By William Wolf

NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL'S GALA 50TH   Send This Review to a Friend

I was there at the first New York Film Festival, and I’m happy to say that I am at the 50th, (September 28-October 14, 2012)) as well as having enjoyed the ones between. One can usually expect ennui to set in when an annual event spans so many years. Not so with this institution. This year’s 50th celebration is more expansive than ever, and shows signs of growing further, not contracting, under the auspices of the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

Opening night, September 28, reflected the vitality of filmmaking with the showing of the impressive “The Life of Pi,” a masterly achievement by director Ang Lee, who was present to introduce the film along with his star, Suraj Sharma. No, there wasn’t the “co-starring” tiger on stage, before looking extra menacing in the saga shown in 3-D. (see review).

In addition to enthusiastically welcoming Lee, the crowd had sustained applause for the Film Society’s Program Director Richard Peña, who is retiring after 25 years, and whose yeoman service can be confirmed by the fact that it will take two new appointees to replace him. The festivities continued into the night with a party at the elegant Harvard Club, the venue of celebration for the last few years,

The vitality of the ongoing festival is expressed in the breadth of its programming. There is the “Main Slate” expected assortment of contemporary selections representing global film production, some of which I have already seen and appreciated. There is also a Masterworks section that epitomizes the accomplishments of filmmaking in the half-century during which the annual New York Film Festival has flourished.

Included are such disparate masterworks as “Fellini Satiricon,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Nothing But a Man,” Richard III” with Laurence Olivier, and works calling attention to such directors as John Cassavetes, Abel Ferrara, George Cukor, Erich von Stroheim, Eric Rohmer, Jacques Rivette. Jean Renoir, Jean Vigo, Luis Buñuel, Raoul Walsh and many more.

There are works that reflect on various aspects of filmmaking and filmmakers. There are films presented under the title “Views from the Avant-Garde.” There is a special short film section. Also scheduled are gala tributes to Nicole Kidman and to Richard Peña. (Richard, I salute you too.) During the run of the festival there is much, much more, raising the bar so that individuals wanting to take part are faced with choices, choices, choices.

The scope of this festival is the grandest ever, fitting for a well-earned celebration of the milestone reached. One can’t help but have nostalgia for so many of the important films that were chosen and presented over the years. For me one touchstone is the return of 90-year-old French director Alain Resnais with his “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet,” an ultra sophisticated tribute to theater, actors and the endurance of cinema as an art form.


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