One insider calls it New York’s own “Oscar Night” and others refer to it as indie film’s annual prom; the opening night of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center followed by the traditional party at Tavern On The Green is a glittering night out for the film community. The New York Film Festival, a highly curated seventeen day event offering a main program of just two dozen feature films includes a mix of the best from other festivals and new films about to open in theaters. This year’s fest kicked off Friday night with George Clooney‘s look at the battle between CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow and U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, “Good Night, and Good Luck.”
It was a big night for the stalwart Film Society of Lincoln Center, which earlier in the evening announced that it had taken a big step towards its mission of building new movie theaters at Lincoln Center. Recognizing what is said to be a multi-million dollar gift, the Film Society revealed that it would name its new venue ‘The Elinor Bunin Film Center‘, in an announcement made on stage prior to the opening night screening. Longtime Film Society board member Elinor Bunin Monroe, a New York artist and filmmaker, said in a statement, “I have always admired the Film Society’s mission and work and am delighted to be able to play an integral part in making the dream of the new Film Center a reality.”
The Bunin Film Center will be a new building on 65th Street near Broadway, created as part of a major redevelopment at Lincoln Center that has been dubbed ‘Street of the Arts’. Bunin Monroe’s donation is part of a $30 million capital campaign to raise money for the new film center. The venue will include two screening rooms (built to seat 180 and 90 people) and will be designed by David Rockwell and Rockwell Group.
While filmmakers, industry-types, festival programmers and others ate and drank under the Asian lanterns and amongst the topiary outside at Tavern On The Green Friday night, inside the crowded Crystal room the film’s director, co-writer and star George Clooney mixed with well-wishers from Warner Independent Pictures head Mark Gill and producer John Wells, to “Desperate Housewives” star Teri Hatcher and more. Making his way through a crowded room of friends and fans, Clooney later took the stage to introduce jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves.
“The best news of the night is that I will not be singing,” quipped Clooney, making way for Reeves who took the stage to sing a pair of tunes she also performs in the film, including “TV Is The Thing This Year.” As she belted out the song, one indie film insider leaned over to joke to indieWIRE that the song should be re-titled ‘HDTV is the thing this year’, in honor of the film’s executive producer Mark Cuban, backer of the HDNet cable network. Another film backed by Cuban, and his business partner Todd Wagner, debuts during the first weekend of the New York Film Festival. Steven Soderbergh‘s first HDNet Films project “Bubble,” set for a simultaneous release in theaters, on DVD and on HDNet television in January, is having its first showing today (Sunday).
In the Tavern on the Green garden on Friday night indieWIRE mingled with filmmakers Bennett Miller and Todd Solondz who chatted a bit about Miller’s first narrative feature film, “Capote.” The New York Film Festival has long been a dream for Miller, whose 1997 doc “The Cruise” about NYC tour guide Timothy “Speed” Levitch didn’t screen at the fest. Miller, who went to high school in Westchester with “Capote” screenwriter Dan Futterman, recently explained that this week’s screenings at Lincoln Center would be a personal highlight and an opportunity to unveil the movie for the first time to family and friends. It will debut at the festival on Tuesday night. Produced at United Artists, the release of “Capote” was later taken over by Sony Pictures Classics‘ when company co-presidents Michael Barker and Tom Bernard fell for the film after Sony took over UA. They will release the film on Truman Capote’s birthday Friday, September 30th. Star Philip Seymour Hoffman has already been the subject of substantial awards season buzz for his portrayal of the literary icon.
Friday afternoon in New York, a group of journalists gathered for tea on Fifth Ave. with master Japanese filmmaker Yoji Yamada, downstairs at the Takashimaya Tea Box Café. In New York for the U.S. premiere of his new samurai film “The Hidden Blade” last night as part of the NYFF sidebar series, The Beauty of the Everyday: Japan’s Shochiku Company at 110, the director chatted for a more than an hour about his work while sipping a glass of iced tea on a warm afternoon. Yoji Yamada, who has spent his entire career working with the Shochiku studio in Japan, is best known for Tora-san, a legendary Japanese character played by Kiyoshi Atsumi who has been featured in some 48 films in 25 years, many directed by Yoji Yamada. During the chat, the filmmaker reflected upon a changing system of making movies back in his home country. While he has worked with Shochiku, he noted that younger fellow filmmakers like Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Takashi Miike, are making films outside a studio system, whereas the exceptionally successful Hayao Miyazaki has built his own studio. Yamada added that one of his favorite recent Japanese films was Hirokazu Kore-eda‘s “Nobody Knows,” made outside of a studio system.
Another filmmaker in the spotlight early in the New York Film Festival is director Noah Baumbach who returns to the festival this year with his semi-autobiographical “The Squid and The Whale,” a film about two brothers living in Park Slope and dealing with the divorce of their literary parents in 1986. The film will debut at the festival on Monday night. On Friday morning after the film’s press screening at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, Baumbach called his film, “An intimate movie,” saying, “It’s about private moments in people’s lives.” Later, revealing that he dressed Jeff Daniels’ character in his own dad’s clothes he added, “I thought about calling it ‘My Parent’s Divorce’, I am glad I didn’t do that.”
One filmmaker apparently unable to enjoy the attention afforded by the New York Film Festival this weekend was Sameh Zoabi whose short film “Be Quiet” will screen at the event prior to Baumbach’s feature on Monday and Wednesday. It is the story of a young boy and his father on a journey home to Nazareth. While he was in town on Thursday to accept his $5,000 cash award at the IFP Market, the filmmaker was said to be en route to Paris for a unique opportunity. Zoabi’s Columbia University graduate short film was a 3rd place prizewinner at the Festival de Cannes this year and now the director will move to the Cannes Festival Residence, a four-and-a-half month residence program where he and five other filmmakers will develop new projects. Zoabi’s first feature project is “James Dean and Me,” described as “a romantic drama set in a Palestinian village a few days before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.”
[indieWIRE’s coverage of the 43rd New York Film Festival continues this week in a special iPOP @ New York Film Festival section.]