New York Film Festival eyes virtual screenings in September


Organizers of the New York Film Festival, one of the signature cultural events in the city hardest-hit by COVID-19, say they are still exploring a range of scenarios for the 58th edition this fall, including live events.

Delivering some combination of in-person and digital experiences is still the goal, Film at Lincoln Center said, confirming the timing of Sept. 25 through Oct. 11. A final decision on the format is expected this summer.

Navigating a path to September is a day-by-day process balancing safety protocols, logistics and buy-in from the film industry. Half of the staff of Film at Lincoln Center has been furloughed, NYFF director Eugene Hernandez noted in an interview with Deadline, and the organization has taken a severe financial hit from the pandemic.

“NYFF is a part of the cultural history of our city,” Hernandez said from his longtime apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, where he has been quarantined. “As an institution in New York, it has this legacy and this history. The 58th New York Film Festival will happen. We have a lot of things we have to figure out about how it will happen.

Along with the update on their outlook for fall, the organization also unveiled a revamped programming structure and new selection committee and advisory roles. Dennis Lim, the festival’s programming director, said the changes were being contemplated before COVID-19. “We believe that our new template is one we can adapt for this uncertain year,” he said.

In an interview with Deadline, Lim said he and Hernandez, who were both appointed to their current roles in February, “both agreed that the festival was in need of some streamlining.” The 2011 expansion of the film component of Lincoln Center added screens and resources, he said, but “that expansion resulted in a larger festival that wasn’t always so easy to navigate, especially for people who don’t know us.”

Unlike the dilemmas for other festivals, which have a dual function as commercial marketplaces, the considerations for New York are more about its ability to function as a showcase in 2020 as it has for decades. Last year’s edition kicked off with the world premiere of “The Irishman,” a major awards-season contender.

With new leadership in place, the festival’s offerings will be streamlined into five banner sections: Main Slate, Currents, Spotlight, Revivals, and Talks. The Main Slate selection committee has been expanded to five members. The festival is also bringing new voices into its overall curatorial team, which will now, with the goal of expanding and diversifying our reach, consist of Film at Lincoln Center programming staff and an international roster of programmers and advisors.

“Our goal in revising the festival’s structure was to clarify and strengthen the identity of this venerable event while also making room for discovery and surprise. We began the work of rethinking the festival before this public health crisis, and we believe that our new template is one we can adapt for this uncertain year,” Lim said. “Our programming exists to champion the films we believe in and to bring those films to discerning audiences in New York City and beyond. The current situation compels us to think more deeply and imaginatively about what that can mean. I’m excited and grateful to be working with this exceptional team of programmers and advisors to put together a lineup we can share with our audiences this fall.”

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