Friday, September 30, 2016

NYFF54: Aside from Ava DuVernay's Exceedingly Relevant and Potent 'The 13th', Plus a Few Other Titles, the Buzz Seems Muted

Director Ava DuVernay answers questions following the press screening of "The 13th." The film opens the 54th New York Film Festival with four screenings this evening. Photo by VW.


an unusual year at the 54th New York Film Festival.

Normally, during the nearly monthlong press screenings, one can get an inkling about whether a bag of treats in the form of fine/interesting/exciting/ cinema and other works are in store, or not. This year, not so. NYFF54 opens today (30 Sept.) and run through 16 Oct.

The biggest story has been around Ava DuVernay's brilliant, illuminating, damning and extravagantly contextualized documentary, "The 13th,which has four screenings this evening. It has been heavily promoted as the first nonfiction work to open NYFF. "The Lost City of Z" closes out the festival.

"The 13th" takes its title from the Thirteenth Amendment and recollects the political campaign strategies, public policies and laws – dating to post-Civil War days – that have informed high incarceration rates in the United States, particularly of black men.

Elsewhere, there is hardly a murmur among the press corps, though enthusiasm has been expressed for "Neruda," "Moonlight," and “Manchester by the Sea.” They concern Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, the abbreviated efforts of a black man (Trevante Rhodes) to come out and the complications that ensue when a young man (Casey Affleck) returns home, respectively.

A vehement lack of enthusiasm in at least one corner has met the Convergence section. This series, which encompasses virtual reality and immersive experiences, has not only been roundly panned, but compared unfavorably to the comparable series at the other major local festival, located in southern Manhattan.

On paper, it would appear that the most engaging section at NYFF54 is Retrospective,which pays homage to unsung heroes. The subject is French director (and producer/screenwriter/actor) Bertrand Tavernier. Rather than spotlight much of his work (only one film), NYFF54 turns a lens on the works of filmmakers he admires, including Jean-Pierre Melville, the first film director with whom he worked. Another of BT’s favorites is Henry Hathaway. The gems in this section include: “Les enfants terribles,” Les anges du peche” (“Angles of Sin”), “La Marseillaise, “The Dark Corner,” Garden of Evil,” “Niagara” and “Rawhide.”

The whole festival is before us and nearly two more weeks of press screenings. Perhaps in that time, more films will attain must-see or must-avoid status. I have some recommendations, but enjoy the videos for now.






Visit to learn more about the 54th New York Film Festival, including showtimes and venues.

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