Magazine article Variety

Bright Lights, Big Screens in the City

Magazine article Variety

Bright Lights, Big Screens in the City

Article excerpt

For an event that doesn't hand out prizes, host swag suites or foster an acquisitions market, the New York Film Festival remains a remarkably essential event on the movie calendar.

More than half a century after its debut, it serves as a cinephile's caldron of competing ideologies, storytelling traditions and global perspectives, unspooling against the high-art backdrop of Lincoln Center. One more reason it remains especially relevant in industry circles: It is timed to the start of Oscar campaign season.

This year's 55th edition, which runs Sept. 28 to Oct. 15, promises to also be something of a referendum on the nature of cinema, capping off a year of vigorous debate about that topic. From Cannes to SXSW, festivals of all sizes and missions have been grappling with the flow of filmmakers, talent and creative capital from independent film to the episodic realm.

Are series created for such streaming services as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu comparable to feature films? Should buyers, sellers or audiences differentiate between a 90-minute feature and a nine-hour show, if both come from comparable auteurs? In this unsettled climate, New York Film Festival has answered those questions by remaining steadfastly New York, holding firm with a main slate of 25 titles and again mixing them with retrospectives, rare conversations and dashes of virtual reality and spectacle.

"We don't pursue any kind of agenda," says Kent Jones, director of the festival, speaking while biking across the Manhattan Bridge toward the city "We pick the movies that mean the most to us."

This year, on the heels of last year's Netflix opener "13th," all three of the festival's tentpole slots - Opening Night, Centerpiece and Closing Night - are occupied by Amazon Studios titles. Given the company's traditional film roots - head of marketing and distribution Bob Berney came up through arthouse exhibition - and strategic focus on platform theatrical releases a la "Manchester by the Sea," Amazon's strong showing isn't completely shocking.

Jones also insists that the titles - director Richard Linklater's opener, "Last Flag Flying"; Todd Haynes' Centerpiece "Wonderstruck"; and Woody Allen's closer, "Wonder Wheel" - are all richly deserving on their own merits. (Allen's is also noteworthy as it will be the first distributed by Amazon alone as opposed to partnerships it has struck with established players like Lionsgate or Roadside Attractions.) "For me, the question of who is releasing them is not that relevant. …

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