New work by Steve McQueen, Chloé Zhao and Azazel Jacobs are among the highlights of the main slate of the 58th New York Film Festival, organizers announced Thursday. Some of the selections will also play the Toronto and Venice festivals; the organizers of all three big fall events are cooperating because there are fewer titles to choose from amid the pandemic.
The New York festival was already making changes when the crisis hit. Last September, Kent Jones, the event’s director, announced he would be stepping down. Eugene Hernandez took his place, and Dennis Lim was named director of festival programming.
Further changes are in store for the event, which is put on by Film at Lincoln Center: it will begin a week earlier, running Sept. 17 to Oct. 11, and most of the screenings will be held either virtually or at drive-ins in place of traditional theaters, which are currently off-limits. “This is a big change for us, but it also creates an opportunity for the festival to engage with our city and its moviegoers in new ways,” Hernandez said in a statement. “We’re also continuing to explore additional options for our audiences as possible and directed by state and health officials.”
The opening-night selection, “Lovers Rock,” is part of McQueen’s “Small Axe” TV anthology about West Indians in London. “Lovers Rock” is set in the 1980s, and two other entries in the five-part series from the director of “12 Years a Slave” are in the lineup as well: “Red, White and Blue,” also set in the ’80s, and “Mangrove,” which takes place in the late ’60s.
Though the anthology will ultimately be streamed on Amazon, the festival is not planning a TV section as other such events have. “For us, each of Steve McQueen’s films stand alone,” Lim said.
In the centerpiece slot is “Nomadland,” starring Frances McDormand as a widow in search of seasonal work. It is based on the book by Jessica Bruder and directed by Zhao (“The Rider” and the forthcoming Marvel team-up “The Eternals”).
Closing the festival will be “French Exit,” featuring Michelle Pfeiffer, Lucas Hedges and a cat voiced by Tracy Letts regrouping in an empty Parisian apartment. Jacobs (“The Lovers”) directed, and Patrick deWitt wrote the screenplay based on his novel of the same title.
Other noteworthy selections include the documentarian Frederick Wiseman’s “City Hall,” a look at the Boston institution of the title; Heidi Ewing’s fiction feature debut, “I Carry You with Me (Te Llevo Conmigo),” a gay romance set in Mexico; “Isabella,” another Matías Piñeiro film inspired by Shakespeare, this time “Measure for Measure”; and the Jia Zhangke documentary “Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue,” about literature and life in the Chinese province where he grew up.