In a time of much-discussed uncertainty and change within American independent film, the New York Film Festival—an annual showcase of, more often than not, the greatest works of the previous year stemming from industries abroad—arrives, government subsidies and cultural support organizations in tow, like a two-week finger in the eye of its hometown scene. As usual, when the schedule was announced, the rising class of New York film insiders decried the program’s highbrow Cannes-heavy slant, ignoring entirely the obvious fact that most New Yorkers don’t actually go to France to see movies, and, further, that they might actually enjoy the opportunity to watch not just any movies (see: the Tribeca Film Festival) but a group of works intensely curated by a respected cultural institution with a, yes, ideologically Cannes-heavy slant. I won’t go so far as to label any showcase that provides a ready, regular stomping ground for Manoel de Oliveira blockbusters a populist give-back, but in a perverse way, for a certain set, it may well act as such.
This year five American films dot the program landscape (including one, Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor’s Sweetgrass, from the distinctly indistinct homeland of France/U.K./U.S., even though the filmmakers both teach at Harvard—damn globalism), but by fest’s end most talk will likely center around von Trier’s cut clits, Israelis in tanks, and, with luck, the stunning closing moments of festival opener Wild Grass. Eighty-seven-year-old Alain Resnais, still standing, still stubbornly modernist in his artmaking, puts all the swirling questions about the viability and sustainability of the U.S.’s lower-budgeted filmmaking into stark relief. Remove CNC and Canal+ participation for a moment . . . or, better yet, assume the U.S. provided similar cushions: who would be there to take state money and make our Wild Grass, an endearingly idiosyncratic, playfully risky, and formally rigorous statement of cinematic purpose? The answer of late, sadly, is looking a bit like “nobody.” Click here to read the rest of Jeff Reichert’s review of the opening night film of the 2009 New York Film Festival, Wild Grass.