NY Film Fest to Open With Steve McQueen's 'Lovers Rock'

Steve McQueen attends the 2018 British Academy Britannia Awards - Getty-H 2020
Emma McIntyre/BAFTA LA/Getty Images

More details have also been revealed about the pandemic-era edition of the annual fall event.

The 2020 edition of the New York Film Festival will open with the world premiere of Steve McQueen's Lovers Rock, it was announced today.

Lovers Rock is part of McQueen's Small Axe anthology of five original films, which will premiere on BBC One later this year and on Amazon Prime Video in the U.S. The films each tell a different story involving London's West Indian community, from the late 1960s to mid-1980s, as they shape their lives in the face of discrimination. The series is produced by Turbine Studios and Steve McQueen’s Lammas Park for BBC One with Amazon Studios co-producing in the U.S.

The other films that make up Small Axe are Mangrove, Alex Wheatle, Education and Red, White and Blue. Mangrove and Red, White and Blue will also have their world premieres at the NY Film Festival as part of its main slate. Both Mangrove and Lovers Rock are part of the Cannes 2020 official selection.

“It’s an incredible honor and also very humbling to show three of my films at the New York Film Festival," McQueen said in a statement. "It’s especially meaningful for me at this particular time to share these stories as a Black man of West Indian heritage. I’m grateful to the NYFF for their generosity and wish everyone a safe and healthy festival."

Lovers Rock, co-written by McQueen and Courttia Newland, tells a fictional story of young love and music at a blues party in the early 1980s. The film features Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn in her screen debut opposite the BAFTAs 2020 Rising Star award recipient Michael Ward. The cast includes fellow newcomers Francis Lovehall and Daniel Francis-Swaby as well as Shaniqua Okwok, Kedar Williams-Stirling, Ellis George, Alexander James-Blake and Kadeem Ramsay.

Mangrove, co-written by McQueen and Alastair Siddons, chronicles the Mangrove 9, the real-life group of Black activists who clashed with London police during a protest march in 1970, and the highly publicized trial that followed, which served as the first judicial acknowledgment of behavior motivated by racial hatred within the Metropolitan Police. Mangrove stars Letitia Wright, Shaun Parkes and Malachi Kirby. The cast is rounded out by Rochenda Sandall, Jack Lowden, Sam Spruell, Gershwyn Eustache Jnr, Nathaniel Martello-White, Richie Campbell, Jumayn Hunter and Gary Beadle.

Red, White and Blue, co-written by McQueen and Newland, tells the true story of Leroy Logan, who saw his father assaulted by two policemen, motivating him to join the Metropolitan Police to seek to change their racist attitudes from within. The film stars John Boyega and Steve Toussaint along with newcomers Tyrone Huntley, Nathan Vidal and Jaden Oshenye.

McQueen's films join Chloé Zhao's Nomadland, starring and produced by Frances McDormand, which was previously announced as the NY Film Festival's centerpiece film. The festival's full main slate will be announced in the coming weeks.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect the fall festival season, the NY Film Festival said Monday that it will focus on outdoor and virtual screenings, with indoor screenings as possible as directed by state and health officials. The festival will screen films at the Queens Drive-In at Flushing Meadows Corona Park and the Brooklyn Drive-In at the Brooklyn Army Terminal.

"In the coming weeks we’ll unveil the films our programmers have selected for the 2020 New York Film Festival," said NYFF director Eugene Hernandez said in a statement. "For months we’ve worked to both sustain and refresh NYFF — a champion of film as art since 1963 — and we’re honored that filmmaker Steve McQueen accepted our invitation to open the 58th New York Film Festival in an unprecedented manner, with one of three remarkable new films he’ll unveil at NYFF."

NYFF director of programming Dennis Lim added, “Steve McQueen is one of the essential artists of our time, and he reaches a new level of mastery with the Small Axe films. These are works of historical drama that speak powerfully and urgently to our present moment of reckoning over police brutality and systemic racism. They tell stories of outward struggle and inner conflict but also of everyday joy. We can't wait to share these revelatory films with audiences, and to open the festival with Lovers Rock, a celebration of Black lives as exhilarating as it is liberating.”