New York Film Fes­ti­val

This year’s edi­tion takes an artier turn with hard-sell picks

Variety - - Contents - By GREGG GOLD­STEIN

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.”

Kent Jones

Re­gal Stance

“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-

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