New York Film Fest 2020: “Reimagined” Virtual Event

New York Film Fest: “Reimagined” Virtual Event


'Lovers Rock and Red, White and Blue,' both from director Steve McQueen; Sofia Coppola’s 'On the Rocks'

(From left) ‘Lovers Rock and Red, White and Blue,’ both from director Steve McQueen; Sofia Coppola’s ‘On the Rocks’

The coronavirus pandemic has shaken up long-standing traditions. The New York Film Fest, while still hosted by the Film at Lincoln Center, has ventured beyond its Upper West Side roots into new boroughs and has launched an online viewing platform for on-demand screenings. “Our fest is 58 years old, but in many ways, this feels like year one,” says NYFF director Eugene Hernandez. “We have an exceptional team that has reimagined this event from the ground up.”


Instead of going entirely digital, NYFF has embraced the drive-in revival and is offering screenings in Brooklyn and Queens in partnership with Rooftop Films.

“The big-screen experience is important, and I think the communal experience is important,” says festival programming director Dennis Lim. “There is some version of that you can capture with drive-in screenings.” If all goes well, drive-ins could remain part of the program even after the pandemic ends because, Hernandez says, the presence in other boroughs helps the event “connect more deeply with our city and embrace being New York’s film festival.”


No festival in 2020 would be possible without digital screenings. NYFF’s offerings, which also include a free series of live talks on Zoom, have varying windows of time during which films can be seen. They range from a few hours to a few days. “For opening night there is a sense of an event that we want to preserve,” says Lim, explaining the four-hour window for Lovers Rock. “The majority of the lineup does give people a five-day widow.”

Steve McQueen
Michael Kovac/Getty Images
Steve McQueen


It has been decades since a single director has brought three films to one NYFF, as Steve McQueen has done this year with Lovers RockMangrove and Red, White and Blue. (Jean-Luc Godard did it twice, in 1965 and 1967.) “Even though they’re set in London several decades ago, they really resonate with the present,” says Lim, noting that McQueen has dedicated the features to George Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis police in May. “We watched these films as protests against racism and police brutality were unfolding. We asked ourselves, ‘What does it mean for Black lives to matter onscreen?’ and these films answer that question in a profound way.”


When Sofia Coppola and Bill Murray work together, award nominations follow. Critical darling Lost in Translation won multiple trophies for best screenplay, including an Oscar in 2004, and was nominated for best picture — and even their 2015 musical special A Very Murray Christmas picked up guild and Emmy nominations. It’s no surprise that their latest collaboration, On the Rocks — a father-daughter feature also starring Rashida Jones — is expected to be a contender this season.

Michelle Pfeiffer and Lucas Hedges in 'French Exit.'
Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Michelle Pfeiffer and Lucas Hedges in ‘French Exit.’


This year’s festival closes with French Exit, a surreal comedy starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Lucas Hedges from director Azazel Jacobs and writer Patrick DeWitt.

The film centers on a widow (Pfeiffer) who moves to Paris with her son (Hedges) and cat/reincarnated husband.