NYFF: A Digital Celebration of Cinema

With New York Film Festival 58 offering unprecedented accessibility, WSN Film Editor Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer has created a guide to understand the festival’s many titles and lineups.

The New York Film Festival (NYFF) is an annual film festival held every autumn in New York City, presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center. This year, it will kick off with virtual accessibility for all and this guide should be your companion in deciding which film to check out. (Staff Illustration by Deborah Alalade)

As New York Film Festival 58 kicks off with virtual accessibility for all, this guide might aid you in deciding what films are worth checking out. Due to the ongoing effects of the pandemic, NYFF has reworked their model this year to operate mostly online. The festival provides viewers from across the globe the chance to rent a film from anywhere between $15 and $25 and engage in a virtual cinematic experience. Additionally, NYFF 58 will also be hosting a few Drive-In screenings across New York City’s boroughs. Scouring the festival’s four categories — Main Slate, Spotlight, Currents and Revivals — I’ve put together a comprehensive guide of curious gems and vibrant pictures whose tickets have not sold out quite yet.

Main Slate

“Time” by Garrett Bradley

“Time,” directed by Garrett Bradley, follows a woman’s 21-year crusade to release her husband from prison after he receives a 60-year sentence for robbery. Already dubbed a masterpiece by Filmmaker Magazine and receiving warm reviews and ratings from David Ehrlich at Indiewire and David Jenkins at Little White Lies, “Time” is a poignant reflection on the ramifications of judicial verdicts and hope in the face of despair. The film has already been picked up by Amazon, alongside the three episodes of “Small Axe,” Steve McQueen’s new anthology series, that will be premiering as part of the Main Slate as well.

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“Days” by Tsai Ming-Liang

Additionally, filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang, a pioneer in Taiwan’s Second New Wave, will be showcasing his first feature-length narrative in 13 years, “Days,” as part of the Main Slate. Just like in Tsai’s past films, “Days” will feature Lee Kang-sheng playing yet another version of himself experiencing a bout of loneliness. Examining the effects of loneliness and the human need for connection, “Days” finds itself in conversation with the current moment, using slices of life to interrogate the zeitgeist.

“French Exit” by Azazel Jacobs

Last but not least, A24 alum Azazel Jacobs’ “French Exit” will be closing out the festival. Distributed by Sony Picture Classics, “French Exit” is an absurdist adaptation of Patrick deWitt’s novel of the same name starring the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer and Lucas Hedges. The film follows the downfall of a New York socialite trying to forge a new identity with her son in Paris. Having proved himself a brilliant recorder of human moments with “The Lovers,” Jacobs is surely bound to impress once again.

Spotlight

“David Byrne’s American Utopia” by Spike Lee

Directed by none other than NYU’s Artistic Director, Spike Lee’s “David Byrne’s American Utopia” will be playing as part of NYFF’s Spotlight section. In the style of Jonathan Demme’s “Stop Making Sense,” Lee’s theater-film looks to capture the shocking ephemerality of David Byrne’s Broadway Show and should appeal to fans of Lee, Byrne, The Talking Heads and Broadway. Featuring a plethora of songs from Byrne’s repertoire such as “Once in a Lifetime” and “Burning Down the House,” “David Byrne’s American Utopia” acts as a condensation of Byrne’s immense talent as a politically-engaged singer-songwriter who is always mustering new ways of vocalizing his worldly concerns.

“The Human Voice” by Pedro Almodóvar

Pedro Almodóvar’s “The Human Voice” will also be exhibited in Spotlight. With “Pain and Glory” engaging in a successful run at NYFF, it’s only natural Almodóvar’s come back to exhibit his newest 30 minute featurette. Starring Tilda Swinton, the film follows a nameless woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Currents

“The Inheritance” by Ephraim Asili

Currents boasts a selection made up of emerging voices and contemporary concerns. Currents will be showcasing 14 feature length films from around the globe and an eight-part short film program. Among these, you can find films like “The Inheritance,” a drama about Black political philosophy. Directed by Ephraim Asili, “The Inheritance” walks the line between fiction and non-fiction as it manifests political statements on the legacy of Black artists and radicals.

My Mexican Bretzel” by Nuria Giménez

Nuria Giménez’s “My Mexican Bretzel” is a diary film that molds a woman’s  life into narrative as it unfolds. Giménez’s manipulation of found-footage blurs the line between reality and theatricality, offering an innovative manner of approaching the world as an ever-unfurling fiction. As it tracks a couple travelling around the world, “My Mexican Bretzel” interrogates the storytelling conventions in an effort to generate a new cinematic form.

Revivals

“The Hourglass Sanatorium” by Wojciech Has

With Revivals, NYFF 58’s emphasis on playing restored works speaks to their incredible concern for safeguarding the history of cinema and sharing films that are often hard to find. This year’s presentation of Wojciech Has’s “The Hourglass Sanatorium” brings to life a film that was originally by Polish authorities due to its sly critique of their politics. Grappling with the horrors WWII inflicted upon Poland, Has turns to surrealism to make sense of the madness, producing a phantasmagoric picture that still resonates today.

“The Chess Game of the Wind” by Mohammad Reza Aslani

Impossibly hard to find, Iranian masterpiece, “The Chess Game of the Wind,” will be playing as part of this year’s Revivals. Chronicling the downfall of a noble family after their matriarch perishes, “The Chess Game of the Wind” questions the fragility of male egos all the while offering a poetic reflection on the death of aristocracy. The restoration of Aslani’s film represents a grand rediscovery for cinephiles from around the globe, as its beauty is resurrected for new pupils to gaze upon for the first time.

Adapting to the realities of the pandemic, NYFF 58’s virtual staging provides viewers from around the globe who might have been unable to attend the festival in the past the ability to finally engage with its lineup. Their selections represent a ubiquitous collection of important voices from around the world and different eras. If you were considering attending this year’s festival or renting any particular titles online, I hope this guide provides you with a sense of direction.

Email Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer at [email protected]

Correction, Sept. 22: A previous version of this article omitted the names of the directors of “The Inheritance” and “My Mexican Bretzel.” The article has been updated and WSN regrets the error.

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