New York Film Fest 2021: Event Returns Live and In-Person With Some Changes

Macbeth Francis McDormand Denzel Washington
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The New York Film Fest opens on September 24, will be key marker in New York City’s long reemergence from COVID-19.

Hunger for Communal Experience

“People are so hungry for communal experiences,” says Eugene Hernandez, the festival’s director. “It’s been heartening to go on Instagram or social media and see people posting pictures from the audience of Broadway shows or concerts. We have this opportunity to be part of bringing culture back to the city.”

The 17-day event will play host to new works from directors like Pedro Almodóvar (“Parallel Mothers”), Joel Coen (“The Tragedy of Macbeth”), and Jane Campion (“The Power of the Dog”), all of which are expected to be contenders in this year’s Oscar race.

But the festival, which went virtual in 2020 as a concession to the pandemic, will look a little different from its pre-COVID form.

Instead of unfolding solely at Lincoln Center, the celebration of film will extend beyond the Upper West Side, with screenings at the East Village’s Anthology Film Archives, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and Harlem’s Maysles Documentary Center.

“It’s part of a goal to form a stronger bond between the festival and the city of New York,” says Hernandez.

There will also be more safety measures. Audiences and filmmakers have to be vaccinated, and they must remain masked throughout screenings.

Fewer filmmakers and stars will be on hand to see their work premiere in Alice Tully Hall because of COVID travel restrictions.

Says Dennis Lim, the festival’s director of programming: “It’s never been the case that we’ve had so many filmmakers who still don’t know if they’re going to get permission to travel. It will be down to the last minute.”

But even a global plague hasn’t stopped artists from making their art. The New York Film Fest, which is produced by Film at Lincoln Center, saw sharp rise in the number of submissions.

“When you look at the festivals that have happened this year, like Venice or Cannes, they have reemerged stronger than ever,” says Lim. “And we’re no different. The quality of films is really extraordinary, and that’s going to play a key role in bringing audiences back.”