New York Film Festival
This year’s edition takes an artier turn with hard-sell picks
The films we liked had prior commitments, and I suppose the line in the sand [you mentioned] was less important to us than getting the movie that we wanted.”
“The Favourite,” starring Olivia Colman as Queen Anne, claimed the coveted opening-night slot at this year’s New York Film Festival.
Since 1992, virtually all New York Film Festival opening night films have been North American or, since 2012, world premieres. But this year’s choice, “The Favourite,” crossed an unofficial line in the sand by getting a North American premiere at Telluride before opening the 56th NYFF on Sept. 28.
The only exception — 2009’s French comedy “Wild Grass” — played Toronto on the heels of the Great Recession, the collapse of indiefilm financing and the shuttering of many specialty divisions. Similarly, NYFF’S new selection reflects a dearth of studio prestige fare, fest booking wars for the fewer films that remain, more power in the hands of distribs, an acquiescence to streaming services and an earlier Oscar season.
“We could have had a world premiere, easily,” says NYFF director Kent Jones. “But we didn’t like any of those films enough to invite them.”
So how did “The Favourite,” Fox Searchlight’s dark comedy about power moves, maneuver its way into Telluride and yet still land the coveted NYFF slot? “The films we liked had prior commitments, and I suppose the line in the sand [you mentioned] was less important to us than getting the movie that we wanted,” Jones says.
Given the current climate for prestige films, with fewer available for key fest debuts, “it didn’t feel like we were giving anything up,” he adds. “Not to sound disingenuous — it’s just the truth.”
Did he want to step away from heightened fest competition for top titles? “That’s definitely true,” he says. “I think fewer films are being made in that range. Whenever you pick films for any reason other than, ‘We think it’s a great movie,’ you can always feel it. I just think that’s a factor we don’t have to deal with.”
“We were pleasantly sur- prised, as you can imagine,” says Ceci Dempsey, who with fellow producer Ed Guiney discussed the fest rollout with Fox Searchlight, but wasn’t involved in NYFF negotiations for Yorgos Lanthimos’ period film. Telluride offered a career tribute to Emma Stone, the film’s 29-year- old star, “so that had another aspect to it,” she says. “Maybe times are changing, and people see that these different localities don’t knock each other out. Telluride is a completely different kind of festival.”
Rachel Weisz, who stars with Stone and Olivia Colman in the story of royal subterfuge, will be at NYFF after missing earlier fests due to the recent birth of her daughter.
The landscape was different five years ago when Jones started as NYFF’S director of programming with world premiere gala entries from three majors: Columbia’s “Captain Phillips,” Fox’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and Warner Bros.’ “Her”; collectively, those films made more than $450 million worldwide. This year, “The Favourite” is joined by two other hard-