By William Wolf

THOUGHTS ON THE NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL (2008)  Send This Review to a Friend

Having attended each New York Film Festival since its beginning, I remain impressed with its dedication to finding and showcasing outstanding cinema and for maintaining its prestigious reputation. The Festival is up against a particular problem, apart from getting the films desired. What can a festival do in a city that is a “festival” all year round?

By contrast, for example, the Toronto International Film Festival shows some 350 films from around the world within a 10-day period. Film fans there try to choose some of the more esoteric entries on the theory that they may not get commercial release. The public is not seeking the big films that will open in Toronto theaters. Toronto doesn’t have the all-year opportunities that New York has.

Even though New York has lost some of its art houses, the available variety still offers more than most people can handle. For example, the Film Society of Lincoln Center operates the Walter Reade Theater, which shows important assorted programs throughout any given year. A look at the 2009 schedule shows a Dance on Camera series, the New York Jewish Festival, the annual Rendez-vous with French Cinema, the annual New Directors/New Films series presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art, Open Roads: New Italian Cinema, and the Human Rights Watch Festvial. And that is only through June.

There is the Museum of Modern Art’s regular film program, and there are such key theaters as the Angelica and the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, which offer art films on a consistent basis. Various groups also have special film series, including at the city’s universities.

In such an environment, the New York Film Festival has followed the right approach of choosing quality over quantity--a select number of films and building programs in connection with them by having the stars and directors show up whenever possible for Q and A sessions. The result is an eclectic sample of what is around in any given year, and over time the Festival has made special efforts to reflect work in burgeoning parts of the cinema world. Asia and Africa, for example, have become increasing sources for new films to be shown.

I have already written about “The Wrestler,” “The Changeling,” “The Class,” “Che” “Happy-go-Lucky” and the various French Films that have made an impact. But there were numerous others that are worthy, such as “Hunger,” a candid look at Bobby Sands and his fatal hunger strike in the battle between the Irish and the British.

A shattering film experience is the animated “Waltz with Bashir,” an effort to come to terms with the slaughter of civilians during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon by the Israelis. From Kazakhstan came “Tulpan.” Japan was represented by “Tokyo Sonata.” From Portugal came “The Northern Land,” from the Philippines “Serbis.” Korean cinema yielded “Night and Day,” Mexico “I’m Gonna Explode.” Italy “Gomorrah,” Poland “Four Nights with Anna,” Spain “Bullet in the Head,” China “Ashes of Time Redux.” In addition, there were retrospective showings and panels, with important directors turning up to discuss their work.

On occasion a film that arrives with no distributor may find one. But the New York Film Festival has never been known as a marketplace. It has been an annual ritual that usually sells out quickly to New Yorkers anxious to be in on the latest chosen by the Festival’s selection committee.

This year was the 46th annual New York Film Festival, and it shows no signs of flagging.


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