New York Film Festival celebrates 50 years of sharing films

The world renowned New York Film Festival kicked off its 50th Anniversary year with a bang. The festival, created in 1962, is sponsored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City.

Every year the festival showcases independent films from around the world that might otherwise get little to no formal recognition from the public. Its goal is to show as many feature films and shorts as possible within the seventeen days of the festival. Although there are no awards, each year an outstanding filmmaker is honored at the closing gala. Anyone, from amateurs, to established filmmakers, can submit their work. The festival typically selects around twenty-eight feature films and twelve shorts to screen; This year, however, there was a more substantial lineup.

Opening on Sept. 28, 2012, and running through Oct 14th, 2012, the 50th Anniversary was unlike other festivals in a variety of ways. Not only did it mark fifty years since the Lincoln Center conceived the idea, but it also celebrated the twenty-five years that festival director Richard Peña has been the head of the selection committee. As festival director, Peña was tasked with screening an abundance of films and deciding which ones would make the cut. 2012 was his last season with the NYFF. To make it a memorable one, he sent fifty feature films through to screening. Currently a professor of Film Studies at Columbia University, Peña will continue to teach after his retirement from the NYFF.

To kick off this year’s festival with a bang, Peña opened with Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi”. The film, an adaptation of Yann Martel’s bestselling novel of the same title, details the story of a young Indian boy named Pi who finds himself shipwrecked alongside a hyena, zebra, orangutan, and a bengal tiger on the Pacific Ocean. The impressive cast includes Gerard Depardieu and newbie Suraj Sharma, who plays the title character. The release date is set for Nov. 21, 2012.

Another highlight of the festival was the French series “Cineasts/Cinema of our Time”. New York Times editor Richard Brody rave about this piece, which was curated by photographer/programmer Véronique Godard and Richard Peña. After viewing several parts of the series, Brody wrote, “They’re worth viewing in their entirety, and I wish I could install myself in a seat for an end-to-end feast of them all.” This holds quite a bit of weight, considering how notorious the New York Times is for their overly critical reviews.

These two films, however, did not even scratch the surface when it came to the number of big-name actors and directors whose films made it through to this year’s NYFF.

James Gandolfini reunited with“Sopranos” creator David Chase for the occasion. Together they delivered the 1960’s coming-of-age film “Not Fade Away” about a group of friends who form a rock band in suburban New Jersey. The film is to be released in Dec. 2012.

Also in the program was “The Paperboy,” a southern melodrama directed by Lee Daniels , acclaimed director of “Precious.” The star-studded cast of this film includes Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey, and Zac Efron, as well as John Cusack and Macy Gray. The plot surrounds the investigation of a death row inmate in 1960’s Florida. Open in theaters since Oct. 17, 2012, “The Paperboy” has already gotten mixed reviews. Stan Hall of The Oregonian took issue with the fact that so many different genres were crammed into one film. Still, he relented, saying there were praiseworthy performances by Kidman, Efron and Cusack to name a few.

This heavy selection was balanced out by the teenage drama “Ginger and Rosa,” a film directed by Sally Potter. It stars Elle Fanning, who has gotten already been commended for her mature performance. Once again, the time period is the 1960’s; this time, however, the story focuses on two girls living in London, dealing with the Cold War and the onset of a sexual revolution. Rounding out the cast is Christina Hendricks, Annette Benning, and Oliver Platt. The release date is Oct. 19, 2012.

The festival wrapped up with yet another big-name feature: “Flight,” a thriller starring Denzel Washington, Don Cheedle, and John Goodman portrays an airline pilot who, while saving a plane from crashing, discovers a frightening truth. The film, directed by Robert Zemeckis, will open in theaters on Nov. 2, 2012.

It was a whirlwind of a festival; all genres were showcased and all types of filmmakers got their chance to shine. Whether or not the movies do well at the box office in the weeks to come is up in the air, but film-lovers can be assured that this will not be a dull season at the movie theaters.