Staying Festive in 2020

The Daily — Aug 13, 2020
Michelle Pfeiffer and Lucas Hedges in Azazel Jacobs’s French Exit (2020)

At first glance, a listicle promising to tell you all about the twenty-five “coolest film festivals in the world” may not be the most inviting clickbait you’ll come across today—particularly at a time when hardly any of us are going anywhere. But MovieMaker Magazine has put together an outstanding panel whose selections are all but guaranteed to include at least one or two events you’ll want to keep in mind once the world opens back up again.

Among the festivals critic and programmer Ela Bittencourt recommends, for example, is Belgium’s Courtisane, “a tight, ambitious festival where experimental cinema directors are revered and cherished.” Garrett Bradley, who won a directing award at Sundance in January for Time, says that Rooney Elmi and Ingrid Raphael, the organizers of the new No Evil Eye festival in Columbus, Ohio, “are setting a new precedent for how films can exist and find communities throughout the country,” adding that they are “bringing experimental and politically driven works to the eyes and ears our next generation.” Artist, filmmaker, and 2020 Guggenheim Fellow Sky Hopinka finds it “encouraging to see festivals that strive to find a balance between the avant-garde and more traditionally focused narrative and documentary films, and Tacoma really manages to bring these worlds together in ways that allow the viewer to see they aren’t that different at all.”

Independent producer Eran Polishuk calls the Athena Film Festival at Barnard College in New York “one of the few film festivals dedicated to challenging and changing how our society views and values women leaders. It’s a space to embrace your badass lady-ness in all its glory.” And Ryan Werner, who runs Cinetic Marketing, recommends such well-established events as Il Cinema Ritrovato and True/False, which “kicks off with a parade and ends with you wishing you could stay.”

Lineup News

Azazel Jacobs’s French Exit will see its world premiere as the closing night presentation at the New York Film Festival (September 25 through October 11). Michelle Pfeiffer and Lucas Hedges star as a formerly wealthy mother and son who decide to pack up their cat (voiced by Tracy Letts) and what little else they have and head to Paris. Reviewing Patrick DeWitt’s novel for the Guardian two years ago, Justine Jordan noted that it “unfolds in a putative present with the nostalgic patina of a Wes Anderson film: a world of highballs and oddballs, raised eyebrows and flat affect.” Jacobs, whom NYFF director of programming Dennis Lim calls “one of the most distinctive voices in American cinema,” may well take the story in a different direction. “Moment to moment,” says Lim, “French Exit is a destabilizing delight, as strange and dark as it is playful.”

Film at Lincoln Center has also rolled out the lineup for this year’s New York Asian Film Festival (August 28 through September 12), which will include a special focus on women filmmakers. Like the NYAFF, the Los Angeles–based AFI Fest (October 15 through 22) is going strictly virtual this year. The Los Angeles TimesMark Olsen notes that organizers “have one advantage over other fall fests making the switch to virtual events—they have already done it. The AFI Docs festival, based out of Washington, D.C., took place in June with ticketed virtual screenings and events.” Michael Lumpkin, director of AFI festivals, “noted that attendance was actually higher than in years past, drawing viewers from all fifty states, without the logistics of theater bookings and seat capacity.”

Venice (September 2 through 12) has rounded out the lineup for its seventy-seventh edition with Fiori, Fiori, Fiori!, a short film Luca Guadagnino made during the lockdown in Milan with a smartphone and a tablet, and Run Hide Fight, Kyle Rankin’s new feature about a high school shooting. Both films will screen out of competition.

At Cineuropa, Marta Bałaga previews this year’s Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal (August 20 through September 2), which will feature a master class with John Carpenter and writer and programmer Carolyn Mauricette’s presentation on Afrofuturism. Meantime, Sundance has cut next year’s edition down to seven days from eleven and shifted its dates to January 28 through February 3. And next year’s Ebertfest is sliding down the calendar from April to September.


Last week, we previewed Locarno’s The Films After Tomorrow program, which gives filmmakers such as Wang Bing, Lucrecia Martel, Lav Diaz, Helena Wittmann, and Miguel Gomes the opportunity to present the projects they were working on when the pandemic shut them down. We can now watch these fascinating presentations, each of them running about five minutes, and in the Notebook, we can read several of these filmmakers’ notes on their selections for the retrospective program, A Journey in the Festival’s History.

With Melbourne presenting a virtual edition it’s calling MIFF 68½ through August 23, Adrian Martin, writing for Screenhub, spotlights several of his favorite selections, including Pablo Larraín’s Ema (“one of the year’s best”), Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow, Ulrike Ottinger’s Paris Calligrammes, and the new restoration of Raúl Ruiz’s The Tango of the Widower and Its Distorting Mirror (1990).

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