquarius’s other units comes knocking on Clara’s door. She has no intention of leaving, and a protracted struggle ensues. Braga’s transfixing, multilayered performance and the film’s deliberate pacing and stylistic flourishes yield a sophisticated, political, and humane work. A Vitagraph release.

 

THE REHEARSAL
Directed by Alison Maclean
New Zealand, 2016, 75 min.
U.S. Premiere
Q&As with Alison Maclean and select cast

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Screenings and Venues:
Wednesday, October 5th, 9:00pm at Alice Tully Hall
Thursday, October 6th, 6:15pm at Bruno Walter Auditorium

Alison Maclean (Jesus’ Son) returns to her New Zealand filmmaking roots with a multilayered coming-of-age story about a young actor (James Rolleston) searching for the truth of a character he’s playing onstage and the resulting moral dilemma in his personal life. Set largely in a drama school, featuring Kerry Fox as a diva-like teacher who tries to shape her student’s raw talent, The Rehearsal, adapted from the novel by Eleanor Catton, demystifies actors and acting in order to reveal the moments where craft becomes art. The same happens with Maclean’s understated but penetrating filmmaking. Her concentration on the quotidian yields a finale that borders on the sublime.

Also worth checking out is the newly restored Edward Yang drama TAIPEI STORY (1985), the free to attend HBO Directors Dialogues featuring Paul Verhoeven, whose film Elle (a huge departure of his past work like Total Recall and Robocop, plays at this year’s Festival), and documentaries THE CINEMA TRAVELLERS on two Indian film showman who travel to show films on makeshift screens and the timely HISSEIN HABRE, A CHADIAN TRAGEDY by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, director of the 2010 film festival hit A Screaming Man.

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