New York Film Festival Returns Live and In-Person But With a Few Key Changes

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When the New York Film Festival opens on Sept. 24, it will not only signal another key stop on the awards season circuit — it will be a key marker in New York City’s long, painful reemergence from COVID-19.

“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.”

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Once again, the 17-day event will play host to new works from auteurs 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. Not only will audiences and filmmakers have to be vaccinated, but they must also remain masked throughout screenings, and no concessions will be sold. The coronavirus is scrambling plans in other ways. Fewer filmmakers and stars will be on hand to see their work premiere in Alice Tully Hall because of COVID travel restrictions.

“It’s what I work on all day,” 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 Festival, which is produced by Film at Lincoln Center, saw a 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.”

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