The New York Film Festival may no longer be run by the most influential Nuyorican in global cinema (Richard Peña), but it’s still the New York Film Festival, which means New York audiences are about to get a 17-day peek at some of the most buzzworthy titles from the global festival circuit, along with a couple of very special world premieres. Yes, you read correctly: 17 days, 27 films, and more countries than the United Nations Security Council including rotating members.
But this is nothing new. As the primary initiative of the Film Society at Lincoln Center, the New York Film Festival’s been at the vanguard of American cinephilia for 53 long years, with a resumé of U.S. premieres that includes films by the likes of Luis Buñuel, Yasujirō Ozu, Glauber Rocha, and just about every other cinematic demigod found on the syllabi of Film History 101 courses the world over.
This year the festival continues refining its mix of international arthouse sensations and highbrow Hollywood premieres, with Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, and Michael Moore premiering their latest alongside auteurs like Chantal Akerman and Guy Maddin. Oh, and did we mention there are a handful of Latino films? Did we have to?
An exploration of radical politics in Latin America, a profile of Illinois congressman and immigration crusader Luis Gutiérrez, an observational portrait of a Queens Latino enclave, and much more, these are our top picks of the films playing at this year’s edition of the NYFF.
The New York Film Festival runs September 25 — October 11, 2015.
After dedicating a large part of her career to documenting Latin American political upheaval, filmmaker Pamela Yates turns the camera on her mentor and one of the United States’ most important cinematographers, Haskell Wexler. On the occassion of an important retrospective of his work, Yates interviews the 93-year-old cinematic titan and explores the impact of his influential and politically engaged documentary work, including an 1963 feature entitled The Bus, his 1969 countercultural milestone Medium Cool, and the Contra War-focused 80s classic Latino.
Co-starring John Leguizamo, Michael Almereyda’s latest feature recreates a Yale-based “obedience study” from 1961 that revealed in unsettling detail how normal human beings can be reduced to torturers and mass-murderers by merely following orders. Peter Sarsgaard plays professor Stanley Milgram, the social scientist who designed and implemented the experiments, while Winona Ryder plays his loving wife, through whose admiring eyes this difficult story is told.
Directors Michael Camerini and Shari Robertson build upon an extensive body of work documenting both sides of the struggle for immigration reform in this country with this profile of Illinois congressman Luis Gutiérrez. Born in Chicago to Puerto Rican parents, Gutiérrez has been one of the U.S. House of Representative’s most vocal voices for comprehensive immigration reform since he took office in 1993. Immigration Battle follows his astute political maneuvering during the attempted passage of a bi-partisan immigration reform bill that was sadly but unsurprisingly shot down by opportunist politicians feeding off of anti-immigrant sentiment.
On est vivants
In this personal essay film, Chilean documentarian and one-time political dissident Carmen Castillo explores 21st century political movements throughout Latin America and Western Europe with one pressing question in mind: what does it mean to be politically engaged in 2015? Employing the writings of her close friend and Marxist philosopher Daniel Bensaïd, Castillo takes us on an international journey from Mexico, to Brazil, to Bolivia, and finally to France in search of political meaning in a world where cynicism and pessimism apparently reign supreme.
In Jackson Heights
Well into his 80s, American documentary master Frederick Wiseman’s still got what it takes to churn out a three-hour masterpiece that gets to the heart of the modern condition. Taking the predominantly Colombian-American neighborhood of Jackson Heights, Queens as his subject, Wiseman patiently and observantly documents a series of seemingly ordinary events – from an eyebrow removal specialist at work to a meeting of undocumented immigrants – and stitches them together to paint a broader picture of life in 21st century New York City, where unstoppable “economic development” weighs heavily but almost imperceptibly on nearly every aspect of our lives.