By William Wolf


The 53rd New York Film Festival opened with a guaranteed crowd pleaser, “The Walk,” director Robert Zemeckis’s 3-D drama recreating the sensational 1974 wire walk between the bygone World Trade Center’s Twin Towers by Philippe Petit. Even though we know that Petit made it, the film is a nail-biter as Zemeckis uses terrific special effects to make us feel we were on that wire along with the daredevil bent on proving he could conquer such a sensational challenge.

Petit was in the audience at Alice Tully Hall and received an ovation when introduced before the film, and then another ovation afterward, as did Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who brilliantly plays him. Sometimes opening night films have decidedly mixed reactions, but this one seemed to be a clear winner.

Ann Tenenbaum, Chairman of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which stages the annual Festival, in addition to doing her customary thank you compliments to sponsors and organizers, alluded to the change of the Festival’s opening night for the first time as the result of the pope’s visit to New York. (The opening was moved to Saturday night, September 26 instead of the 25th.)

Importantly, Tenenbaum pointed to he underlying layer of this film, the setting involving the Trade Towers and the significance to New York. Indeed, the repeated shots of the Trade Towers standing majestically before the horror that felled them summons deep feelings about this chapter in the city’s history even as we get caught up in the drama. In a sense, in addition to celebrating Petit’s feat, the film implicitly honors the memory of the towers and all those who died in the terrorist attack.

Festival Director Kent Jones amusingly told about the shock from a call received about the need to change the date as a result of the pope’s conflicting visit, and that of course, it had to be done. He introduced director Zemeckis, who made the point that a movie is a collaboration of efforts and “a lot of directors forget this.” Zemeckis introduced assorted participants, including cast members, among them Gordon-Levitt.

After the film, a crowd strolled to the Festival’s festive opening night party at the Tavern on the Green, where drinks flowed, ample food was served and friends mingled. Petit was there too and especially popular as people gathered around him. I had the chance to ask him whether, as in the film, it was true that he kept walking back and forth on the wire.

“Oh yes,” he said affably. “It was what I did.” The broad smile he flashed was as if he were newly proud of the accomplishment all those years ago. And were the police there waiting as in the film? “Yes, they were,” he affirmed.

This year’s Festival, which continues through October 11, is more ambitious than ever, with some 70 films being shown among the various categories. There are the Main Slate, Special Events, Convergence (offering a variety of interactive experiences, panels and special presentations), Revivals, Spotlight on Documentary, Retrospective, Projections (film and video work that expands upon ideas of what the moving image can do an be) and Talks.

There’s more than enough to keep film enthusiasts very busy during this 53rd session of one of New York’s major cultural events. Posted Sept 27, 2015.


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