59th New York Film Festival early bird highlights

Futura, Jane By Charlotte, James Baldwin: From Another Place and The Velvet Underground

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Venice Best Actress winner Penélope Cruz stars in Pedro Almodóvar’s Parallel Mothers
Venice Best Actress winner Penélope Cruz stars in Pedro Almodóvar’s Parallel Mothers Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Spotlight selection Jane By Charlotte (Jane Par Charlotte), Charlotte Gainsbourg’s intimate conversation with her mother Jane Birkin with cameos by Jo Attal; Revival short, Sedat Pakay’s James Baldwin: From Another Place (screening with Wendell B Harris, Jr.’s Chameleon Street); Alice Rohrwacher, Francesco Munzi, and Pietro Marcello’s Futura, and Todd Haynes’ The Velvet Underground (Lou Reed, John Cale, Maureen Tucker, Sterling Morrison, Nico, shown with Edward Lachman’s Songs For Drella video) round out the four early bird highlights of the 59th New York Film Festival.

Charlotte Gainsbourg’s intimate Jane By Charlotte with her mother Jane Birkin are in the Spotlight
Charlotte Gainsbourg’s intimate Jane By Charlotte with her mother Jane Birkin are in the Spotlight Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Opening Night Gala selection is Joel Coen’s The Tragedy Of Macbeth, starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand; Jane Campion's adaptation of Thomas Savage’s novel The Power Of The Dog with Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Kodi Smit-McPhee is the Centerpiece selection, and Pedro Almodóvar’s Parallel Mothers, starring Penélope Cruz and Milena Smit will close the festival.

At the Venice International Film Festival, the jury led by Bong Joon-ho honored Jane Campion with the Best Director Silver Lion and Penélope Cruz won Best Actress. The Special Jury Prize went to Michelangelo Frammartino for Il Buco and Maggie Gyllenhaal scored Best Screenplay for her adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s novel The Lost Daughter. Both films are also in New York’s Main Slate programme.

Todd HaynesWonderstruck was the Centerpiece selection of the 55th New York Film Festival. He also had in 1998 Velvet Goldmine, 2007 I’m Not There, and 2015 Carol selected for the New York Film Festival. Raoul Peck’s James Baldwin documentary I Am Not Your Negro was in the 2016 Spotlight on Documentary programme and received an Oscar nomination, and Terrence Dixon’s Meeting the Man: James Baldwin in Paris, shot by Jack Hazan (whose film Rude Boy is in this year’s Revivals) was seen in last year’s Revivals section. Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk, based on James Baldwin’s novel screened at the 2018 New York Film Festival.

In 2019, The Wonders: Alice and Alba Rohrwacher, was organised by the Museum of Modern Art Department of Film Curator Josh Siegel with Camilla Cormanni and Paola Ruggiero of Luce Cinecittà. Alba Rohrwacher can be seen in Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter.



The New York Film Festival each autumn shines its beam on the movie bounty of the year. Futura, a documentary directed by three great Italian filmmakers, Alice Rohrwacher, Pietro Marcello, and Francesco Munzi, is a probe into the state of mind of young people between 15 and 20 years old in Italy at the beginning of this century’s Twenties. What are their hopes? How do they see the world? Wishes and dreams are serious political issues and Futura, which shows a variety of social and geographical spheres, does not come up with a neatly packaged analysis, but a wide array of concerns. We want to visit them again, as we were allowed to in the late great Michael Apted’s Up series. The horseback-riding girls in the mountains, who are happy with the status quo and suggest that not causing any trouble is the best way forward - where will they be? Or the refugee boys in the juvenile shelter in Liguria, who make the most provocative suggestion of a world without money? Will they seem revolutionary or naïve in a few years? Will the young people in Genoa even do a search about what happened in their city, their school, 20 years ago during the G8 Forum? Will the three beautician school students who have such different looks stay friends? At the end, a little girl, who happens to look like me, is running in the snow. She is younger than everyone interviewed. She is the future’s future.

Public screenings: Sunday, September 26 at 12:30pm - Walter Reade Theater; Monday, September 27 at 8:45pm - Howard Gilman Theater; Tuesday, September 28 at 3:30pm - Francesca Beale Theater; Wednesday, October 6 at 8:00pm - Maysles Documentary Center

Jane By Charlotte
Jane By Charlotte

Jane By Charlotte

Taking a good, hard look at your mother is a dangerous endeavor for anyone. Charlotte Gainsbourg expresses it this way: “The idea is to look at you how I never dared look at you before.” The Jane Birkin who emerges is different from the one known from stage and screen, different from the one profiled by Agnès Varda in Jane B. Par Agnès V. The difference lies in the intimacy and daring in Gainsbourg’s questioning and in her desire to capture the fleeting and preserve what cannot be preserved. During a concert tour in Japan, with fans asking for autographs and a tea ceremony being completed, a startling confession sets the tone for the entire film. “We both have a shyness when we’re together,” mother and daughter agree. Other than her sisters Kate and Lou, we learn that Charlotte was “intimidating,” even as a young child. “Much more mysterious to me,” says Birkin, as “you were so private.” The discrepancy is breathtaking; shyness and exposure are invited to dance. Life and death, illness and Jane’s insomnia since early childhood are on the table, as are family films and photos. And stories, always stories. “We make up stories and start to think they are the truth and start to fear real stories.”

Public screenings: Thursday, October 7 at 8:15pm - Walter Reade Theater; Friday, October 8 at 3:30pm - Francesca Beale Theater

James Baldwin: From Another Place
James Baldwin: From Another Place

James Baldwin: From Another Place

Sedat Pakay’s short shows James Baldwin in Istanbul where he lived at the time in 1973. It couldn’t be more different from another documentary, showing Baldwin in another European city. Terrence Dixon’s Meeting the Man: James Baldwin in Paris fed on the hostility between subject and filmmaker. James Baldwin: From Another Place, on the other hand, rather resembles Dagmar Schulz’s portrait, Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years 1984-1992, in its intimacy. Baldwin, dressed only in white underpants, looking out of his window, before putting on a kimono seems far less on edge. “One sees better from a distance,” he says about being outside the US, “you can make comparisons from another place.” (The same sentiment is echoed by some of the kids in Futura, almost half a century of globalization later.) Baldwin talks directly to the camera about privacy and pride. “I loved a few men and a few women,” he says, “and they loved me; that saved my life.” Truman Capote is heard saying in Ebs Burnough’s recent documentary The Capote Tapes that he never felt loved.

Public screenings: Sunday, September 26 at 3:15pm - Walter Reade Theater; Thursday, September 30 at 3:30pm - Francesca Beale Theater; Monday, October 4 at 8:00pm - Maysles Documentary Center

The Velvet Underground
The Velvet Underground

The Velvet Underground

The Velvet Underground will restore your belief in documentaries! Todd Haynes in all his films, and often aided by longtime cinematographer Ed Lachman, never gives an inch of aesthetic pleasure for substance, as we realize they can be the same. In this case especially, add the music to it and the split screen unfolds like a precocious flower, sometimes cut into the little boxes we all have become so cosily familiar with in these pandemic times. An overfull experience of what was and is the Velvet Underground and its periphery is the result. “Music fathoms the sky…” - the quote by Baudelaire functions as epigraph and Andy Warhol’s Screen-Tests, where the subject looks straight at us, lasso us in while moving footage from the Sixties flickers and winks and visually comments on what we are hearing, as if we were partly dreaming. A mood and Lou Reed’s voice likening going to the movies to a drug. “Writing about things that hurt,” was Heroin. “Lou’s tales of shock therapy brought it all together,” says Cale: “How to be elegant and how to be brutal.” We get to hear the irresistible “If you close the door” sung by drummer Maureen Tucker, go to Max’s Kansas City and see images of nature flickering by very very fast. “It had entropied” - is that the band or the world? At this point, Haynes has us in the palm of his hand and I don’t know may be the best of all answers.

Public screenings: Thursday, September 30 at 6:00pm - Alice Tully Hall; Saturday, October 2 at 7:00pm - Damrosch Park, outdoor screening will be preceded by Songs for Drella. Q&As with Todd Haynes on September 30 and on October 2 he will be joined by Ed Lachman. Songs for Drella - Tuesday, October 5 at 4:30pm - Francesca Beale Theater

The Velvet Underground opens at Film Forum in New York on October 13.

The 2021 New York Film Festival runs from September 24 through October 10, 2020

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