Sunday, September 13, 2020

The New York Film Festival 2020 Edition: Sept 17 - Oct 11 | Virtual Festival Exhibitions

This year, due to the multitudinous factors of the global pandemic, major festivals have created a non-competitive alliance that has allowed them to collaborate and share their programming slates. That means that films like the romantic drama "Ammonite", which was originally scheduled for a Cannes premiere, will now have its first screening at Toronto. This alliance was initially born of Cannes, the world's most prestigious and influential festival, finding that they were not able to host a physical edition. Cannes instead opted to organize events in other festivals in the coming year, what they termed “Cannes hors les murs”. They were also joined by Berlin, Venice, Toronto, New York and other major film festivals to present the free live streaming fundraiser, We Are One: A Global Film Festival in a show of global solidarity. On the other hand, The Venice Film Festival was held in person with certain safety restrictions, their reduced scale model was improbable a success this year. Italy has largely brought coronavirus infections under control with a rigid lockdown and continued vigilance, measures which the festival organizer embraced and enhanced. Opening with both a forceful cultural and political salvo, the Cate Blanchett-led jury consisting of Nicola Lagioia, Joanna Hogg, Veronika Franz, Matt Dillon, Ludivine Sagnier and Christian Petzold, "Venice Became the First Major Film Festival to Return After the Coronavirus Lockdown". At a safe, relaxed festival where big Hollywood films were absent, Jonathan Romney reports for The Guardian, in his "Venice Film Festival 2020 Roundup - Against All the Odds, a Triumph". In which he writes; "The idea of a major film festival happening live seemed almost unimaginable in the time of coronavirus pandemic, but while many festivals went strictly online, and Cannes was cancelled altogether, the Venice team managed to attract an audience to the Lido with a varied and impressive slate of films." These include the year's award winners, many of which will be heading on to the North American festivals to follow.
Navigating this complexity, The Toronto International Film Festival has generated ways to sustain similar enthusiasm in the virtual world and in this year's hybrid model. Between a select number of online Q&A sessions with directors, and both drive-in showings and significantly reduced in-person theater screenings in Toronto, the event will showcase 50 films instead of the 333 it programmed in 2019. As also affirmed by the typically lavish reporting to be found in The Guardian, "‘Nomadland’ and ‘Ammonite’ are Standouts at the first Toronto Film Festival of the Pandemic Era". In a similar mode The New York Film Festival’s unorthodox 58th edition launches next week. This major cultural event based out of Lincoln Center on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, had hoped to preserve some in-theater aspects of the festival. But with New York state officials holding firm on their theater restrictions, that option expired. Subsequently, New York will be joining a chain of North American cultural institutions through which, "Digital and Drive-In, Film Festivals Try to Salvage a Season". Screenings and talks will instead be held either online or at drive-ins in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, with a majority of access offered through Film Society at Lincoln Center's Virtual Cinema. Beyond just the 25 films that make up the Main Slate, which represent 19 countries and feature a number of US documentaries, the Spotlight on directors and works of note, and the Currents sections are also quite strong. Of particular note is the excellence on offer from such 20th century luminaries as Wong Kar-wai, Bela Tarr, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Terence Dixon, Jia Zhang-ke, Jean Vigo, Wojciech Has, and Mohammad Reza Aslani, among others to be found in this year's Revivals section. These films join previously announced titles "Nomadland" from Chloe Zhao, the director of 2017's "The Rider", in another study of contemporary America. Starring Frances McDormand as a woman who loses her Nevada home and joins the multitudes of nomadic people across the continent. Zhoa's film was in stiff competition for the Golden Lion at Venice with Pedro Almodóvar’s free adaptation of Jean Cocteau’s play, "The Human Voice". A film revolving around solo Tilda Swinton, in a Brechtian conceptual twist as a woman pacing a typically lavish Almodóvar set within a deserted sound stage. These are programmed alongside Azazel Jacobs' "French Exit" which serves as the closing night film, and Steve McQueen's "Lovers Rock". The McQueen is joined by two other films from his "Small Axe" anthology in the main slate, "Mangrove" and "Red, White and Blue", with the anthology series itself to premier on BBC later in the fall.
In the way of documentaries, the famously indefatigable Frederick Wiseman gives us the literally-titled, "City Hall", and Sam Pollard's "MLK/FBI" also delivers precisely on what the title suggests. Other more obscure gems are on offer in the form of one drunken and erudite night with Orson Welles and Dennis Hopper, "Hopper/Welles", and mainland Chinese director Jia Zhang-ke's ruminative mapping of his hometown, “Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue”. Increasingly further and few in-between, Sophia Coppola returns with a new vantage into her world populated by mid-life New York bohemia "On the Rocks". Taiwan's Tsai Ming-liang expands his daydream world of "Days" depicted through the wanderings of two men in Bangkok, and South Korea's prolific master of modern malaise, Hong Sang-soo is back with "The Woman Who Ran". Christian Petzold's "Undine" is unlikely to disappoint as he has been on a continuous roll following his Berlin trilogy and last year's "Transit". A pair of unclassifiable documentary works are to be seen in Anja Dornieden and Juan David González Monroy's "Her Name Was Europa", which screens alongside Sergei Loznitsa's ironic mini-portrait of the galas of Paris’s Palais Garnier in the 1950s and 60s. The literati, aristocracy, and ideas of class and social upheaval from the top down, collide in the course of a turn-of-the-20th-century Christmas Eve gathering at an elegant Transylvanian estate in "Malmkrog" from Cristi Puiu. No longer satisfied with essay film, Heinz Emigholz moves ever further away from his documentary origins and into the realms of the uncanny with "The Last City". Which watches as a spiraling series of conversational tête-a-têtes transpiring in five locations around the world. Both Matías Piñeiro Shakespeare-inspired, “Isabella" and Philippe Garrel's "The Salt of Tears" look to be the modus operandi from their respective directors, and new entries in the form of Philippe Lacôte's Ivory Coast-set "Night of the Kings", and Song Fang's "The Calming", look to compel. Another posthumous film from the late, great Raúl Ruiz, completed by his life partner Valeria Sarmiento, "The Tango of the Widower and Its Distorting Mirror" is rescued from obscurity, and the subject, setting and duration of C.W. Winter and Anders Edström's "The Works and Days (of Tayoko Shiojiri in the Shiotani Basin)", suggest it will be equally, yet differently enigmatic.