58th New York Film Fest runs Sept. 17-Oct. 11

Lapacazo Sandoval | 9/17/2020, midnight
There is a saying in the entertainment industry that highlights the resilience of the artist. That saying is “the show ...
Still from Academy Award winner Steve McQueen's "Lover's Rock" BBC

There is a saying in the entertainment industry that highlights the resilience of the artist. That saying is “the show must go on,” and for the 58th New York Film Festival, that’s exactly what’s going to happen from Sept. 17-Oct. 11.

The opening night film is “Lovers Rock” by Academy Award-winning director Steve McQueen. Two other films from McQueen’s Small Axe anthology—“Mangrove” and “Red, White and Blue”—also screen in the Main Slate. The Centerpiece film is “Nomadland” by director Chloé Zhao and the closing night film is “French Exit” by director Azazel Jacobs.

“The disorientation and uncertainty of this tough year had the effect of returning us to core principles,” said Dennis Lim, director of programming for NYFF. “To put it simply, the Main Slate is our collective response to one central question: which films matter to us right now? Movies are neither made nor experienced in a vacuum, and while the works in our program predate the current moment of crisis, it’s striking to me just how many of them resonate with our unsettled present or represent a means of transcending it. It has been a joy and a privilege to work with a brilliant, tireless programming team—the newly composed selection committee and our new team of advisors—and we are truly excited for audiences to discover and discuss these films.”

This year’s Main Slate showcases films from 19 different countries, including new titles from renowned auteurs, exceptional work from directors making their NYFF debuts, and an especially strong slate of documentary features: Gianfranco Rosi’s “Notturno,” an unflinchingly immersive look at the war-ravaged borderlands of Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria, and Lebanon; Frederick Wiseman’s thoughtful exploration behind the scenes of Boston city government in City Hall; indictments of America’s racist past and present in Sam Pollard’s “MLK/FBI” and Garrett Bradley’s “Time”; and varied and intimate portraits of rural life in Victor Kossakovsky’s “Gunda,” Jia Zhangke’s “Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue,” and Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw’s “The Truffle Hunters.” Hong Sangsoo makes his 15th festival appearance with “The Woman Who Ran,” while other returning NYFF filmmakers include Rosi, Jia, Pollard, Christian Petzold, Song Fang, Eugène Green, Cristi Puiu, Matías Piñeiro, Tsai Ming-liang, Philippe Garrel, and Centerpiece director Chloé Zhao. Appearing in the Main Slate for the first time are New Directors/New Films alumni Bradley, Kossakovsky, Chaitanya Tamhane, and Dea Kulumbegashvili; as well as Heidi Ewing, Yulene Olaizola, Closing Night director Azazel Jacobs, and New York African Film Festival alum Philippe Lacôte.

NYFF58 will begin one week earlier than usual in order to expand access to the festival via drive-in screenings. Opening Night is Sept. 17, the Centerpiece screening is Sept. 26, and the Closing Night selection will screen Oct. 10.

Here are some highlights for NYFF58.

“Lovers Rock” by Academy Award-winning director Steve McQueen

This opening night film is a movie of tactile sensuality and levitating joy. “Lovers Rock” finds the always daring Steve McQueen (“Hunger,” “12 Years a Slave”) in an ecstatic yet no less formally bold mode. Produced as part of McQueen’s ambitious, multifaceted Small Axe, an anthology of decades-spanning films that alights on various lives in London’s West Indian community, the intoxicating, 1980-set “Lovers Rock” takes place largely over one night at a house party. While McQueen and co-screenwriter Courttia Newland have constructed their ethereal narrative around the growing attraction between Martha (newcomer Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn) and a brooding stranger (Micheal Ward), the film is equally about the rapture of music, specifically the reggae genre of the title—typified in the film’s swooning centerpiece set to Janet Kay’s euphoric 1979 single “Silly Games”—and the thrill and liberation of bodies in motion, miraculously photographed by Shabier Kirchner. An Amazon Studios release.