N.Y. Film Festival reveals slate

Foreign-heavy lineup includes few scripted U.S. features

NEW YORK -- The New York Film Festival on Tuesday announced its slate, and it skews a lot more foreign than domestic.

The festival is heavy on such European filmmakers as Michael Haneke ("The White Ribbon"), Alain Resnais (who will open the fest with his "Wild Grass"), Pedro Almodovar ("Broken Embraces") and Claire Denis ("White Material"). Only two U.S. directors have scripted features in the lineup, a recent low for the prestige festival.

"Two years ago, we had the Coen brothers and Wes Anderson and Julian Schnabel and Noah Baumbach and Sidney Lumet," said Richard Pena, programming director and selection committee chair for the Film Society of Lincoln Center. "Last year, there was less, and this year there is much less."

Although that's at least partly a function of the diminishing specialty business -- which in turn has led to a dwindling amount of U.S. auteur fare -- Pena said he sees it more as a passing phase than a new reality.

"I think we're in one of those in-between years, when a number of films are being prepared," he said. He added that there were "a number of Hollywood films that we were hoping to see that weren't ready in time."

As the indie business contracts or moves to more commercial fare, one consequence is the shift of festival titles away from the U.S. to burgeoning cinematic areas like Eastern Europe. Among the movies announced as part of the NYFF slate is "Police, Adjective," Corneliu Porumboiu's Romanian drama that generated buzz at Cannes.

As it typically does, the festival is studded with Croisette titles, including Lionsgate's Lee Daniels' coming-of-age drama "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire" (the fest's centerpiece screening), Joon-ho Bong's framed-murderer story "Mother," Marco Bellochio's Mussolini drama "Vincere" and festival closer "Broken Embraces," from NYFF favorite Almodovar.

But programmers also stayed away from some of the higher-profile Cannes titles, including Jacques Audiard's prison-mob drama "A Prophet," instead favoring less-expected or -known names such as Israeli director Samuel Maoz ("Lebanon"), young German helmer Maren Ade ("Everyone Else") and Filipino filmmaker Raya Martin ("Independencia").

The festival also is upping its documentary quotient. Although last year brought the unspooling of Ari Folman's animated military doc "Waltz With Bashir," this year includes five nonfiction pics, a recent high: Don Argott's art-world nonfictioner "The Art of the Steal," Catherine Breillat's serial-killer exploration "Bluebeard," Zhao Dayong's rural-China examination "Ghost Town," Ilisa Barish and Lucien Castaing-Taylor's shepherding tale "Sweetgrass" and Andrey Khrzhanovsky's Josef Brodsky doc "Room and a Half."

Although past opening nights have included such awards-season contenders as "Mystic River" (2003) and "The Queen" (2006) -- serving as important launch pads for those pics -- this year will see the more rarefied choice of Resnais' "Grass," a romantic dramedy from the French New Wave master that Sony Pictures Classics just picked up.

Pena noted that "Resnais has been one of the major filmmakers of the past 50 years, so there's a lovely bookending there," adding that "the thing that's great about the New York Film Festival is the sense of freedom, and our audience is used to that kind of variation."

The festival could see a frisson of controversy with the screening of the Cannes hot potato "Antichrist," Lars von Trier's graphic, genre-tinged relationship pic starring Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, in which a couple brutalizes each other at their country house after the sudden death of their child.

Pena said that though von Trier, who doesn't travel across the Atlantic, will not be at the festival, there likely will be a satellite linkup at either public or media screenings to allow questions for the provocateur.

Unlike other festivals, which have bloated their slates in recent years, the NYFF has kept tight control of quantity and thus, it hopes, on quality. There are just 29 pics spread across the two weeks of the fest.

NYFF, which kicks off Sept. 25, also will mark the first year of new Film Society exec director Mara Manus as well as the newly christened Alice Tully Hall. During the past few years, the fest has held screenings at other venues, including Frederick Rose Hall at the Time Warner Center in nearby Columbus Circle, as Lincoln Center underwent a major renovation.
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