In light of the slew of canceled film festivals in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s New York Film Festival is hoping to pull out all the stops and become the premier film event in the US. And as a way of showing what that means, the NYFF organizers announced the Spotlight section for this year’s fest.
NYFF describes the Spotlight section as a showcase of sneak previews, gala events, screenings with live elements, and other special evenings. And this year, that includes screenings of “David Byrne’s American Utopia” from director Spike Lee, “The Human Voice” from Pedro Almodóvar, Orson Welles’ doc “Hopper/Welles,” “On the Rocks” from Sofia Coppola,” and more.
“Prior to the pandemic, Dennis Lim and I spent time talking with each other and the Film at Lincoln Center staff about how we might reshape and focus the New York Film Festival,” said Eugene Hernandez, Director of NYFF. “We agreed that among the annual highlights are those special, one-of-a-kind events that unveil an anticipated new film by a well-known filmmaker, dig deeper into a topic or theme with a substantive conversation, showcase something new or unexpected, and even have some fun!”
He continued, “This is what we’re aiming to do with our new Spotlight section, which this year features cinema’s brightest names (Spike! Pedro! Sofia! Tilda! Orson!), but also explores big topics and important ideas that our society is grappling with today: voter suppression and police brutality. Even though we’ll gather digitally and at drive-ins this year, rather than en masse at Lincoln Center, we hope our first Spotlight section will engage, enlighten, and entertain.”
This year’s NYFF is set to kick off on September 17.
You can see the full listings for this year’s Spotlight section below:
All In: The Fight for Democracy
Lisa Cortés and Liz Garbus, USA, 2020, 102m
All In: The Fight for Democracy is an invigorating and rigorous primer on the history of voter suppression in the United States, an insidious and still persistent reality in our nation. Academy Award–nominees Lisa Cortés (The Apollo) and Liz Garbus (What Happened, Miss Simone) take us from the early attempts at the political disenfranchisement of Black Americans via poll taxes and “literacy tests,” to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, to the 2013 Supreme Court ruling that weakened that landmark case and allowed for the return of rampant state discrimination. Anchored by candid interviews with the Democratic Party’s rising star Stacey Abrams, All In is clarifying and urgent, especially in an election year in which the very process of voting has come under threat from those determined to stay in power. An Amazon Studios release.
David Byrne’s American Utopia
Spike Lee, 2020, USA, 105 min
In late 2019, legendary musician and artist David Byrne contacted director Spike Lee to see if he would be interested in making a film of his acclaimed Broadway show, American Utopia. Lee came on board, and the result is an exhilarating record of a seismic theater event as well as a momentous work of cinema in its own right. Featuring thrilling performances of Talking Heads hits and Byrne numbers (“Once in a Lifetime,” “Burning Down the House,” “Glass, Concrete & Stone”) by a dazzling 11-person ensemble, American Utopia is both joyous and politically engaged, a reckoning of these dark times through music and togetherness, with a galvanizing rendition of Janelle Monáe’s “Hell You Talmbout” that’s destined to be one of the year’s most talked-about screen moments. With 11 camera operators, Lee and cinematographer Ellen Kuras (who shot Lee’s Bamboozled) capture the thrill of live performance with a concert film that functions as a poignant tribute to two essential New York artists who remain in the primes of their careers. An HBO release.
Orson Welles, 2020, USA, 130m
In November 1970, two movie mavericks, one already a legend (Orson Welles) and the other on his way to mythic status (Dennis Hopper), met for an epochal conversation. It had been more than a decade since Welles had worked within the Hollywood system, and he had begun to strike out on his own as an independent, ruthlessly idiosyncratic artist; Hopper, on the other hand, had just had an unexpected major success with the studio-financed counterculture hit Easy Rider. At this decisive moment, the pair of auteurs shared their candid thoughts and feelings about cinema, art, and life, and Welles captured this unscripted talk on two cameras, in lush black and white, lit only by a fireplace and hurricane lamps. This entertaining and revealing footage, never before seen in full, has been resurrected by producer Filip Jan Rymsza and editor Bob Murawski, who helped bring Welles’s unfinished The Other Side of the Wind to meticulously restored life two years ago.
The Human Voice
Pedro Almodóvar, 2020, Spain, 30m
Tilda Swinton swallows up the screen as a woman traumatized by the end of a relationship in Pedro Almodóvar’s first English-language film. In 30 mesmerizing minutes, Swinton’s nameless character runs through a frightening gamut of emotions, from despair to fury to exhilaration, all while isolated in a luxurious apartment that’s also a stage set; her only companions are her ex-partner’s dog, Dash, and the betrayer’s unheard presence on the other end of her phone. Almodóvar used many of his frequent collaborators, including cinematographer José Luis Alcaine and composer Alberto Iglesias, for this impeccably designed yet combustible adaptation of Jean Cocteau’s 1930 play The Human Voice.
The Monopoly of Violence
David Dufresne, 2020, France, 86m
In this stimulating, sometimes shocking, and altogether powerful documentary about police violence in contemporary France, filmmaker and journalist David Dufresne examines the ways in which a government justifies brutal acts against its own citizens. Taking its title from sociologist and political economist Max Weber, who wrote that the state establishes a “monopoly on violence” by claiming the legitimate use of force, Dufresne’s film mixes footage of attacks on protestors—largely of the gilet jaunes, or “yellow vest,” political movement—and interviews with intellectuals, police officers, and victims of police assault. The Monopoly of Violence is an essential and timely work, showing the dangers of police serving the state rather than the people, and identifying the growing tendency among Western democracies to enact totalitarian methods to keep the populace under their control.
On the Rocks
Sofia Coppola, 2020, USA, 95m
Approaching 40 and plagued by writer’s block, New York author and married mother-of-two Laura (Rashida Jones) has become suspicious that her career-driven husband (Marlon Wayans) may be having an affair with a coworker. When her caddish, bon vivant father (Bill Murray) drops back into her life, he encourages her growing speculation, and the two embark on a mission to uncover the truth, which reignites Laura’s alternating adoration and resentment of the older man who taught her everything—for better and for worse. Oscar-winner Sofia Coppola returns with a lighthearted but poignantly personal comedy about aging, marriage, and the tenuous bond between parents and grown children, set in a finely observed Manhattan dream world. An Apple/A24 release.