Despite the hardships COVID-19 has brought upon the festival circuit, the New York Film Festival reports a historic level of attendance for its 58th edition this year. Part virtual, part drive-in experience, NYFF 2020 pulled in more than 70,000 viewers across all 50 states. The festival’s revised format earlier this fall, running longer than usual from September 17 through October 11, averaged 1.5 home viewers per virtual film rental and 2.5 attendees per drive-in ticket. According to festival presenter Film at Lincoln Center, attendance was up by 9.15% compared to 2019. (Last year’s number of attendees was just above 64,000.)
Kicking off with drive-in screenings hosting the world premiere of Steve McQueen’s “Lovers Rock,” one part of the Oscar-winning director’s five-film series “Small Axe” for Amazon Studios, NYFF overall screened 94 films from six continents and 40 countries virtually. Screenings were available nationwide for the first time in the festival’s history, and audiences responded enthusiastically — nearly 40,000 film rentals were purchased in all 50 states as well as Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Additionally, NYFF expanded beyond its Manhattan home on the Upper West Side, presenting 33 drive-in screenings in three of New York City’s five boroughs (Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens), attended by 8,300 New Yorkers. Filmmakers introducing drive-in presentations included Spike Lee and Sofia Coppola. All screenings adhered to New York State COVID-19 guidelines to ensure the safety of guests. NYFF also hosted more than 60 free virtual talks and filmmaker Q&As available to audiences worldwide, which were viewed in more than 120 countries.
Filmmakers, onscreen talent, and industry leaders connected with 2,565 attendees around the globe through virtual NYFF Free Talks, Industry Talks, and Press Conferences. All free virtual programming is now available to watch on Film at Lincoln Center’s YouTube channel; highlights include the “Lovers Rock” Press Conference, a John Waters intro, and a discussion on the film “Smooth Talk” with Laura Dern.
“We are thrilled at the enthusiastic response to our reimagined festival,” said NYFF director (and IndieWire co-founder) Eugene Hernandez. “All summer, we worked to determine how to bring this year’s exceptional new films to audiences during the ongoing health crisis. Building on pre-pandemic goals, we refined our programming approach and developed ways to share NYFF with a wider audience, and our numbers demonstrate that moviegoers across New York City — and in fact in all 50 states! — embraced this year’s event. We’re so grateful for these successes and excited to continue connecting with new audiences around the country.”