NYFF to Open with Steve McQueen’s ‘Lovers Rock,’ Festival Will Utilize Outdoor and Virtual Screening Plan

Three of McQueen's five new anthology films will play at the festival, which will take shape through both outdoor and virtual screenings.
NYFF 2020 Opening Night, Plus Outdoor and Virtual Screenings Plan
"Lovers Rock"

The New York Film Festival has announced its opening night film as well as plans for its physical events. The 58th edition of the festival will open with Steve McQueen’s “Lovers Rock,” with the festival also playing home to two other features that comprise McQueen’s ambitious new “Small Axe” series in its main slate. As indicated by festival brass earlier this summer, this year’s NYFF is going to operate differently than it has in previous incarnations. The event will combine a brand-new virtual presence with carefully designed outdoor screenings, including two drive-ins.

McQueen’s “Small Axe” anthology is set to premiere on BBC One later this year and air on Amazon Prime Video in the U.S. Per the series’ official synopsis, it is “set from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, the films each tell a different story involving London’s West Indian community, whose lives have been shaped by their own force of will despite rampant racism and discrimination.”

The series also includes films “Mangrove” and “Red, White and Blue” — both of which will also play at NYFF as part of its main slate — along with “Alex Wheatle” and “Education.” Earlier this year, both “Lovers Rock” and “Mangrove” were included as part of Cannes 2020 official selection.

The opening night pick “tells a fictional story of young love and music at a blues party in the early 1980s.” The film stars newcomer Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn, BAFTAs 2020 Rising Star award recipient Micheal Ward, Shaniqua Okwok, Kedar Williams-Stirling, Ellis George, Alexander James-Blake, Kadeem Ramsay, Francis Lovehall, and Daniel Francis-Swaby. It was written by Courttia Newland and McQueen.

It’s fitting that this year’s festival will open with something as forward-thinking as an anthology film from a celebrated auteur destined for television. This year’s festival is getting nimble, too, and will take a hybrid shape with a “focus on outdoor and virtual screenings with indoor screenings as possible and directed by state and health officials.”

The festival has also announced today that it is partnering with arts and citywide cultural institutions from across the city this year to share films with New York City communities at two drive-ins: the Queens Drive-In at Flushing Meadows Corona Park, created by Rooftop Films, the New York Hall of Science, and Museum of the Moving Image; and the Brooklyn Drive-In at The Brooklyn Army Terminal, created by Rooftop Films and the New York City Economic Development Corporation. The partnership are, per today’s released, “intended to act as a cooperative effort to bring films safely back to New Yorkers and to highlight the power of cinema to build community and camaraderie among our fellow citizens as New York emerges from an incredibly challenging period.”

Specific dates and ticketing details will follow in the coming weeks. The full main slate for the 58th New York Film Festival will also be announced in the coming weeks, but today’s announcement includes two new entries from McQueen’s expanding oeuvre.

“Mangrove” is billed as “the true story of the Mangrove 9, a group of Black activists who clashed with London police during a protest march in 1970, and the highly publicized trial that followed. The trial was the first judicial acknowledgment of behavior motivated by racial hatred within the Metropolitan Police.” It stars Letitia Wright, Shaun Parkes, Malachi Kirby, Jack Lowden, Sam Spruell, Gershwyn Eustache Jr., Nathaniel Martello-White, Richie Campbell, Jumayn Hunter, and Gary Beadle. It was written by Alastair Siddons and McQueen.

It will be joined by “Red, White and Blue,” which “spotlights the true story of Leroy Logan, who saw his father assaulted by two policemen, motivating him to join the Metropolitan Police and change their racist attitudes from within.” The film stars John Boyega, Steve Toussaint, Tyrone Huntley, Nathan Vidal, and Jaden Oshenye, and was written by Newland and McQueen.

“It’s an incredible honor and also very humbling to show three of my films at the New York Film Festival. It’s especially meaningful for me at this particular time to share these stories as a Black man of West Indian heritage,” said McQueen in an official statement. “I’m grateful to the NYFF for their generosity and wish everyone a safe and healthy festival.”

Added Eugene Hernandez, director of the New York Film Festival, in his own statement, “In the coming weeks we’ll unveil the films our programmers have selected for the 2020 New York Film Festival. For months we’ve worked to both sustain and refresh NYFF — a champion of film as art since 1963 — and we’re honored that filmmaker Steve McQueen accepted our invitation to open the 58th New York Film Festival in an unprecedented manner, with one of three remarkable new films he’ll unveil at NYFF.”

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