Who knew that a triathlon spirit lay hidden in the Grand Old Lady of smart Film Festivals? The NYFF turned 51 and has reinvented itself now that its new chief programmer and new chief administrator have taken charge. Last year was the last Festival that Richard Pena programed. His reign had widened the reach of the festival expanding from European filmmakers to a global view with features from the Pacific Rim including China, the Philippines. Japan, and Korea regularly programmed in addition to films from India, the Middle East, and Africa. He left knowing he had been universally acknowledged for a job well done.
In comes the chief programmer ProfessorKent Jones, former editor of the Lincoln Center Film Society’s magazine Film Comment, screenwriter and close friend and confidant of Martin Scorsese. He is greeted by Rose Kuo,executive director imported from LA to take the NYFF into the 21st century. Kuo had worked behind the camera in a variety of roles including producer of the Richard Glatzer camp classic The Fluffer as well as a variety of production credits from assistant editor to camera holder. Her transformation began at the festival’s 50th anniversary where she utilized the three new theatres built in the Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center to house Avant Garde screenings, conferences, meet the filmmakers and free sneaks throughout the year. She is often seen holding court at the Center’s java, chatter and high end snackateria with Indie Wire founder Eugene Hernandez, her NYFF hire, for all things digital and social media.
Jones brought the Festival programing committee back in-house with programmers Dennis Lim, and Marian Masone and Film Comment Editor Gavin Smith, plus the only outside holdover Professor and Film Comment contributor Amy Taubin.
I think everyone went to the Festival gym and started a daily regimen of anabolic powders because suddenly the Festival is a TED version of a cultural three-ring cinematic circus. Perhaps with a friendly “take that” to the Tribeca Film Festival and a wave to the Sundance Film Festival, the triathlon energized NYFF has roared in like a lion. With a made-in-a-film-geeks dream of celluloid heaven, there are enough must see side bars including Avant Garde, Documentaries, Goddard (!), Revivals, Emerging Artists, Gala Tributes (Cate Blanchett and Ralph Fiennes), Critic Academy,Artist mentoring Convergence (panels on the intersection of technology and storytelling), free screenings and talks/meet the artists daily as well as the ticketed HBO Directors conversation. All of this is in addition to the 36 international features in the Mail Slate, the heart and soul of the NYFF.
So here are some tips on Festival navigating:
Do not go to films that will open in NYC in the next few months even if they feature Tom Hanks or Joaquin Phoenix or Shirley MacClaine. Wait and go see instead a film that most likely this will be the only time it plays in NYC like Norte, the End of History. Do go see films that are controversial and might have audience flare up at the Q&A like Claude Lanzmann’s The Last of the Unjust or Strangers by the Lake featuring unsafe, explicit gay sex. Be not afraid of long films like At Berkeley, the Fred Wiseman look at UC Berkeley. Stay for the Q&As and don’t be afraid to ask an intelligent question. Here are some films I have seen and you should not miss. Note: I have picked films that are not the obvious choices Jimmy P: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian with Benicio del Toro, The Last of the Unjust,The Square, Le Weekend,American Promise, Jealousy, A Touch of Sin, The Chase (revival) Try and Get Me (revival) What Now Remind Me, Afternoon of a Faun (Documentaries), Any and all Goddard (Retrospective)
Check out http://www.filmlinc.com/daily online as well http://www.filmlinc.com/nyff2013/pages/nyff51-schedule .